Opening the House

Catherine dusting Vigee Le Brun Ickworth

With winter a mere memory now, Ickworth is looking forward to spring and the warmer weather. Catherine, House Conservation Assistant talks us through the process of winter cleaning. A process which is vital to the preservation of our beautiful collection.

Rooms in the house are reopening this month after winter conservation; what happens during the winter months?

We started our deep winter conservation cleaning at the end of October and have been working hard to make sure everything has been cleaned and is ready for visitors when we reopen the house in March.

We have been using scaffolding towers to get up to clean some of the very high ceilings and objects that we look after. Some of the main things I have enjoyed cleaning this winter are the curtains and the numerous paintings, including the Vigée Le Brun which I had the opportunity to get up close to when cleaning. We have also cleaned some of our store rooms and have unwrapped some amazing objects for redisplay. My favourite of these store room objects were the ceremonial swords, some of which are going to be displayed on the Museum Landing this year.

For the first time this year we took off some of the doors on the ground floor to have work done to the hinges; it was very exciting to see how they lifted the solid mahogany doors as they are incredibly heavy.

Why do you cover the furniture?

We cover the furniture as well as any flat surfaces and statues that could collect dust before and after we clean. We cover all the objects before we clean as we start our conservation work at the end of October; however some rooms might not get around to being cleaned till February which is a long time for dust being able to fall on the objects. If dust is left too long on an object it can damage the object. This is also the reason why, after we clean the object, we put dust covers back on so that the object remains clean until we reopen these rooms in March.

How long does it take to deep clean a room?

This is a difficult question to answer as it depends on the room and the number of Conservation Assistants and volunteers working on the room. Some rooms, like the Entrance Hall, have fewer objects in than, for example, the Library. The length of time a room takes to deep clean also depends on whether we are using scaffolding to clean up high. This year we used scaffolding in the Bedroom when we cleaned the curtains and the top of the bed as well as the Museum Landing where we cleaned the tops of the paintings that we cannot reach on a ladder.

Tell us about the condition folders and the Manual of Housekeeping.

For each room in the house we have condition folders which contain a condition report on each of the objects in that room. These condition folders include an overall picture of the object, an in detail description of the object and if any conservation has been done to it plus detailed pictures of any observed damage to the object. Once the object has been cleaned we then mark it on the sheet so that we can keep up to date records of when the condition was last checked.

The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping is a book that goes into depth about how to clean and look after all the different types of objects that could be in a National Trust property and how we, as Conservation Assistants, should look after that object. It is a very good reference guide that we use to double check any queries we have about how to clean or check for damage on objects especially if they are not the type of objects we normally handle day to day.