Behind the Scenes - the winter clean at Ham House
This year the ground floor of the house has been ‘put to bed’ to allow for much needed conservation work. Maintaining a historic house comprises of many activities to safeguard it and ensure that it remains in the best possible condition. Our conservation work is essential to ensuring the longevity of the collection for future generations to come.
When we start our deep clean in the winter, we work in a logical way from the top to bottom of a room. By erecting a scaffold it allows the house team to access the hard to reach places and gives us a different perspective on what we care for. Last year we worked in the upstairs rooms and had some awe-inspiring vistas of original 17th century plasterwork.
This year, our work takes us down to the ground floor. It is amazing to see how much dust can accumulate after one year and to ensure our 400 year old collection looks at its best, we use the scaffold to change lightbulbs in the chandeliers and clean areas where the flies and spiders like to congregate in cornices. The house team can also inspect original 17th century wood carvings for cracks in the Marble Dining Room, make eye-to-eye contact with a tapestry of Pyrrhus in the Duchess' Bedchamber, whilst also looking for pest damage and reach the bust of Catherine Murray that sits above the fireplace in the White Closet.
Cleaning is an integral part of our daily routine, but having the ‘winter clean’ enables us to have a closer relationship with our collection. It is like a spring clean, but instead of using regular hoovers and household detergents, we use specialist equipment operated by trained staff that will have minimal impact on the objects.
In order to keep track of any changes to furniture or fittings, we have a large collection of condition reports which are essential for storing valuable information about the objects at Ham House. Historic objects have their own personality and quirks according to their makeup and material. If we didn’t have these condition reports then we wouldn’t be able to track small, yet significant changes, such as cracks on a chair, and be able to modify the way we care for the object or commission conservation work.
Once condition reports have been updated and objects have been dusted and cleaned, we put dust covers on them to shield them from light. The effects of light damage on paintings and furniture were well understood by people in the 17th century and we carry on the tradition of covering our collection to let it ‘sleep’.
Have what it takes?
Working with such a beautiful and one-of-a-kind collection has taught us many things. If you feel like you are up to the challenge of helping us with our conservation work, you can volunteer alongside us.
Contact us by email - firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.