Conservation diary: let there be light

Who wore this mustard yellow uniform? © Amy Banks

Who wore this mustard yellow uniform?

It’s such a privilege to work in these beautiful houses with their dedicated teams.
I thought it would be good to give people an idea of some of the work the National Trust’s Conservators do.

As conservator for the North East, I look after the interiors and collections and support the house teams in their work caring for these spaces and objects. It’s a hugely varied job. One day I’m walking along Hadrian’s Wall to look at a metal plate someone has glued to the Wall. The next I’m at Cragside, working with actors in full Victorian costume.

As part of the same event looking at the lives of the servants, the Assistant House Steward and I checked the light levels in Cragside’s Armstrong Room. The house has an amazing original Footman’s Livery from the early 20th century, with britches and waistcoat of a vivid canary yellow. Such colours are very susceptible to being faded irreparably by too much light. This is why we put a translucent UV filter onto most window panes.

We used light meters to check the light level the Livery would be exposed to. We’ll also use a Blue Wool Dosimeter, one of those familiar small, white, rectangular cards with blue fabric in the middle. This fabric fades at a known rate so we can measure the total light the object is exposed to in a year. For such a sensitive object we want the level to be no more than 150,000 lux hours per year. In a room with no light control measures, objects could be exposed to several million lux hours.

For this reason, the house team will keep the curtains closed except when the house is open. This kind of active light management is the reason behind the blinds in many rooms.

Cragside's Another Side event will be taking place every Thursday in May.