Cleaning the Central Hall floor at Mount Stewart
Volunteers spend 624 hours or 37,440 minutes a year cleaning the restored sandstone floor in the Central Hall at Mount Stewart. It’s quite a commitment, but one that ensures this central feature remains in pristine condition for all to enjoy.
Hidden under monochrome tiles for over five decades, Mount Stewart’s magnificent sandstone floor was uncovered in 2017 in the final part of a £8 million project to restore this magnificent mansion.
Although the black and white tiles in the Central Hall had become an iconic feature of this historic estate they were a fairly recent addition, being laid by Lady Mairi in the 1960s. ‘Prior to Lady Mairi giving the house to the National Trust she lived here with two maids, Hannah and Maggie, who struggled to include the scrubbing of the stone floor in their long list of daily tasks,’ explains Neil Watt, House and Collection manager at Mount Stewart. ‘In response, Lady Mairi had monochrome linoleum tiles laid which could be easily mopped and were also considered the height of fashion at the time. This willingness to change demonstrates how Mount Stewart has always moved with the times, and the restoration of the original stone floor shows how the house is changing again under the care of the National Trust.’
Conservation in action
With the central hall floor painstakingly restored to how it would have looked in the 1840s the focus turned to the ongoing maintenance of the sandstone tiles. ‘We wanted to put in place a preventative conservation practice to ensure the long-term care of the floor,’ Neil explains. ‘The obvious solution was to reinstate the traditional method of careful cleaning by human hand.
‘We saw it as a wonderful opportunity for people interested in volunteering with the National Trust to engage in built heritage and for visitors to hear about conservation in action. When our house guides reveal to visitors that the floor is cleaned, not by machines, but by volunteers on their hands and knees, they are astonished that so much love and attention is lavished on a piece of Irish history.’
Today Mount Stewart has four volunteers dedicated to cleaning the Central Hall floor. While you and I are still eating our cornflakes in the morning, they are already hard at work.
Daily cleaning delivered with TLC
‘We start by hoovering the entire floor and then we sponge clean the areas with damage,’ says Karen, a volunteer at Mount Stewart for just over one year. ‘We always clean the five tiles at the entrance as they get the most traffic. We all know the floor intimately and follow a detailed map, where each stone is numbered and can be monitored individually’.
‘The odd time there’s chewing gum and over Easter there can be a rogue piece of chocolate to remove,’ Karen continues. ‘A baby sponge and cold water will take away most of the dirt, but for stubborn spots we use a toothbrush, applying a gentle circular motion so as not to leave an indent in the stone.’
Jayne is another floor cleaning volunteer. She describes her work as a nurse as ‘very stressful’ and explains that volunteering is a way for her to relax; ‘I’m here two to three days a week at 8am to vacuum and clean the floor and dust. I’ve also been helping to clean the chandelier. It’s very therapeutic work and everyone is incredibly nice and welcoming, Mount Stewart feels like a second home to me now.’