Lending a hand to clean Owletts books

 Last week, Sarah and I took some time out of our usual Knole routine to lend a hand at Owletts, in Cobham near Gravesend. Owletts was the family home of Sir Herbert Baker (1862 – 1946), a leading architect of the late 19th and early 20th century. The property has been undergoing a major restoration project over the past year and now that the works are complete, it is time to reinstate the collection and get the house ready for not only the visiting public but also for new tenants.


Gill Nason, aLondonand the South East regional conservator who has been overseeing the project, has had many helpers over several weeks from properties across the region including Smallhythe, Chartwell and Batemans.

Our task was to assist with the reinstatement of the library. This was particularly interesting for us as we have little opportunity to work with books as the library at Knole remains in the care of Lord Sackville. Overseen by specialist book conservator Caroline Bendix, we took part in a number of tasks. These ranged from unpacking books from storage, to putting up shelves.

The nozzle of the vacuum cleaner was fed through into a box to ensure all the dust particles were collected.

Before the books could be returned to the shelves, they had to be cleaned to remove any dust that had accumulated on the cover or the text block. We wore masks to protect ourselves from inhaling any dust or possible mould spores. Using a very soft pony hair brush and keeping the book firmly closed, the books were dusted into a conservation vacuum cleaner.

Dust is directed towards the nozzel of the vacuum using a pony hair brush.

Over the years some of the book boards have become loose or detached and require additional support as a result. We used cotton tapes to tie the books horizontally across the top and bottom. We carefully checked to make sure that the titles and volume numbers on the spines were not obscured by the tape and were tightly tied with a granny knot. This type of knot sits vertically in the hollow between the boards of the cover on the opposite side to the spine.

This took some practise as both Sarah and I naturally tie reef knots!

We had a brilliant day in the library at Owletts and it gave us
a valuable opportunity to refresh our skills under expert
guidance as part of the larger National Trust team.

Lucy and Sarah.

To find out more about Owletts, visit:


2 thoughts on “Lending a hand to clean Owletts books

  1. Well done, I really enjoyed reading it. Am hoping Gareth will be putting something on the Owletts website this week too. Gill xx

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