Conservation at Sutton House

Detail of a corner of a fireplace

Sutton House is one of the oldest houses in London, so our Conservation staff and dedicated volunteers work hard to look after it and its collection of furniture and objects. Each January we close for our annual 'conservation clean' - read on to find out more.

Conservation at Sutton House is a bit different to normal housekeeping! The work we do here is called preventative conservation, as it’s much better to prevent damage than to repair it once it’s occurred. There are a few things that can cause this damage, known as the ‘agents of deterioration’. The most evident is dust, which can be corrosive if left on surfaces to accumulate, and less evident ones include light, relative humidity and pests.

Have you ever noticed the little black floor traps around Sutton House? We use those to observe pest activity, and they alert us when there are too many insects - which like to nibble on our collection.

You might also have seen little blue squares of fabric within cardboard borders in various places: these record the amount of light that falls on our highly sensitive objects each year. Light causes colours in organic materials such as wood, textiles and paper to fade.

Relative humidity (RH) is the amount of moisture in the air and if doesn’t remain stable objects can shrink or crack. All old houses are very damp, especially in the basements, that’s why we routinely measure RH levels and use a dehumidifier and a fan to keep the environment in our cellar under control.

The January 'conservation clean'

We vacuum the floors and dust our flat surfaces every day, but each January we close the house to the public to carry out the winter 'conservation clean' and put the house 'to bed’. For the whole month the doors might be closed but we are very busy, cleaning each room from top to bottom - including every single object!

We have to do this extremely carefully and using specific techniques and equipment, such as brushes made of pony or hog’s hair to remove dust from the smallest of crevices, and wax to nourish and protect our wooden furniture and floors. At the same time, we also make sure to check the condition of everything so we can monitor any changes and keep our records up to date.

Every penny you spend at Sutton House goes towards supporting our conservation work. You can usually also participate in our Special Places Raffle and Winter Raffle, to support specific conservation projects undertaken each year.

Thank you for helping us to care for the oldest house in Hackney, and enabling it to withstand the test of time!