Winter cleaning at Mompesson House

The green room covered in dustsheets

For me, the winter clean started when the house closed in October. Since we closed after Christmas it has started in earnest. Shutting the house down is something we’re all familiar with in period dramas when the family goes to their winter house and everything is covered in white dustsheets. It’s something rarely seen these days and it feels as if I am working in a Jane Austen novel.

The reality is that it’s a time when every item in the collection is looked at very closely. Whether by a specialist conservator, or me, everything is studied in fine detail. The clock conservator has visited to repair our James Smith musical table clock which was chiming an hour and a half later than the time was set and to take our Samuel Mortlock 8 day table clock away for a more detailed look as it hasn’t worked at all for months.

Repairing the dining room clock
Repairing the dining room clock

Textile conservators have taken down the chintz bed hangings from the four-poster in the south east bedroom. The textiles date from the early 19th-century and are being cleaned before we open again.

The four-poster bed in the south east bedroom without its hangings
The four-poster bed in the south east bedroom without its hangings

Condition reports are my bread and butter. These are detailed sheets that record every item’s condition and are used to check if there is any deterioration over the last year. They help us pinpoint cracks, woodworm holes, scratches, veneer lifting, holes in fabric and many other problems.

In this small house over 2,000 items are looked at. Room by room, object by object, everything is documented. Every drawer is taken out and cupboard opened to be cleaned and inspected. As part of the winter’s deep clean, checking the condition of everything is vital to the upkeep of the collection. Preventative conservation like this is the backbone of what I do.

Checking inside furniture
Checking inside furniture

The tools that I clean with are a little unusual and not what most people use at home. I have a variety of different brushes that have different uses. The hog’s hair brush, pony hair and the squirrel hair brush. These vary in softness and are how I clean 90% of the house.

Different brushes used for cleaning
Different brushes used for cleaning

A museum vac is another vital tool. I also have a small Nilfisk vacuum cleaner which can be worn Ghostbuster-style which enables me to climb ladders and hold the vacuum at the same time. Finally, I have a range of cotton cloths that I use for dry dusting, waxing and cleaning metals. I use very little in the way of actual cleaning products. It’s mainly dusting with brushes, huffing on glass and a bit of elbow grease where needed.

Kate wearing the Nilfisk vacuum cleaner
Kate wearing the Nilfisk vacuum cleaner

The winter clean wouldn’t be complete without help from volunteers. This week I have had the pleasure of working with several groups, from ceramics cleaning, metal work and book cleaning. These are large jobs and the help and enthusiasm from volunteers is such a wonderful part of working with the Trust.

Volunteers cleaning some of the ceramics
Volunteers cleaning some of the ceramics

We open again on the 11 March, when the covers come off and the hard work of the winter clean will be over. The house will be ready for the visitors’ return; this year we’re open every day until 5 November by which time it will be ready for another winter clean.