Keeping up with the Conservation

Cleaning the portraiture Ickworth

Every winter at Ickworth, as well ensuring the House is looking as festive as possible; our House team are at their busiest time of year with the winter clean taking focus! Sarah Willows, Senior House Steward manages the winter conservation, alongside a team of five Conservation Assistants and five Conservation volunteers to ensure the House is maintained and protected. Read more as Sarah talks us through the process and why it’s so important.

What do you do in the House during winter?

We use the winter season to get on top of the conservation work that we are unable to do throughout the rest of the year. It is also an opportunity to give the House and collection a rest from the pressures of being open to visitors, such as light, dust and the day to day wear and tear.


We cover every object in dust sheets and then deep clean each room from top to bottom. We start by building a scaffold to reach the high ledges that we cannot usually get to and then work our way down through the room. We focus on each object, giving it a thorough clean and checking it for any new damage against our condition reports. Having this time to monitor and record issues is incredibly important as it helps us to create a plan for the long term care of the collection.  


Winter also gives us the chance to manage large scale project work that can be quite disruptive and time consuming. Each year we will clean one of the huge carpets in our state rooms, which will require the emptying of an entire space to be able to turn the carpet upside down and tamp it. Whilst the room is empty we will also build scaffold to reach the chandelier and give it a dust with soft brushes to make sure it sparkles! 


Sometimes we will also get in external conservators to complete remedial work; last year we had work done to several pieces of furniture and the year before that the Drawing Room curtains were conserved in situ after being badly damaged by light. 


Who looks after the House and its collection?


The House team at Ickworth look after the conservation and presentation of the House and collection. In my role as Senior House Steward I am responsible for the conservation side of things, and I oversee the long term planning of both preventative and remedial conservation for the collection. The day to day practicalities of this falls to our team of five Conservation Assistants, who will be working on the deep clean of each room this winter. During the main season they get the house ready for visitors ensuring a high level of housekeeping and presentation, as well as working on various collections and inventory related projects.


Can you give us an outline of your plan for this year’s winter clean?

This year, as well as our usual winter clean, we will also be starting to move over 2500 objects from one of our store rooms, due to the major roof works that will be happening later in 2019. The section of roof over this store room currently has several leaks, which is obviously not good for the collection. Although it will be a big task to empty the store, we are very pleased that once this work is completed we will no longer have to rely on having plastic coverings and strategically placed buckets everywhere! As we will be managing this move alongside our regular work we have decided not to plan in any big projects this winter, however we will still be doing our annual replacement of UV film and blinds on the windows, as well as having a couple of specialist conservators in to complete condition surveys for us for the textiles collection and our gilt picture frames.


Where can I find out more about conservation at Ickworth?

In January and February on weekdays we will be running a daily Conservation Tour where you can learn all about the work we do over winter; you may even get the chance to see the team hard at work and ask them some questions.