Winter cleaning and conservation at Woolsthorpe

Scientific Instrument on a window sill at Woolsthorpe Manor

The winter closure at Woolsthorpe has created a golden opportunity for our house conservation team to get stuck in to a deep winter clean and some much needed conservation repair work.

House Steward, Jennie Johns, and her team of volunteer conservation cleaners will be working methodically from the top floor of the Manor down throughout the house to the Parlour, Hall and Kitchen.

Cleaning products are used sparingly; Traffic Wax for the wooden floors and a micro-crystalline wax polish, blended to a formula used by the British Museum, for the furniture.

Softly softly

Whilst it may look like a scene from Ghostbusters, the purpose of our vacuum backpacks is to minimise any potential damage to furniture and our collection. We use the softest brushes to sweep the dust into the nozzle of the vacuum cleaners, which have variable suction strengths.

Grit from our paths makes its way into the house and this approach prevents the grit acting as an abrasive during cleaning. Everything from light fittings and door frames, to pewter serving spoons and pepper pots is inspected, cleaned and recorded so that we know as much as possible about the condition of the objects in our care.

We use the softest brushes in our conservation cleaning.
Volunteer conservation cleaning at Woolsthorpe
We use the softest brushes in our conservation cleaning.

Unwanted Guests

All furniture and floorboards are regularly cleaned, vacuumed and checked for evidence of insect pests.  We have a rogue’s gallery in the cleaning cupboard; high on our watch list are Silverfish and Woodworm. Pests can cause a lot of damage to our properties and constant vigilance is key to caring for our collection.

You may have spotted small plastic boxes tucked into corners or against walls in old historic buildings. These are pest traps, they are collected quarterly and the contents reviewed. Remedial action can then be taken if needed.

The temperature and moisture content of the air in every room is checked using a handheld gadget called an Elsec Environmental Monitoring Device.  Not only does this help maintain the correct atmosphere to protect the fabric of the Manor and its contents, but it also helps prevent insect infestation, as they tend to thrive in moist conditions.

Time to repair

Winter gives us a good opportunity to carry out some building works in the house. The kitchen ceiling in the Manor will be fully restored following the burst pipe earlier in the year, along with a repair to the wall in the Hall alcove, which suffered some visitor wear and tear.

We have had some stone deterioration in the window in the Parlour, which needs further investigation into the fabric of the building around the lintel.

The Science Centre ceiling in the Barn needs repairing above our Light Workshop area.  The high winds in September caused some sections of ceiling to fall down and it needs making good.

Our special objects

Now whilst at Woolsthorpe we don’t have swathes of textiles to care for and clean, we do have some important Newton artefacts to maintain.  Our key collection pieces include a rare 1726 3rd Latin Edition of  Principia Mathematica, Isaac’s pewter death mask, a plaster bust of Newton himself and the new discovered graffiti to preserve.

3rd Latin edition of Principia Mathematica at Woolsthorpe
Title pages of 3rd Latin Edition of Principia Mathematica
3rd Latin edition of Principia Mathematica at Woolsthorpe

Woolsthorpe Manor has been welcoming admirers of Isaac Newton since his own lifetime and it is now our duty to ensure that the building and its contents are preserved, so that they may inspire our visitors in the future