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Our conservation work at Lanhydrock

A conservator wearing yellow rubber gloves using a brush to clean the plaster on the ceiling in the Long Gallery at Lanhdyrock
A conservator at work in the Long Gallery | © Faye Rason

The National Trust works hard to look after Lanhydrock and its collection. From archiving historic documents to limiting damage caused by sunlight, the team is dedicated to conserving the estate’s fascinating heritage.

For the first time in its 400-year history, one of Europe’s most spectacular historic ceilings, depicting dozens of Biblical scenes, birds, and mythical beasts, is undergoing full conservation and repair. Created for Lanhydrock’s former owner, John Robartes, between 1620-40, the ceiling is a masterpiece of Jacobean plasterwork, and thought to be the work of the Abbott family of Frithelstock near Bideford.

At 35 metres (116 feet) long, the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Long Gallery at Lanhydrock will take specialists from Cliveden Conservation months to clean dirt and discolouration accumulated over centuries and to carry out intricate repairs. Using sponges and brushes, the specialists will use warm water to clean the ceiling, mould missing parts, including two unicorn horns, and reapply a layer of distemper.

Comprising 24 panels with scenes from the Old Testament Book of Genesis, including Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, the Life of Jacob, and David and Goliath, they are surrounded by more than 350 different species of animals, as well as intricately moulded plants and mythical beasts.

Visitors to climb a purpose-built scaffold to see the full length of the Long Gallery ceiling up close and watch the conservators at work. The scaffolding will be up from March-October 2024.

Protecting the collection

Please note that much of the collection on the mansion route is currently displayed on racking or under dust sheets to keep it protected while the Long Gallery ceiling is conserved. The Kitchen and Victorian Family Routes are displayed as normal.

The Lanhydrock archive project

A team of volunteers are currently hard at work at Lanhydrock, sorting and cleaning the estate’s extensive paper archive.

Record Office archivist Claire Wardale is training and leading the team as they sift through thousands of letters, bills, receipts and other documents accumulated over 400 years of history.

The volunteers are working their way through box after box, filled with papers dating from the 1570s to the 1970s. They’ll encounter documents from the English Civil War era, records relating to the 1881 fire and subsequent rebuilding of the house, along with information about the Agar-Robartes family, the tenants on the estate and the people who’ve lived in the local community.

What do we hope to achieve with this project?

It’s hoped that the project will help shed new light on what we know about Lanhydrock over the centuries, as well as facilitating future research.

Julian German, Cornwall Council portfolio holder for Economy and Culture, said: 'The collection contains a wealth of material that has so far been largely inaccessible to the public due to the lack of detailed information. This is a great opportunity to discover what stories are hidden in these boxes.'

Find out what we discover

All the information uncovered through this project will be entered onto the archive website Kresen Kernow. So, if you want to learn what the team discover from the archive, have a browse.

A woman cleans the collection at Lanhydrock in Cornwall
There are boxes of documents to sort through | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Protecting Lanhydrock house from sunlight damage

You may notice that the rooms in Lanhydrock house appear darker than you might have your rooms at home, meaning you have to stand closer to the windows to read your guidebook. No, we haven’t forgotten to open the blinds - the rooms are deliberately set up this way to help preserve Lanhydrock’s collection.

What damage does sunlight cause?

UV rays from sunlight are one of the main causes of damage at Lanhydrock. Have you ever noticed how red cars fade quickly? This is because UV rays cause pigments in the paint to deteriorate.

Most of the materials found inside Lanhydrock house would be similarly impacted if exposed to UV rays. Wooden objects would change colour and become brittle, textiles would fade and disintegrate, while natural history such as taxidermy and animal skin rugs would fade and break down. This damage would not only be cumulative but irreversible.

Visitors explore the house at Lanhydrock in Cornwall
We take care to ensure that Lanydrock's collection is protected from the sun | © National Trust Images/John Miller

How we limit sunlight damage

We employ various tactics to minimise the effects of sunlight damage. One of the jobs that keep the conservation team busy is adjusting the blinds to control the amount of sunlight that enters the rooms.

There are more than 200 sets of blinds located throughout Lanhydrock house, and each one needs to be adjusted up to four times a day – not only to block out the sun’s UV rays when it’s bright, but also to let in light when it’s dull outside so that people are able to see the items inside the rooms.

Measuring light levels

Throughout the house, you may notice little pieces of card with blue fabric inside. These are dosimeters – commonly known as ‘blue wools’. We use them to measure annual light exposure in sensitive areas and on sensitive items, such as the tapestry in the Morning Room.

The dosimeters are placed where we want to measure the light level, and then at the end of the year they’re sent off to a laboratory, where the fading on the blue fabric is analysed against that of a known sample. This gives us an accurate reading of the light exposure, which allows us to review how we’re managing light in that area.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

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