Gaskell House Blogs

Conservation Cleaning

8th November 2017
in blog

On 31 October I, along with several other passionate volunteers at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, attended a fascinating and informative conservation cleaning course led by conservation cleaning professional Nettie Cook.

Nettie has previously worked for the National Trust and we had the pleasure of quizzing her extensively on her impressive career. She has worked on everything, from stunning antique Georgian furniture to lighthouses (which are apparently a nightmare to clean!). With Nettie’s help and expertise, we knew that by the end of the day every surface in sight would be polished to perfection.

To begin with the group went around the house, discussing different issues and how to deal with them. These included light damage to colourful objects, ingrained dust, fingerprints and even museum beetles! I know what you’re thinking, upon hearing this I too envisioned an intellectual group of six-legged academics with a particular interest in historic houses – sadly this is not the case with museum beetles, and an informative tour is not something that Nettie ever has in mind for them! Museum beetle larvae find carpets, flooring, and almost any organic material such as wool or silk particularly tasty. Thankfully we were focusing on prevention rather than pest control.

(Contrary to what my doodle might imply, top hats are not mandatory attire for visitors!)

My group was set the task of tackling Elizabeth’s desk in the dining room. After removing everything from the desk we got stuck in. Cleaning the 19th century embroidered area of the table required one volunteer sweeping the dust with a soft horsehair brush into the museum vacuum cleaner, being held by a second volunteer. We had to be particularly careful with this older textile, and it required a lace veil stretched over the hose of the museum vac to ensure that no damage was caused.

For wooden furniture Nettie advised us to use a horsehair brush, but for areas with more stubborn, ingrained dust, like the beautiful fireplace screens, a courser hog’s hair brush was needed. Furniture like chairs that accumulated fingerprints also required a thorough buffing after being polished and brushed.

In other areas of the house volunteers were cleaning the silver, and dusting the Boudoir grand piano, where incredibly careful, delicate strokes were needed. Elsewhere the UV light was being used to not only reveal damage, but to assist us with our dusting. It highlighted (literally) just how much dust had accumulated since the previous clean- it’s safe to say that we won’t be installing ultraviolet bulbs in the House any time soon!

For large areas like William and Elizabeth’s desks the task of brushing and vacuuming was painstaking but totally worth it. I, of course, captured a photo of Elizabeth’s desk post clean:

I think all of the volunteers after today felt inspired by Nettie, and determined to maintain the work that we put into cleaning the House. We even purchased a copy of the hefty handbook “The Manual of Housekeeping” by the National Trust to refer to when preparing for future cleaning sessions. Overall, the House looked even more beautiful and inviting than it had before so we’ll be sure to keep it up!

Megan Christo


And we've got a house. Yes! we really have

Elizabeth Gaskell, 1850