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Our work at Lacock Abbey

Conservation volunteer carefully cleans a tile with a cotton swab at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire
Conservation volunteer cleaning a tile at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire | © National Trust Images / Alana Wright

The team at Lacock Abbey are always busy behind the scenes making sure that it looks at its best for your visit and finding new ways to bring to life the things that make it so special. From dusting the chandeliers at great heights to inviting visitors to watch conservation in action, discover some of our varied work at Lacock Abbey.

Conserving Lacock's historic tiles

Over a two-week period in autumn 2019 the conservation team at Lacock Abbey cleaned, catalogued and conserved over a thousand tiles dating back to the 1200s.

After hundreds of years of footfall, the variable British weather and poor storage conditions the tiles were in desperate need of conservation to save them from being damaged beyond repair.

Visitors to Lacock during this time were able to watch the work take place.

‘We really enjoyed sharing this process with visitors. Normally this kind of work is done behind closed doors so it’s really special to bring it out into the open. Visitors asked some great questions, handled replica tiles and got a real insight into the work that we do to look after Lacock for the future.’

- Emma Hitchings, Senior Collections and House Officer

Medieval and Tudor decoration

The Abbey’s collection of tiles contains medieval examples, dating from the 1200s to the 1400s, and Tudor tiles dating from the 1500s. The medieval tiles would have been used to decorate the historic cloister and the Tudor tiles were made specially for Sir William Sharington, who bought Lacock Abbey from King Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries.

A conservator is cleaning a candlestick with a delicate brush in the South Gallery at Lacock, Wiltshire.
Conservation cleaning in the South Gallery at Lacock | © National Trust Images/Alana Wright

Lacock Abbey’s winter deep clean

Many of the rooms in the Abbey are closed during the winter months to give Lacock's house team the chance to complete a deep clean. The age of the Abbey and the size of its collection means that this is no easy task.

Working at heights

Although some of the high ceilings can be reached with the help of a telescopic duster, in some rooms scaffolding is needed to access hard-to-reach areas and delicate objects such as chandeliers.

Once up high, the conservation team systematically move around the edges of the room, inspecting the ceiling, cornices and walls for damage or movement, and dusting high-level objects as they go. Some items, such as ceramics and glass, need a bit more attention and get a wet clean after
being dusted.

The importance of dusting

Dust doesn’t just look unsightly, it can also be harmful. Dust scratches surfaces, increases the chance of mould growth, promotes insect damage (bugs love to eat dust), and will chemically stick to objects forever if it’s not gently removed on a regular basis.

A large black clock face with gold roman numerals and hands is shown on the side of a historic building at Lacock
The clock tower at Lacock | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Winding Lacock’s courtyard clock

Regular visitors to Lacock Abbey will be familiar with the striking clock tower in the Tudor Courtyard. Its mechanism dates from 1880 and is gravity run; two weights slowly drop over seven to eight days, providing the momentum to turn. The weight on the left controls the clock’s distinctive ‘dongs’ and the right weight controls the time.

Every week the Abbey team wind the weights back up and then check the time on the inner clock face, which is backwards to match the exterior clock face. If the clock has lost time, they adjust it accordingly by winding the minute hand around.

‘The clock holds its time very well, most weeks it only loses one minute – not bad for a clock from 1880!'

- Dave Hollis, Collections and House Officer

Keeping traditions alive

When it comes to the clocks going back, the team have to wind it through the full 12 hours, listening for the ‘dongs’ to make sure they have the right hour.

Traditionally, the clock was set five minutes fast to make sure the estate workers who lived in the village got to work on time and, today, the team are careful to keep the tradition going.

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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