Cleaning and conserving statues

Hughenden's volunteers busy cleaning the statues in Spring

As soon as the covers come off the historic statuary, the conservation cleaning begins. In gardens and parkland at places like Hughenden, Waddesdon, Cliveden and Basildon Park, teams of volunteers are preparing their buckets and brushes for the big scrub.

Conservation cleaning is not just about dusting house collection items to prevent damage from debris build-up. Garden statuary and sculpture are equally at risk and they literally have a lot more thrown at them.

Wind-blown pollen and dirt can stick to statues dampened by rain, which has its own dissolved assailants. Animals, birds and insects are not known to be great respecters of artworks and their droppings can encourage the growth of moss, lichen and fungi.

It’s a bit like face-washing

To preserve the statues as they were originally intended to be: ‘Rather like washing your face, a little water and a brush will help to keep the pores clear of clogging dirt and polluted grime,’ says Conservator Vicki Marsland.

‘We gently wet-clean using a diluted conservation grade detergent, scrub using recommended brushes, and condition check to note signs of deterioration,’ says Hughenden House Steward Katarina Robinson, ‘We also chat to visitors about what we’re doing as they like to know about the conservation work that goes into looking after the collections.’

Cleaning statues at Hughenden
Cleaning statues at Hughenden
Cleaning statues at Hughenden

Loyal volunteer army

It’s a major job when you consider that at somewhere like Cliveden there are around 200 statuary items ranging from gravestones in the pet cemetery to the Roman Sarcophogi in the forecourt. This is where our army of statue-cleaning volunteers comes in.

Heading up Cliveden’s 12-strong volunteer team of loyal statue cleaners is John Linegar, now in his 90th year and 24 years in the role. ‘We’ve got some very good people, including a couple of former firemen who are very handy up the ladders,’ says John. The team is at work with their brushes, slivers of bamboo and non-ionic detergent in the garden every Thursday morning from April to September.

John has got to know the statues very well over the years, which makes him well-placed to complete the annual statue condition report. ‘With their extensive experience, John and the team needs very little input from me,’ says Vicki. ‘Their dedication to the statues is invaluable and the visitors really enjoy speaking to John and seeing the team at work.’

Statue trails

Next time you’re wandering the grounds at Hughenden, Waddesdon, Cliveden or Basildon Park, take a closer look at the statues and think of our team, hard at work with their brushes and sponges. Also, ask at visitor reception if there’s a statue trail. Several of our places have these and they tell you a bit about the background and significance of the statuary.