I was lucky enough to spend one Monday morning recently with the lovely and talented group of people that are the Conservation Team here at Knole. Like many I’m sure, I have often wondered what their day-to-day work entailed, as much of this is completed deep within the property and remains unseen by visitors and office-based staff. A morning is only long enough to get a tiny glimpse into this, but was a fascinating and rewarding time nonetheless.
The team were taking me under their wing on one of their “deep clean” days, where they have a precious few hours in which the house is closed to the public. They explained to me that – although an important and enjoyable part of the role is to engage with visitors and answer any queries about conservation – during closed time they can properly concentrate on detailed care and cleaning, without worrying about interrupting the visitor experience or trailing wires from equipment etc! Whilst all areas of the house get a light cleaning every day, on deep-clean days the showrooms are visited in rotation so thorough attention can be paid to the walls, windows, furniture and mouldings. It’s painstaking work, using a variety of different specialist tools to carefully dust and vacuum any debris that could build up and cause damage over time.
We were working in the Cartoon Gallery, and I started by getting strapped in to my own vacuum back-pack, which Melinda rightly pointed out is like wearing a personal hot water bottle! I was privileged that the guys actually let me loose on the collection and woodwork, using a soft brush to vacuum up the dust and dirt and therefore removing it from the environment as much as possible. Not only is it highly skilled work but also requires the patience of a saint – something I can’t claim to have. These guys do, though, in buckets – and due to their experience and expertise they are quick also…completing whole sections of the massive gallery in the time it took me to clean one door frame.
I also got a “behind the scenes” insight into the storage areas the team have access to…tiny little cupboards hidden away out of sight behind panelling or in corners, where all the tools of the trade are. The Conservation Team not only have to be exceedingly patient to do their jobs, they also have to be pretty fit due to lugging heavy conservation equipment around the house. Of course cleaning and maintaining the house and collection is only a small part of what they do; as skilled Conservation Assistants the team assume a critical role in the ongoing project work here at Knole, assessing how we best secure and preserve the valuable objects and protect the fragile interiors for future generations, for example carefully removing items to be sent offsite for conservation, or helping lift the ancient floorboards for exploratory works. I know that the team are also becoming more involved than ever in visitor engagement, including hosting family torchlight tours offering an “up close” view of Knole from a specialist perspective.
No wonder they need such big cups of tea during their breaks!
Rebecca Norburn – Fundraising Manager (maternity cover)