Winter cleaning in the house

Waking the house after winter at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire

When you come to explore the un-stately home, we can continue to preserve Calke's fascinating past. Now that the house is closed for the winter, the house team will begin the big winter clean behind closed doors. So what does that involve?

Winter cleaning

The main priority for the winter season is to clean and inspect every room on the visitor route. The house team carefully strip all the displays around the house and clean each individual part, from the objects themselves to the walls and carpets around them. Everything is then covered with dustsheets to keep it all clean and protected until the house opens.

Whilst we don't restore the collections to their former grandeur, it's important to keep them clean to prevent further damage and decay.

Starting the deep clean

Every year, the team begin their big clean in the Oak Room, followed by Gardner Wilkinson's library, through to the Night Nursery and Sir Vauncey's bedroom.

Some of the rooms have such high ceilings that we'll need to build a scaffold so we can clean high walls and collections. This includes the School Room, Yellow Room, Boudoir and the Saloon. Areas such as the grand stairs require a special scaffold, so that the team can complete their cleaning safely. 

Whilst the rest of the collection along the visitor route is cleaned during winter, we have a separate system for cleaning the books in the library (yes, we clean the books). This is sometimes done when the house is open – if you’re lucky, you might see the conservation team in action on your next visit. 

Spring cleaning during the winter at Calke Abbey
Conservation at National Trust Calke Abbey | Midlands
Spring cleaning during the winter at Calke Abbey

Specialist conservation

Alongside routine winter cleaning we have specialist conservators working on items of the collection that need some extra attention. Last year, two lamps from the collection were sent to a specialist conservator for remedial work, and will be returned to their homes this winter. The remaining lamps will then be sent away for repairs.

While some of the lamps are going away, the Saloon curtains are returning! It's the second pair of Saloon curtains that our textile advisor, Melanie Leach, has repaired in recent years.

Melanie will also be assessing the condition of the costumes that we're putting on display in 2019, to make sure we minimise any strain on the costumes. We'll be padding out the costumes so that gravity doesn't weigh them down too much, and to prevent creases and folds.

Other items having some special attention this winter are the pianos in the Saloon, Caricature Room and Museum Room. Jeffrey Clamp, piano tuner and restorer, has tuned the pianos so that they can continue to be played. We closely monitor the pianos to make sure this doesn't have any impact on their condition. 

Protecting the floors

In 2018, we had Eyemats installed in certain rooms of the house along the visitor route. Eyemats are a protective flooring made to look exactly like the original floors, which means that we can still allow visitors to walk over the floors and see what they look like, without causing damage to the flooring underneath. 

Over winter, the Eyemats are being removed for servicing. Despite being vacuumed every day, the foot traffic has taken its toll on the mats! We hope to have them back in place soon.

Keeping the metalwork… rusty?

We have a wonderful team of metalwork volunteers at Calke, who help us to keep the metal objects and fittings in the exact state we found them in. This winter, the team will be working in the kitchen.

All metal objects will be cleaned and treated with a special paste made from white spirit and renaissance wax, which provides a protective layer and preserves the current level of decay for up to five years. The metalwork in the kitchen hasn’t been treated since 2012, so it’s vital for this work to be done over the winter.

Cleaning the collection at Calke Abbey
Winter cleaning at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
Cleaning the collection at Calke Abbey

Every day’s a school day

There’s more to conservation than meets the eye, which is why our teams undergo regular training to help them look after Calke’s collection.

The first set of training this winter is with Natural History Conservator Simon Moore, to improve the team’s knowledge of taxidermy and conservation methods. This includes removing the glass case fronts, treating the taxidermy for pest activity, reattaching loose feathers and more.

We’re also working with the local fire service to do some salvage training, in case the unspeakable happens. In an emergency, first responders will direct rescuers to the most important items of the collection, as determined by our Curator and Collections Manager. Each item has a ‘grab sheet’ outlining the size, weight and location of the object, so that it can be safely packed and removed in a worst-case scenario.

It's thanks to your continued support that we can continue to protect Calke and its unique collections.