Conservation in action: Flood damage in Hughenden library

When in Spring 2015 Hughenden’s library, with its 4,000 historically significant books, suffered a water leak overnight, staff sprang into action to deal with the crisis.

Staff discovered the leak overnight had soaked furniture, carpet, books and the floor in the library at Hughenden. Timely action was needed to salvage objects and begin the drying out process.

How do you deal with a flood in a historic building?

With an extensive water leak, no electricity could be provided to the manor. Using torches, the staff had to wander through the dark to begin their work. Donning hard hats, the damage was assessed; identifying objects such as Disraeli’s copy of Goethe’s Faust which was buried under fallen plaster. The emergency store had equipment to absorb surplus water and items were removed to a dry room close by.  The catering manager, Tuukka, emptied a freezer so the wettest books could be frozen to prevent further damage.

The rangers helped move the large carpet as it needed eight people and the ceiling was propped by specialist plaster conservators and our onsite building team to avoid further deterioration. Layers of insulation between floors were removed due to concern they were holding water and could make matters worse.

Disaster preparation and a team of experts

Caring for special places and artifacts includes anticipating problems and how to deal with them.  We have teams of specialist we can call upon for advice and in this case the plaster and books specialists were involved very quickly.

Three tonnes of books

During July and August all 4,000 volumes were removed and cleaned by a team of staff and volunteers and sent away to temporary storage, some 3.2 tonnes of books. The library shelves needed to be boxed in before plaster conservators started repairing the decorative ceiling and oak floor.

Throughout the restoration work we continued to allow visitors to come and see what was happening. In October the carpet was returned followed in November by the books.

Recovering from the flood has needed the planning precision exhibited during the Second World War when Hughenden helped in major initiatives that led to a successful outcome. Preparing for disaster and caring for our treasures is a vital part of our work and seeing this in action is fascinating. Come and see the process and results.

Conservation and care

As Europe’s largest conservation charity, the National Trust is responsible for the art and collections of over 200 historic houses. Over 7,000 items can be found at Hughenden, where we care for, document and conserve furniture, books, paintings, ceramics, manuscripts and sculpture.

Find out more about how we conserve our collections  across the National Trust, thanks to your support.

" When I come to Hughenden I pass the first week sauntering about the park examining all my trees, and the second examining my books."
- Benjamin Disraeli