Conserving the house at Hatchlands

Staff cleaning the chandeliers

Preserving a historic house and the collections inside is a constant battle against time and nature. In the winter months when our house is closed, our team employ a variety of techniques to keep a happy and healthy house running smoothly in the face of many unique challenges.

Cleaning the collections

Each year, every item of furniture in all our rooms has to be cleaned and checked. We keep careful records of each object so we can make sure that their environment is right and that nothing has been accidentally damaged.
For us, cleaning mostly means dusting. We don’t use any water and very few chemicals when caring for the furniture, fixtures and fittings. Water can inflict huge damage on historic materials and significantly raises humidity. Modern cleaning products are too harsh for historic objects, leaving residues that build up, causing changes to surface colour. 
To remove dust from objects, we use two different kinds of brush. A pony hair brush is soft enough to use on ceramics, ivory and gilded surfaces. Hog’s hair brushes are stiffer and can be used for wooden furniture, metals or plasterwork.
Conservation cleaning
Staff cleaning the chandeliers

Each material has its own individual brush. Over the course of many years most of the objects will have been subject to various treatments that we wouldn’t use today. Separating the brushes prevents cross contamination. Brushes are used with a small vacuum cleaner so that dust is removed, not just displaced. Handling some objects requires cotton gloves to prevent acidic oils in our hands from having a cumulative effect.
We apply protective wax to some of the furniture and pianos. Exceptions include objects which are lacquered, painted, ebonised or japanned, so that ornamental surfaces aren’t worn away. We avoid any carved details where the wax could get trapped and, over time, crystallise.

Looking after the house

It’s not just the collections that need careful care; the rooms need to be looked after too. Using portable tower scaffolding we’re able to reach the intricate plaster ceilings, delicate curtain pelmets and carefully dismantle and wash the chandeliers.
Our floors also need attention after each busy open season, so every year we give them three coats of protective wax. Because of their age, and to avoid damaging skirting boards, we apply and buff all three coats by hand.
Scaffold tower
Scaffold tower

Controlling our indoor environment

To avoid wear and tear, each day we vacuum and dust every room. Vacuuming is one of our best defences against pest problems; it means that bugs have little to feed on and no place to hide. We monitor carefully for any pest activity using pheromone traps and blunder traps. These are checked every week and any new finds recorded. 
We constantly monitor relative humidity, the amount of moisture in the air in relation to the temperature. In an historic environment, large fluctuations in temperature can cause inlays to lift and wood to warp or crack if the warming is extreme or sudden. Each room contains a humidifier unit that releases small amounts of moisture to maintain balance.
Each of our windows is fitted with blinds to cut down the amount of sunlight our collections are exposed to. Every pane of glass is also fitted with a UV filter. As with our skin and eyes, it’s the UV spectrum that causes damage to materials.