Cleaning the dolls' houses

One of two dolls' houses in the School Room at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire

Every year when the house is closed, our dedicated conservation assistants and volunteers clean the house and its vast collections. Cleaning the dolls' houses is just a small part of this mammoth task. This year, the team at Calke cleaned the dolls' houses and their contents while the house was open, offering our visitors a glimpse into this fascinating conservation work.

The dolls' houses, on display in the School Room, are carefully cleaned and each of the 210 items inside are individually inspected and dusted to prevent further deterioration. This is no small task, which takes the conservation team at least 15 hours.

Where are the houses from?

The origins of the doll's houses are unknown, but the School Room was used from the late Victorian period (around 1860) right up until the Second World War. The dolls' houses could have been used during this period, but they may have been used even earlier in the nurseries.

Both the houses feature distinctive designs. The larger of the two is three storeys high, with six rooms and two staircases. The other house is much simpler, with only two floors and two rooms, and an unusual turret shape.

The houses were carefully decorated to reflect the style of the period, complete with wallpaper and carpets. They feature a huge assortment of items, from four-poster beds and dining suites to china ornaments and even a miniature Noah's Ark, complete with animals.

Vacuuming the miniature furniture

Cleaning the dolls' houses marks the beginning of the deep clean of the whole house, which begins in November. Calke's conservation assistants use a variety of tools to ensure that the houses are completely dust-free.

Handheld vacuum cleaners are used to remove dust from larger items and smaller objects are cleaned using specialist hog's hair brushes. This ensures all the dust is removed but the items are not damaged.

Whilst Calke is the 'un-stately home', the winter clean is an essential part of our 'repair not restore' ethos.

" It is part of the presentation of the house that the collections look a little tired and dusty. But if we don’t clean at all, our collections would soon deteriorate, so this specialist care is an important, although time consuming, part of our conservation work to preserve the house."
- Kimberley Blount, Conservation and Engagement Assistant at Calke Abbey

When the doors are closed...

... the house team clean and inspect every toom on the visitor route. All the displays in the house will be carefully stripped and cleaned.

While the displays are down, the team will also clean the walls and carpets. Once a room is complete and any further conservation work is undertaken, everything is covered with dustsheets to ensure it is protected ready for the house re-opening in the spring.