The little things

With all the huge projects we have had happening at Hardwick this summer it is easy for the little things to get glossed over, however the little things are so important as well. Our weekly clean on a Monday, daily cleans on Wednesdays to Sundays, checking for pests, monitoring environmental conditions, managing volunteers, talking to visitors and millions more tasks still have to happen even when we are preoccupied by opening exhibitions or installing art work!

We have achieved an amazing amount this season aside from all the bigger things I have been blogging about. So hear are some of the smaller tasks I have been doing recently.

We finished the Annual Deep Clean!

A big deal that unfortunately we were too busy to really celebrate. In contrast, we didn’t get our Deep Clean finished last year before we closed at the end of the season so this is an amazing achievement for the team. Thanks to good planning and our wonderful team of staff and volunteers we got a huge amount of the Deep Clean finished over the closed season, and we have kept up the momentum until we had checked everything on our list off!

Cleaning the Over-mantle in Miss Webb's Room

Cleaning the Over-mantle in Miss Webb’s Room

We’re half way through our summer works program!

The ‘summer works’ are the conservation cleaning tasks that happen several times a year, not just once in the Deep Clean. Things like cleaning bed flats and chairs that get too much dust landing on them for us to leave them. We split all our summer works into the things that need to happen at the start of summer, and those which we won’t do until the summer ends and our visitors numbers drop. Thanks to the fact that we had already finished our Deep Clean it meant we could focus our effort on these task, and last week we finished the first half of our list.

Cleaning the velvet cushions in the Long Gallery

Cleaning the velvet cushions in the Long Gallery

Bits Boxes.

One of my personal projects has been to revitalise the Hardwick Bits Box. I did a similar project at Powis, however this was a much bigger undertaking! Where Powis’ Bits were already in organised boxes, the Hardwick’s Bits Boxes were two huge crates full of years of bits! So my job involved going through the bits, cataloging every one, writing labels for each and putting them in a bag, putting these bags into location specific boxes. Believe me when I say, there are only so many ways you can describe a broken piece of wood!

Before . . .

Before . . .

The new and improved bits box system allows the bits to be easily identified if ever there comes a time when we have a conservator in who could re-attach some for us. As a result of my work several bits have already been returned when we had our furniture conservator here for one of our big projects. Now I have overhauled the system hopefully it shouldn’t get in that state again, so I have helped out the future Conservation Assistants of Hardwick Hall (you’re welcome! 😛 )The final part of this task is for me to just finish typing up all the bits records, all 340-odd of them!

. . . and After!

. . . and After!

Felting the Still Room.

A small task that has needed doing for a while was to put pieces of felt underneath the objects that have been added to the still room. If you have even noticed when you go around Trust properties, often objects that sit on pieces of furniture have a layer of something between the two. This protects not only the surface an objects sits on, but also the base of the object.

A felt pad for a pot

A felt pad for a pot

The protective layer can be several things, felt or cork pieces, and type of foam called plasterzote or a thin type of clear plastic like laminate. I chose to use beige felt for the Still Room as it blends nicely with the paint colour of the surfaces. For most of the objects it was just a case of cutting circles that fit the base closely so the visual effect is not spoiled. The only tricky part was when it came to cutting the felt for the fish shaped mould!

The Fish

The Fish

More 50 things!

Last summer we decided to adapt the ’50 things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4′ so that we could bring some of the activities into the Hall. This year we decided to do the same, but not to make things easy for ourselves we wanted to chose different activities so any children visiting us again would get a new experience. I love this idea, and anything that gets us to look at how people interact with the Hall differently! We have barefoot walks on our lovely new matting in the High Great Chamber (something I love to do), caves to explore, dens to be built, birds to be spotted, and my personal favourite ‘catch a falling leaf’. Each leaf has an interesting Hardwick fact written on to be discovered, which I really enjoyed writing as I learnt something new as well! This particular ‘thing’ was a real team effort with the original idea coming from Sadie, me researching the facts, Jen practicallising the idea and writing the facts onto the leaves and Claire going over the words in black pen. The finished product almost looks like a work of art!

Our leafy installation

Our leafy installation

So there we go, just some of the other wonderful things that have been keeping me occupied. But don’t think that just because these are all now finished I shall be sitting on my bottom eating cake (that only happens at tea break, honest!) we have so many other projects in various staged of fruition at Hardwick, getting these done just frees up my time for me to get stuck into the next task! Nothing beats the satisfaction of getting thing done!

Dreadful Dust!

Firstly I must apologise for the gap between posts lately, I have not been my usual bouncy self at the moment as I have torn a muscle in my side (ouch!). How did I do this you may be wondering? Was it thought my physical and active job? No. How about my fairly dangerous hobby of Medieval re-enactment and sword play? Nope. Then how? Coughing! You heard it here folks, coughing is bad for your health! So I was unfortunately off work most of last week resting and repairing and therefore didn’t have much to report (other than five days with my feet up made me feel a little stir-crazy!).

This week however I am back at work and busy again (in a very careful manner) and today we have been tackling a huge problem of Hardwick’s. Unfortunately we do get a few comments about dust levels in the Hall from some visitors. We had one a couple of weeks ago that at first caught the House Team by surprise. Dust!? In our Hall? But we dust almost everyday, there is no way there is that much dust in our Hall. Then when we were told the visitor was talking about dust on our textiles we all went; ‘well yeah, we know about that!’. Not because we know and don’t care, of course we care! But because we are already doing all we can do.

Uh oh, some one touched!

Uh oh, some one touched!

Although we do dust the Hall practically every day, there are many objects that we do not touch on a day-to-day basis. We have objects that are cleaned weekly, bi-weekly, three months, six months, annually, every so often, when they need doing or as little as once in 400 years if you’re talking about our Gideon tapestries! What some people do not know is that over-cleaning an object can be just as damaging as under-cleaning it, and therefore we must draw a balance between the two.

The Dining Room table after two weeks

The Dining Room table after two weeks

However this balance is getting harder and harder to maintain. Hardwick Hall gets around 150,000 visitors a year, five years ago that number was less than 100,000. Although we love showing our house to more and more of the public this dust generate lots of added dust! The dust at Hardwick has been analysed and found to be around %50 made up from human skin (ick), so the more visitors the more of this is going to be coming into the Hall.

Me cleaning one of the velvet cushions

Me cleaning one of the velvet cushions

A close up of the fine suction tool

A close up of the fine suction tool

You would think the answer to more dust would be simple: more cleaning! We dust most of the flat surfaces in the hall daily when we are open and do a deeper clean on a weekly basis during our closed days. Then we have the deep annual clean where pretty much everything gets done, and a Summer Works Program as well. We cannot clean a lot of the objects in the collection more than we are already doing so, especially the textiles where every act of cleaning is also removing some of the fibers and therefore damaging the object. This is why we have to leave certain objects looking dusty, it’s not that we are neglecting them, we are looking after them by leaving them.

A lovely line of dust on the base of the stool

A lovely line of dust on the base of the stool

Today we were taking the dust off the 17th Century red velvet stools that live in the Long Gallery, they have been looking pretty dusty lately and are part of our Summer Clean Program. This is the rota of items we clean during the open season, the objects that are sturdy enough to be cleaned every three or six months. We clean this with a museum-vac on a low suction through an ironing net, and then use a fine tool on the edges to get as much dust of as we can, without pulling any of the fibers up. The process will take two of us the best part of two days, and requires a lot of patience. It is very relaxing work and gives you plenty of time to think (for instance today I was rehearsing this blog post). However I do not think it will be long until the poor stools, which sit on the visitor route, will be dusty again as we are gearing up for the busiest part of the year!

The stools in the High Great Chamber

The stools in the High Great Chamber

We are looking at different ways to prevent against dust without having to increase cleaning, such as with the stool in the High Great Chamber. These beautiful stools and there fabulous embroidery are very delicate, and also right on the visitor route, so they get dusty. However we cannot clean them more often than we already do, so we are trailing putting a voil over the stool. The idea is that now the dust will land on the voil rather than on the velvet of the stool, and the voil can be cleaned much more regularly, as it is modern fabric. However this solution does change the look of the stools, so it is something we have to weigh up against the look of the dust, and the damage of cleaning.

The voil on the left hand stool

The voil on the left hand stool

So when you go visiting heritage properties and you see a bit of dust, it is not usually a sign of neglect but a sign of a difficult juggling act the conservation team are trying to balance every day. At Hardwick we are working very hard to educate visitors about the work that goes in to looking after our Hall, with our ‘Conservation Station’ Activity Trail, the ‘Last One Out’ Tours we run daily, and ‘Conservation Week’ which we are running next week.

I am really looking forward to Conservation Week, as it will involve more talking to the public, which I love. The Conservation Assistants will be out and about in the Hall all day chatting about what our job entails and answering questions. We will also be delivering talks, that I have help write, on conservation issues and projects we are undertaking. It should be good fun and hopefully we will have lots of interest!