Caring for the future at Sudbury Hall

House and Collections team erecting scaffolding for high level cleaning

The House and Collections team is busy with all sorts of conservation work preparing for extended opening in 2019.

See what they have been getting up to over the past few weeks, from putting up scaffolding to conservation cleaning. They’re going to be assessing and cleaning some hard to reach areas, getting to know some dragons and even saying hello to William Shakespeare, all in time to welcome visitors back fully in 2019.

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10 Oct 18

It's all in the detail

It’s been an interesting week for the House and Collections team. The side hall floor is gleaming after being scrubbed and waxed and the section of ceiling we have been working on in the Great Staircase is complete. We tidied away a lot of our conservation equipment temporarily in order to have a company called V21 scan the visitor route in the Hall to make a new virtual tour. It’s nearly ten years since we had a virtual tour made and the technology has come on in leaps and bounds. Being able to give visitors good access to our collections is really important to us and this will mean that visitors, on site and off site, will be able to enjoy the best bits of Sudbury Hall. Another important job this week has been quite a routine one; looking for insects. This is called integrated pest management and it is a vital part of making sure our collections don’t get eaten by pests large or small. Nearly every room in the hall and museum has at least one sticky trap, often called a blunder trap as the pests ‘blunder’ onto the trap but it isn’t treated with anything to attract them. Every three months we check these traps to see if there are any insect pests which could eat our collection, from tiny booklice (they eat paper but only if it is damp) to deathwatch beetles (they like to eat damp structural timbers like oak) to so called woolly bears (the larvae of the varied carpet beetle). These finds are collated and sent to the central conservation team who can look for trends across properties. If we find we have a pesky pest problem they can also help. Checking all the traps, we’ve got nearly 100, is a long job but it can be very interesting. In an ideal world we wouldn’t want any insect pests, but it does get a bit exciting when we see one we haven’t seen before! We’ve also had some good news about some of our paintings. Four portraits went away to paintings conservators Critchlow and Kukkonen for conservation work in the summer and the reports came back this week. It is fascinating to read the all that goes into doing detailed work to clean and stabilise the canvasses. From dusting to selecting the right chemicals to remove and reapply varnish, their work is precise and shows where art meets science. The photographs they sent have given us a tantalising hint of how much better these paintings will look when they are back at Sudbury.

Painting conservation before and after at Sudbury Hall

26 Sep 18

A grimy shadow of the past

We’ve been feeling very connected to the maids and housekeepers who used to work here this week. A lot of what we do to care for Sudbury Hall is based on cutting edge conservation science. We have inert materials to pack objects, studies of how dust falls in a room, integrated pest management based on the latest research and more is coming through all the time. Nevertheless, so much of what we do is still based on the work of housekeepers in the past. Our main task this week has been scrubbing the Side Hall floor. This entrance is used by all of the staff, volunteers and contractors at the hall. This means that the floor has had a lot of wear and tear over the past few years. Despite the large door mats, frequent vacuuming, and occasional mopping, the floor has still become very grimy over the past few years. The flat areas are of polished stone and have been waxed in the past. To clean these we scrub them with scouring pads and water with a little mild detergent and then scour them again with clean water. Once they are dry we polish them with renaissance wax, a micro-crystalline wax which will both make the floor shiny and protect it from dirt and wear for a few years. The steps are made from porous stone and need to be more vigorously scrubbed with scrubbing brushes, a mild detergent solution and then clean water before being dried off with old towels. It takes a lot of elbow grease! Fortunately now we have kneelers and music to clean to but essentially we are following in the footsteps, or rather scrubbing brushes, of those who cleaned before us. It feels very special to be carrying on the care of Sudbury Hall in this way.

A conservation assistant scrubs the Side Hall at Sudbury Hall

19 Sep 18

Shakespeare sneezes

We’re cracking on with work in the hall, sometimes a little too literally! Our delicate plasterwork ceilings need dusting occasionally to stop dust sticking to surfaces, becoming unsightly and attracting pests but every time we dust them there is also an increased risk of damage. Every piece which falls off is photographed, bagged and labelled and stored in our ceiling ‘bits box’. This is a box of pieces which may be reattached one day or used for research. Fortunately we have only needed to consign one piece to the bits box in this section and that piece had already fallen off and was found balanced precariously on another plaster leaf. It’s also a good opportunity for us to check the overall condition of the plasterwork. We have detailed surveys which were carried out by specialist plaster conservators. We then use the diagrams they produced to monitor any cracks or signs of deterioration to see if they are getting worse. We mark copies of the diagrams up to show where we have been and any new signs of damage. While the scaffolding tower is up we are also dusting the top of the doorway to the Saloon. This is a very detailed wooden structure carved by Edward Pierce and although it is very beautiful when seen from the front, it is very rough from the top and rear where it wouldn’t normally be seen. On top of this is also a plaster bust of William Shakespeare. We’re not entirely sure why he is over this door or who made him but even Britain’s greatest playwright needs his nose blowing once in a while!

Conservation cleaning of Shakespeare plaster bust