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Our work in the house at Calke Abbey

A close-up of a collection assistant cleaning an ornate candlestick from the collection at Calke Abbey using a fine brush while wearing protective gloves
Conservation cleaning at Calke Abbey | © National Trust/Susan Guy

Unlike many stately homes, Calke Abbey tells the story of a country house in decline, therefore many of its rooms are seemingly abandoned, dusty and a little ‘un-stately’. But behind closed doors, there’s a whole team of conservation assistants and volunteers working to preserve Calke Abbey for future generations. Find out more about the vital conservation work we do here.

Everyday cleaning at Calke

During the open season, the house team can be found vacuuming the visitor route, which takes a massive three hours each day! The wooden floors are then dry mopped to keep them clean and prevent damage, and over 100 windows and 32 fireplaces are vacuumed each month.

True to Calke’s spirit of decline, the abandoned rooms are left to accumulate dust – the house team dust those rooms just once or twice a year. In the show rooms, however, the surfaces are dusted every day, and all the objects get a full dusting every week.

We also have a team of volunteers doing all sorts of vital jobs around the house, from collections cleaning and conservation work, to collection management and inventory logging.

The big winter clean

The main priority for the winter season is to clean and inspect every room on the visitor route. The team strip all the displays around the house and clean each individual part, from the objects themselves to the walls and carpets around them. Some of the rooms have such high ceilings that we build a scaffold to clean the high walls and collections, such as in the Saloon.

Almost all of the show-room furniture at Calke has an individually designed, shaped and handmade dustcover. During the winter months, after the collection has been through its deep clean, it is vital to cover the furniture to ensure it is not exposed to any unnecessary light or dust.

Calke’s dust covers were made many years ago by a team of textiles volunteers, who made each slip the perfect size and shape for its item.

The Dining Room at Calke Abbey during the winter cleaning work, with various pieces of furniture covered in handmade fitted dust sheets
Winter cleaning in the Dining Room at Calke Abbey | © National Trust/Susan Guy

Specialist conservation

Alongside the routine cleaning of the house, sometimes we come across objects that require the attention of specialist conservators. This work is usually carried out during the winter while the house is closed.

Conservators cover all manner of specialisms, helping us to take close care of specific collections of items, such as watercolours, prints and archives (a paper conservator), clocks (horologist), and even conservators who help us assess what’s eating our collection (pest and environmental conservators).

Restoring and repairing the collection

Most of the time specialist conservators instruct us on how best to avoid damage to these items, but occasionally when an item has been badly damaged or decayed, the conservators do repair and preservation work themselves to ensure the item’s condition stays stable.

Recent conservation work has included textiles such as the Saloon curtains and costume items, lamps, pianos and some of the natural history collection.

Protecting the floors

In 2018, we installed Eyemats in certain rooms of the house along the visitor route. Eyemats are a protective flooring made to look exactly like the original floors, which means that we can still allow visitors to walk over the floors and see what they look like, without causing damage to the flooring underneath.

Preserving the rusty metalwork

Did you know we have a team of metalwork volunteers at Calke? They help us to keep the metal objects and fittings in the exact state we found them in.

Using a special paste made from white spirit and renaissance wax, the team clean and treat the metalwork to provide a protective layer which preserves the current level of decay for up to five years. It’s all part of keeping Calke preserved in a state of decline!

A close-up of a shelf of old and rusting lamps in the collection at Calke Abbey, known as the 'un-stately' home
Lamps in the collection at Calke Abbey | © National Trust Images/Jemma Finch

Book conservation in the library

There are over 8,500 books and maps in the libraries at Calke, with parts of the collection dating back to the 16th century through to the 20th century.

Standing vertically for many years takes its toll on books, so we’ve undertaken conservation work to prevent the pages sagging and detaching from the covers. This involved creating bookshoes to support the books – these are tailor-made slip cases to support each book, which are hardly visible on the bookshelf.

We also clean the books to prevent any further decay – if you’re lucky, you might see the conservation team in action on your next visit.

Thank you

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

A view of the house at Calke Abbey from across the Pleasure Grounds, framed by green leaves on a sunny day


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