On Monday morning, a few of our volunteers gathered at the house to learn about preventative conservation. The morning was led by Nettie Cook, a freelance conservationist and specialist on furniture restoration, who has worked extensively with the National Trust, and other heritage organisations. She has run other conservation days at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, and joined us this morning to discuss the books, and the metal work.
The morning began with coffee and introductions, before moving into the servant’s hall for a discussion about what we wanted to learn, and about the basics of preventative conservation. Preventative conservation is not dissimilar from day-to-day cleaning, but requires particular care. It is work that is carried out to prolong the life of an object, rather than trying to restore it after it has broken, or become damaged. To begin our introduction, we went through the contents of the House cleaning supplies, learning about which chemicals to use on certain pieces of furniture, and how to use particular cloths and brushes. A few hot tips! Yellow dusters should be avoided at all costs, as the fibres can easily become trapped in cracks and crevices. Instead, a microfibre cloth can be used for dusting non-fragile surfaces. For everything else, pony-hair brushes are excellent, but Wilko’s make-up brushes make an excellent substitute!
There are many factors that can make an object deteriorate, such as humidity, light levels, and in particular, insects. The volunteers had a lot of fun looking through a large chart of all the types of insect that can invade and destroy a historic object. We were also able to examine a few examples up close, so we knew what to look for (the examples were, thankfully, dead and sealed in pots).
The volunteers had a look around the house to see what work needed to be done, and then split into two groups. The first group took the fenders down to the servants hall for polishing, and black-leading the stove. This involved a lot of elbow grease, but by the end of the session the fenders were shining, and the stove was back to top condition.
The second group headed into the study to talk about the best way to care for our book collection. As Elizabeth Gaskell’s House likes our visitors to be able to handle and read the books, we have to accept that they won’t be in perfect condition forever. The books are not original to the house, but they are generous donations, and there are quite a few gems dotted around. Nettie taught us how to remove books from shelves properly (push the two either side in slightly, giving you room to pull the book out by the middle of the spine), and how to dust them by squeezing the pages together, and using a soft brush on the top edge.
The morning proved to be both entertaining and very educational, and we all left feeling that we would now be able to take better care of the House. It was wonderful to be joined by someone with such expertise, and we hope to be able to host Nettie again soon.
Ariane Dean, Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
You can read about some more of our conservation cleaning days via the links below: