Spring Cleaning with our Volunteer Housekeeping Team
On Monday, a few volunteers gathered in the servant’s hall at Elizabeth Gaskell’s house for one of our regular sessions of conservation cleaning.
Most of the objects, books and furniture in the house are more than a hundred years old (and some even older) and they need care and attention to be sure that they are preserved and kept in good condition.
Conservation cleaning mainly involves bringing silver and brass back to their original shininess, dusting and polishing objects to ensure no pest finds a warm, comfortable nest in our precious collection and being sure that the house looks like something a respectable Victorian family would have approved of.
When the conservation cleaning starts, the clock goes back in time and all of a sudden one can imagine the Gaskell’s family going about their business, whilst the servants fret around the house, dusters in hand. We surely had a later start and a good cup of coffee to begin with, but then, like good industrious bees, we kept ourselves busy polishing the silver, brushing the picture frames, cleaning the architraves and dusting the book edges. Here are two wonderful volunteers, Diana and Dianne (our Housekeeping team leader), chatting away whilst working hard on candelabra and old pictures in the Servants’ Hall.
Two portraits sitting in Revd. Gaskell’s study required some extensive care. We believe they are Ann Gaskell, William Gaskell’s sister, and her husband William Robson, to whom a commemorative obelisk is dedicated in Cairo St Chapel in Warrington. The frames are very old and in not very good condition, the backs held together by a row of nails. The expert hands of Frank and Dianne succeeded in setting the images free for some gentle cleaning and enthusiastic investigation: can we find out more about the portraits? Is there any inscription at the back? A faded stamp from a photography studio, perhaps?
We did not discover much so far, but we will try and research the provenance of the two works and keep you posted about the frames’ renovation.
Below, are Frank and Dianne at work on Ann Gaskell’s portrait.
Conservation cleaning is always a good occasion to spend some time in the company of the objects that surround us, to observe them in detail and to pause and think about times gone by. Every session is a chance to discover something new and, at the end, it is wonderful to see the house shiny and clean, ready to welcome our visitors and to be filled with more stories.
Valentina, House Volunteer