Looking after a Treasure House
With more than 10,000 objects to look after, up to 700 visitors a day and a major Chippendale exhibition on the go , it’s all in a day’s work for Sarah Crane, Nostell’s House Manager and her team.
The first major task of the day is opening up the house before visitors arrive at 11am, Sarah explains.
“It’s a big house so the process starts at 9am – there are 30 doors to be opened, we hoover the visitor route every day and there are 37 blinds that need adjusting.”
Caring for the collection
Nostell really is a treasure house, there are over 10,000 notable objects in the collection, including 100 Chippendale pieces, and it is Sarah’s job to make sure it is looked after so that it can be enjoyed for future generations to come.
Sarah tells us, ‘‘There is dusting to be done on a daily basis, although delicate objects are only dusted every few months to avoid damage. Blinds need to regularly be lowered, especially on sunnier days because of the damaging effect of light.”
“We also do a variety of checks on an ongoing basis including looking at humidity levels and checking for pests such as moths, woolly bears and deathwatch beetles, all of which can cause damage to the collection, if we don’t keep an eye on them.”
" It’s a huge responsibility and my ultimate aim is to leave the house in a better state than I have found it."
Conservation and restoration
A lot of the collection is over 300 years old and there is inevitably wear and tear. The team recently got funding to help stabilise a Chippendale mirror in the state bedroom, but there is always more that needs to be done.
“After so many years of working life there are many objects that require more specialist conservation to prevent them from deteriorating further so we don’t risk losing them forever. Our top priorities at the moment include a beautiful mahogany games and an architect table both made by Chippendale."
"Plus there are pieces that have been modified over time. There is scope to do exploratory work to find out how they would have originally looked so that they can be returned to their former glory. The sofas and chairs in the Saloon were reupholstered in the 19th century distorting their original appearance and we would love to be able to restore Lady Winn’s Writing Table to the way it was when she penned her thoughts there.”
It is obvious from talking to Sarah that she loves her job. She says that it is a beautiful place to work and the people are fantastic, but that bad weather can cause sleepless nights.
“Heavy rain and snow can be a problem. We do what we can to prevent damage but it’s an old house and it can be unpredictable. Flooding caused damage to the Billiard Room Sofa last year. It had just been away for conservation so this was frustrating and it cost a lot of money to repair.”
Conservation in action
“We do most of our conservation work when the house is open - it’s important that our visitors see it as we do it. They are fascinated by what we do and the care and skill that is required to look after the collection.”
“Welcoming people to Nostell and sharing our heritage through our treasures and the stories behind them is a privilege."
“That’s why I am so excited about our new Chippendale exhibition. He is one of the most influential designers in English history and the exhibition gives us the opportunity to bring his story to life and put the collection on the map nationally.”
Nostell is a house with many important pieces to look after and great stories to tell. We recently launched our Treasure House Appeal to help Sarah and her team look after the collection, so it is here for future generations to enjoy through a programme of inspiring exhibitions and events.