How do you monitor dust?

Regular readers of the Conservation Team blog will know that we spend a lot of our time dealing with dust! In Knole’s damp environment, dust can become stuck on the surface of objects and form a ‘mudpack’ which can be extremely difficult or even impossible to remove.  The emergency building repairs at Knole are well under way with contractors steadily removing the damaged cement render on the external if the East front in preparation for the lime render replacement.

Dust protection installed in the Billiard Room a couple of weeks ago

Despite lots of preparation to protect the collection (including the construction of dust screens through the rooms of the East and North fronts, which forms a tunnel visitors walk through, and covering of objects in dust covers and Tyvek), as the render and roof tiles are stripped back lots of dust and debris is finding its way through the many cracks and gaps between the panelling and ceilings in to the show rooms.

Debris and rubble in a previously undiscovered roof void.

Many of these gaps and cracks were not always obvious, however now they are clearly visible as daylight shines through!  In order to monitor the dust levels in the show rooms just before the building work started we began a dust monitoring programme to find out which areas are being particularly affected or in need additional protection.

The monitors are made from simple adhesive strips held in place with a slide mount. These sit at various set points around the house with the aim of capturing any particles of dust which land on the sticky surface.

A dust monitor in the Spangled Dressing Room temporary project store.

There are 12 monitors in the show rooms with more monitors in the temporary store in the Spangled Dressing Room.  In order to draw a comparison to usual dust levels, we are also monitoring show rooms towards the end of the visitor route, including in the Cartoon Gallery, where building work is yet to begin.  At intervals of 4 weeks, each slide is photographed using a digital microscope to record how much dust has been collected.  We are then able to visually compare the photographs to earlier samples and to the monitors in other areas of the house.

Lucy photographs the monitors using a digital microscope.

Taking photographs of the monitors using the microscope.

One of the dust monitors under the microscope, complete with particles of dirt and fluff!

This information will help us to make decisions about how to protect the collection as the work progresses to other areas of the house.

Lucy, Sarah, Emily and Melinda

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