Who turned out the light?

A member of teh conservation team adjusts the blinds at Lanhydrock house, Cornwall

You may notice that the rooms in the house appear darker than you might have your rooms at home and you may have to stand a little closer to the windows to read your guidebook. However, we haven’t forgotten to open the blinds. Our rooms are set up this way to help preserve our collection while still helping people coming here to experience the house a Victorian home.

We’re a registered museum and one of the requirements of this registration is that we care properly for the items in our collection, minimising deterioration and conserving them for future generations to enjoy. UV rays from sunlight are one of the main causes of damage at Lanhydrock.

What damage does light cause?

Have you ever noticed how red cars fade quickly? This is because the light that allows us to see causes deterioration of the pigments in the paint and the colour then becomes bleached.

This happens to most materials also found within Lanhydrock house – wood changes colour and becomes brittle, textiles fade and disintegrate and natural history (like the taxidermy and animal skin rugs) fades and breaks down. This damage is not only cumulative but irreversible.

How we limit light damage

We try to manage the effects of light damage in a number of ways. One of the jobs that keeps the conservation team busy is adjusting the blinds to control the amount of light in a room depending on the brightness of the sun. We have around 206 blinds throughout the house and each one needs to be adjusted up to four times a day to block out the sun’s damaging UV rays when it’s bright but also to raise them when it’s dull outside so that people are able to see the decorations and items in the rooms.

Throughout the house you may notice little pieces of card with blue fabric inside. These are dosimeters, commonly known as 'blue wools'. We use them to measure annual light exposure in sensitive areas and on sensitive items, like the tapestry in the morning room.  The dosimeters are placed where we want to measure the light level and then at the end of the year they are sent off to a laboratory where the fading on the blue fabric is analysed with that of a known sample. This gives us an accurate reading of the light exposure, which allows us to review how we’re managing light in that area.

Light work

Our conservation team are also undertaking a large light monitoring exercise to collect data to be analysed to allow for more informed room plans, showing the areas in a room that receive the most light in relation to windows and blind positions. This data will be consolidated with other light readings to help us determine annual light exposure estimates for sensitive areas that are not monitored with a dosimeter.

So, when you come to Lanhydrock you can be sure that we’re doing our bit as part of the country’s largest conservation charity to care for the house and its collections for ever, for everyone and by coming here to step back into the Victorian past, you’re helping us preserve this Victorian home’s future.