Conservation and cleaning at Calke

Winter cleaning at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire

A team of conservation assistants and volunteers are responsible for keeping Calke ‘clean’. Unlike many stately homes, Calke Abbey tells the story of a country house in decline, therefore many of its rooms are seemingly abandoned, dusty and a little ‘un-stately’. But even when the house is open to visitors, the house team are busy with their cleaning and conservation work. So what does that involve?

Getting dusty

Every day during the open season, the conservation team dust the uncluttered, flat surfaces in the more well-kept rooms. Once a week, the objects are removed from their tables so they can be fully dusted. A hog’s hair brush (which looks a bit like a paint brush) is used to dust the intricate carvings in the Saloon, and a soft pony hair brush to dust the silver in the Dining Room.

True to Calke’s spirit of decline, the abandoned rooms are left to accumulate dust – the house team dust those rooms just once a year! 

Vacuuming Calke

The visitor route is vacuumed every day without fail, which takes a massive four hours each day! The team then dry mop the wooden floors to keep them clean and prevent damage, and dust the staircase panelling, banisters and treads. 

With the help of a dedicated team of volunteers, over 100 windows and 32 fireplaces are vacuumed each month! When did you last vacuum your windows?

" During the summer holidays when it gets busy, the glass needs cleaning more often. We use a mixture of methylated spirit and water which gets the fingerprints off easily, with a cloth and a tea towel to dry the glass. "
- Kimberley Blount, Conservation and Engagement Assistant

Keeping the pests at bay

In total we have 88 pest traps across the house, stables and church. These are checked four times a year, and the results are sent off to the conservator.

The most common pests we find are woodworm and carpet beetle, which can both be dealt with by the conservation team at Calke. A water-based pesticide called constrain is sprayed onto the infested object to eliminate the pests.

To get rid of carpet beetle, the object is wrapped up in sealed plastic and put in the freezer! This usually combats the infestation.

A busy conservation team

On top of the day-to-day cleaning at Calke, our conservation team have their own projects to work on throughout the season.

Rachel (Conservation Assistant) is reorganising the stable storage and recording her work, which will take longer than a year to complete.

Jen (Conservation Assistant) is repackaging textiles in the store to make sure they’re all safely stored in acid-free boxes without being too tightly packed.

Visitors at Calke Abbey watching conservation in action
Visitors at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire watching conservation in action

Gemma (Conservation Assistant) is our condition report champion! As part of looking after the collection at Calke, Gemma is recording the condition of the objects on the visitor route. This means that we can monitor whether any objects get damaged. There are currently over 22,000 objects in the collection (and counting!) so this is a long-term project for Gemma.

Kim (Conservation and Engagement Assistant) organises and implements various engagement activities in the house. This could be cleaning silver while the house is open, or opening up cupboards or stores that are normally closed, giving our visitors a glimpse behind closed doors!

Keeping Calke alive

Your support is vital to our conservation work. When you explore the un-stately home, we can continue to look after its unique history. Thank you.