What happens during the closed season?

House Steward, Snowshill Manor

Vicki Swinglehurst - House Steward

House Steward Vicki looks back at the winter cleaning 2014/15 and lets us know what happened during the closed season.

Two spinning wheels from the collection at Snowshill Manor in the Cotswolds

Cleaning from top to bottom?

Normally we start the winter clean in an upstairs room and work down or in a downstairs room and work up in a rather methodical manner that has been planned by the team. This season challenged that and many of our other normal processes.

We started the season with a great team effort to clean Zenith and empty Turquoise ready for the building work to start. In just four days all the objects had been cleaned and Zenith was packed full of furniture, even more than it normally is! After that we moved upstairs to 100 wheels, this room was cleaned so we could use it to store the items from Mermaid and Seventh Heaven which were also being plastered and painted. Nothing was where you would expect it to be! As a result of all these changes a lot of time was spent on the paperwork aspect of the conservation work we do. As well as movement records we also had a great push this year on writing and updating many more condition reports. These are the reports we hold for each individual object and we use these to record any damage or significant treatment that is relevant to that object. It is a lot easier to keep on top of this work when you have a small collection, as we have 22,000 we have some catching up to do.

We came across many problems this year that slowed down the cleaning process. Namely insect activity. Woodworm and death watch beetle have been busy. Each object has been treated but as this is a lengthy process which often involves delicate and detailed work which has had an impact on our schedule. Rodents also caused some drama when volunteer Jackie had to rescue a hysterical Vicki when she found a mummified shrew! There was also drama when one of the legs on the welsh dresser in Ann’s room fell off. One of Mr Wade’s repairs hadn’t lasted as long as he would have liked!

Staff and volunteer training

This year we have seen our conservation team grow, not just with our new staff members but with the number of volunteers that assist us during the winter. Following the success of our first conservation training day in October we held another in January and we now have a much larger team of trained volunteers helping us with the cleaning. These volunteers will also be helping us to clean during the open season in the mornings and with conservation in action demonstrations. We are very grateful to the work Alex and Harriet did during Harriet’s internship last year that has made this training possible.

The staff have also been continuing their own development this Winter. Alex attend the National Trust’s House Keeping Study Days in January.In November we travelled to Bristol for an introduction to working with scientific and industrial collections course and we returned in January to learn more about caring for costume collections. We also had an onsite training day with our Collections Registrar who came to show us how to inventory mark correctly. We will be incorporating this into our inventory checks and conservation in action demonstrations this year.

With a little help from our friends

We had the first of our visiting conservators arrive in February. Mike Flannery returned to look at our clock collection. He has taken the wooden clock from the old stairs back to his workshop for a proper looking after as it’s a bit tricky to see properly while hanging over the old stairs bannister. He is also looking into a new hanging system for the clock in Mizzen.

We also started looking at how we will be cleaning the Manor if our opening hours change. This has involved rewriting all of our cleaning task lists and looking at how the tasks are completed. You will certainly be seeing more of the cleaning team as we start to do more demonstrations and clean barrier rooms such as Top Royal in front of the visitors.