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Our work at Red House

Close-up of an old book being cleaned with a conservation brush in the library at Chartwell, Kent
A volunteer removing dust from a book at Chartwell, Kent | © National Trust Images/Sam Milling

As winter rolls around, Red House closes its doors to visitors to allow essential maintenance and conservation work to take place. The house becomes a hive of activity, with staff and volunteers working together to clean and check every object in the collection. Planning also gets under way for the next season of events and activities, ready to welcome visitors back to enjoy this special place again once spring returns.

Protecting Red House's historic interior

Winter is a very busy time for the Red House team with projects to start, conservation cleaning to be carried out and remedial work to be done. Every week Red House gets a good dose of preventive conservation in the form of dusting, vacuuming and regular environmental checks, but it’s during the winter that we can do more to protect the house for the year ahead.

Closing over the winter gives the house a chance to rest. That might sound strange, but it’s good to have a period where there isn’t pressure on the delicate floors, fluctuating temperatures from the opening and closing of doors, or extended periods of light exposure. Light bleaches colour and can break down the structure of fabrics.

Unless we’re working in the rooms, they get blacked out with screens to reduce fading on furniture and paintings. Rugs are rolled up to protect the patterns, and the rate of wear to the floors slows from having less footfall. This ensures that the interior of Red House remains in a stable condition for longer.

Cleaning the collection

An empty house is also an opportunity to conduct some much-needed work that’s a little more invasive than our regular cleans. We can get a mobile scaffold in to help us reach high ceilings that aren’t accessible through the year, our metal collection gets a coat of anti-rust protection and every wooden floor gets waxed and buffed.

Red House has a wonderful team of volunteers who lend a hand and work wonders in a small amount of time. The team clean and inventory check every item in the house. Every cupboard and drawer is emptied, cleaned and re-packed. Carpets are cleaned, rolled and covered to protect them from dust.

The cleaning of collection objects is done painstakingly with suction controlled vacuum cleaners and brushes made from hogs, pony, goat, badger or squirrel hair, depending on the delicacy of the object.

Wall painting in the main bedroom at Red House, London.
The wall art in the bedroom was discovered behind a wardrobe | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Revealing Red House’s secrets

Little remains from the time William and Jane Morris lived at Red House. Morris took most of the furniture when he moved out, and redecoration by later owners hid the original schemes.

Over more than a decade we've worked to uncover this hidden decoration from Morris’ time. Projects have included conserving the intricately detailed wall painting by Edward Burne-Jones, cleaning the soot-stained ceiling decoration and uncovering a mural hidden behind a modern wardrobe in the main bedroom.

Thank you

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

Person reading on a bench in the Garden Snug at Red House, London, with the wattle fencing visible.


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