Autumn how I love thee… (Judging by the fairly constant use of leaf -blowers by the garden crew, the feeling may or may-not be universal…) While I still seem to be suffering a little seasonal clock change jet-lag, the house team has embarked on a ‘High-clean’ programme that has been meticulously planned out by Katy. (The ‘Commander Riker’ to House Manager Lin’s ‘Jean-Luc Picard’ for all you Star Trek fans…) This involves first and foremost preparing the house room by room. The plan is to clean as we do on a closed day first. Then we go round and remove all of the ceramics and put them in secure storage, out of harms way.
The next thing is to cover all of the furniture and objects with acid free paper and fabric covers to protect them from dust and damage. The most valuable items get purple triangles and/or florescent stars, so they can be easily identified in the unlikely event they would need to be removed as part of an emergency salvage operation. (Fire, flood, earthquake, zombie infestation, alien invasion, that kind of thing… ) They then get moved to the middle or edges of a room so we can bring the ladders in to start the ‘High Clean’. That should put my vertigo to the test!
An opportunity to go ‘off piste’ came when Margaret suggested it would be a good experience for me to help out with the seasonal clean at Westwood Manor. As my training course has a lot to pack in to a year, I jumped at the chance to try my hand at conservation cleaning in different environment. I successfully found my way through the hussle and bussle of Bradford-on-Avon, and got there just after Margaret and Bridget. Having no prior knowledge of what was in store, I was a little blown away. The house is surrounded by lush gardens and hedges, and is not only a grade 1 listed building but gets a mention in the Doomsday book. A truly beautiful house and a real National trust gem. The house also has tenants, who I was instantly envious of! After a quick cuppa, we set to work. I was designated the ‘Oriel’ bedroom. (Margaret casually noted ‘I think that one’s haunted’…. Thanks!) I must have been trained well as the instinct to clean kicked in, and I automatically looked for good place to start. This cosy room contains tapestries and a great four poster bed with some lovely carving, but no ghost today. Moving systematically through, under Margaret’s guidance we found ourselves in the ‘Music room’. This is most impressive and has a piano, harp and lute in its collection. (The only thing stopping me from attempting the opening bars of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was a couple of broken strings….)
With the change in season, comes a change in open days for the house. (We are now closed Wednesdays/ Thursdays) This has given the house posse the chance to do some more in-depth cleaning… This involves taking each room and/or corridor, and cleaning top to bottom as usual, with the added bonus of not needing to be so aware of the time. On a day the house is open to the public, we only have from 8.30 to 10-ish to get the whole visitor route cleaned through the house. So this is when cleaning gets serious. The main addition to the conservation arsenal is a very long pole with a pink fluffy feather duster at the end – very macho… This bad boy is used to catch cobwebs and to start cleaning at the higher areas and then work down.
With all that fun & games out the way, it was time to get back to some serious cleaning. We have a set of 18 rather lovely carved walnut chairs in the Great Hall, and they get quite a bit of interest. Mostly because one has been carved with a slight difference to the other 17. This has been the source of much conjecture, head scratching crystal ball gazing and chicken bone reading, as visitors try to suss out which one is the odd one out. 9 times out of 10 they will give up and ask the room guide, but when I was a room guide one day, an angel with long blonde hair picked it out almost straight away! ‘The force’ was indeed strong with this one…… As lovely as the walnut chairs are, they are all slightly different in their general shape,(you try being 300 years old and not have back trouble) With much interest comes much touching (sitting on them is strictly forbidden and will result in a spell in the tower! ) And with much touching comes much cleaning so out come the brushes… To clean around all of the chairs without bashing them or the wall’s they are against would indeed require a steady hand and true ‘sensei’. This is where the fun begins, as the trick is to place your hands underneath each side of the seat of the chair and gently lift taking one pace backwards. Do that another 17 times and you have a perfect space to get to clean all around them! The ‘one pace backwards’ comes in handy when you have to put them all back so you can judge where they should be. This is only a guide however, and there is much squinting and gentle nudging to get them all to line up.