Behind the Scenes - the winter clean at Ham House

One of our conservation team carefully cleaning a gilded velvet stool

This year some rooms on the upper floor of the house have 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.

The winter clean allows us to carry out delicate and more complex conservation such as erecting scaffolding to access the hard to reach places. It’s also really great to look at the objects and spaces from a different perspective and notice those signs of wear that need our attention. Last year we worked in some of the ground floor rooms and this year we’ll be working on some of the rooms upstairs.

A bird's eye view of the Long Gallery at Ham House
A bird's eye view of the Long Gallery at Ham House
A bird's eye view of the Long Gallery at Ham House

When we start our deep clean in the winter, we work in a logical way from the top to bottom of a room. It is amazing to see how much dust can accumulate after one year. Cleaning is an integral part of our daily routine, but having the ‘winter clean’ enables us to do those longer tasks as we care for our 400 year old 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.

If you spot us using some of this equipment or examining an object, feel free to ask us what we are looking for. It’s a privilege to be able to get so close to these extraordinary objects. It’s even more of a joy to share the hidden, intricate, details of a 400 year old treasure with someone.  

Inspection of a lacquer box by conservators
Inspection of a lacquer box by conservators
Inspection of a lacquer box by conservators

In order to keep track of any changes to furniture or fittings, we have a large collection of condition reports on each object. Historic objects have their own personality and quirks and condition reports allow us to the track small, yet significant changes, that tell us how an object is doing over the course of it’s centuries-old lifespan.

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’. When the rooms upstairs including the long gallery, library and queen’s apartment ‘re-awaken’ in the spring they will be ready to welcome visitors once again and continue to do so for many years to come.

Dust sheets help us to protect our collection from light damage
Dust sheets help us to protect our collection from light damage
Dust sheets help us to protect our collection from light damage

It happens with your support

Looking after our collection and the fabric of Ham House and Garden takes both time and funding. Your membership & admission fees, purchases in the restaurant, shop, second hand bookshop and generous donations, all help support our vital conservation work. If you would like to give your time and work directly with this beautiful and one-of-a-kind collection you can volunteer alongside us.

Contact us by email - helping.ham@nationaltrust.org.uk to find out more.