Caring for outdoor objects at Mottisfont

Conservation Assistant Alissa Tassopoulos cleaning a statue in the grounds of Mottisfont, Hampshire

In this lovely weather the house team like to get outside too. We have responsibility for the statues and urns in the garden, the summerhouse, the fishing hut and the loose boxes in the stableyard. Like all objects in the collection these need regular care and maintenance.

Many of our outdoor objects belonged to the last owner, Mrs Russell. She built the collection during her time at Mottisfont. Some of the statues are marble whilst the others are made of stone.

Unfortunately the types of stone which are most suitable for making carved ornaments aren’t always the hardest wearing. Portland stone and Coade stone were commonly used – the four Hermes statues along the font stream are made of Portland stone, the two urns by the East Porch are an example of Coade stone. The benches near the front of the house are made of marble.

Other outdoor items can be made of metal including bronze, lead, zinc or iron. We have lead urns and wrought iron benches to look after.

There are a number of ornamental urns in our grounds which need to be looked after
A close-up shot of an urn at Mottisfont, with an engraved leaf pattern
There are a number of ornamental urns in our grounds which need to be looked after

Standing out in all weathers, the statuary comes under fire from extremes of temperature, water, pollutants, moss, ivy or tree roots.

As you can imagine, a statue makes a good resting place for the local bird population and a lot of our cleaning can involve removing bird droppings. The droppings are very acidic and can erode away the surface. Regular cleaning of the surfaces helps prevent long term damage to the statues.

The easiest way to clean outdoor metals is to use lots of water and a sensitive washing up liquid. Lead is a softer metal and care has to be taken not to scratch the surface when cleaning it. Soaking the dirt will loosen it and cause less damage to the object. Once cleaned, a protective layer of microcrystalline wax can be applied to add an extra layer of protection from the elements.

We carefully clean all our outdoor metalwork
A Mottisfont volunteer uses a spong to clean a metal finnial sculpture
We carefully clean all our outdoor metalwork

During the summer you’ll find us washing Acteaon and Apollo, picking moss off the urns under the trees and making sure that lichen doesn’t damage the surface of the summerhouse floor. So, if you see us hiding under a bush, scraping at an urn with a toothbrush, do come and say hello.

When you visit in the winter you’ll see waterproof sleeping bags over most of the statues. This is necessary to prevent the surface of the statue from becoming too wet and the moisture being absorbed. If water becomes trapped, and freezes, it can lead to cracking and more permanent damage.

More information on the outdoor collection here at Mottisfont can be found on the National Trust’s Collections Online website, or do come and ask one of the house team when you next visit.