Conservation at Sutton House

Detail of a corner of a fireplace

Sutton House is the oldest house in East London, so our Conservation team, with the help of dedicated volunteers, work hard to look after it and its collection of furniture and objects.

It’s a bit different than normal housekeeping! The work we do here is called preventive 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 deteriorations’, the most evident being dust, which can be corrosive if left on surfaces to accumulate, and less evident ones such as light, relative humidity and pests.

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

You might also have seen little blue squares of fabric within a cardboard border in various places; these record the amount of light which falls on 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 then 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.

We hoover the floors and dust the flat surfaces every day, but then in January we carry out the Winter Clean and ‘put the house to bed’. During the whole month, we are closed to the public but we are very busy cleaning each room from top to bottom, including every single object!

We have to do it 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 also participate in our Special Places Raffle and Winter Raffle to support specific conservation projects that we do each year.

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