Spot checks!

One of the most important things we do at Knole is keeping an eye on the environmental conditions in the Showrooms. We do this through a combination of ways. Our primary method is using individual monitoring sensors in each room that send a regular signal back to the office detailing the Relative Humidity (RH) and temperature in each space. By this method we can keep an up to the minute record of what’s going on.

IMAG2822

Our regular ‘Hanwell’ environmental monitors. This one is in a storage space and is showing an RH reading of 58%, right where we want it.

However, because of our current project and the work going on to improve the lighting, conservation heating and all sorts of other things it means that we don’t have proper radio monitors in some rooms right now.

 

photo

RH in some rooms sometimes reaches worryingly high levels. It’s essential to keep a good watch on what’s happening.

 

This means that our secondary method become more important and we have to do it more regularly. This method is using spot checks. Usually we go into each space in the showrooms and store rooms every two weeks to take temp, RH, lux and UV readings to make sure that our automatic monitoring is consistent with our handheld sensor.

While the sensors are gone in the second half of the house we send the intrepid Zena in with a hard hat and a monitor to take readings every week. This way we know what kind of conditions the historic showrooms are facing on a day to day basis in all weathers.

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Zena taking readings in the Ballroom

Monitoring the Great Stairs environment

The Great Jacobean Staircase at Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent

The Great Staircase was entirely remodeled by Thomas, 1st Earl of Dorset, between 1605 and 1608. It formed a key stage in the formal procession of the family and their guests from the Great Hall to the state rooms on the first floor.
The Great Staircase at Knole was remodelled by Thomas, 1st Earl of Dorset between 1605-1608 at Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent

The wall paintings decorating the main staircase at Knole are rare and very important survivals of Renaissance decoration. Dating from about 1603, they are one of only two complete schemes which survive from this period (the other is at Harrington Hall in Worcestershire) and presage the development of sumptuous painted staircase schemes in the late 17th or early eighteenth century, as seen in the King’s Apartment at Hampton Court Palace.
The Great Staircase from the landing at Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent

The paintings were executed in oil on plaster and have been unstable from an early period. Oil paint tends to lift and flake in the English climate, and their location also makes them particularly vulnerable to damage by touching. Flaking eventually leads to loss of the paint, seen in the white spots over the painted balustrade. The following images illustrate some of the damage and earlier remedial conservation repairs that have taken place over the years:

Areas of paint flaking revealing the plaster underneath

Areas of paint flaking revealing the plaster underneath

Cracking in the paint surface

Patches of previous repair, some of which are now failing and the paint is flaking off again

Patches of earlier repair, some of which are now failing and the paint is flaking off again.

As a part of our Inspired by Knole conservation project we are currently undertaking some extensive environmental monitoring of the staircase, internally and externally. We have placed temperature and relative humidity sensors on the external wall of the staircase and on the inside wall.

The external sensor, on the east facing wall

One of the internal sensors, on the north wall. The second is positioned on the east wall

One of the internal sensors, on the north wall. The second is positioned on the east wall

This will allow us to monitor what the temperature and relative humidity levels of the external wall surface and the internal wall paintings. Using time lapse photography we are also recording where direct sunlight falls on the external and internal walls.

The time lapse camera recording direct sunlight on the external wall of the Great Stairs.

The time lapse camera recording direct sunlight on the external wall of the Great Stairs.

 Our conservators who came to install the monitoring equipment also took some thermal images of the walls, another method to record the temperature of the wall surfaces.

Inside thermal imaging shot

Inside thermal imaging shot.

 

We are also monitoring another two wall surfaces to draw comparisons with the Great Stairs. The Spangled Bedroom, with new render and insulation; and the Brown Gallery which has relatively new render but no wall insulation. In these locations we have a temperature and relative humidity on the external surface and in-between the render and internal plaster. By monitoring the effects of new render and a wall with and without insulation, this will help us decide what the best method of protection will be for the Great Stairs wall paintings.

Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena

Understanding British Portraits – painting conservation at Knole

Another paper delivered at the Understanding British Portraits seminar last month was by Melanie Caldwell, paintings conservator on the “Past and Future Conservation of Paintings at Knole”.

Melanie delivering her paper in the Great Hall at Knole

Melanie delivering her paper in the Great Hall at Knole

“Damp, which is the most insidious of all enemies… steals in while we sleep; damp is silent, imperceptible, ubiquitous. Damp swells the wood, furs the kettle, rusts the iron, rots the stone. So gradual is the process that it is not until… the whole thing drops to pieces in our hands, that we suspect even that the disease is at work.”

Virginia Woolf, “Orlando”, first published in 1928.

Introduction

Over the last 40 years, since National Trust condition records began high humidities at Knole have caused problems for the paintings leading to mould growth, whitened opaque varnish layers and flaking paint. An overview of the conservation records over the last 200 years provides some insight in to changing conservation priorities for the paintings, and approaches to conservation for the future.

The majority of paintings in Knole have had some conservation treatment over the last 400 years although not all of it has been recorded. We can see evidence of previous restorers in discoloured over paint, traces of older darker varnishes, linings and tear mends. It would be extremely unusual for paintings of this age not to have received attention.

Historical Restoration

The earliest recorded restoration at Knole was from the very late 18th and early 19 centuries by Painter/Restorers, who carried out Restoration alongside Painting. Restoring according to Edward Edwards writing in 1808 was “a good resource for the invalids in painting”.1 But on the other hand there was a Status attached to Artists who were capable of understanding and working on Old Masters, perhaps begun by Joshua Reynolds who restored his own paintings and others as a way of studying old master techniques

According to Bridgmans Guide to Knole the Raphael copies and some of the Reynolds paintings, were “cleaned and restored to their original spirit and beauty by that “excellent artist”, Mr John Rising”.2 We don’t know the actual date but the Guide dates from 1817. John Rising was in fact one of Reynold’s painting assistants.3 The presence of Rising working at Knole is certainly interesting, and the possibility exists that Reynolds himself may have been involved in supervising or restoring his own paintings at Knole before his death in 1792.

Another early Painter/Restorer and Dealer was Francis Parsons who between 1793 and 1797 cleaned the large set of historical portraits in the Brown Gallery and ornamented their frames at a cost of 4 guineas for the 3rd Duke of Dorset. He was also working at Knole again in 1796 on other unidentified paintings. All we know of his working methods now are from his advert, May 1784 in the Daily Advertiser that stated that he would “clean and repair Pictures by a Method that restores the Beauty of the Colouring without injuring the most delicate Teints’.4

William Seguier, noteworthy as First Keeper at the National Gallery, Superintendent of the British Institution and Surveyor of the Kings Pictures, also worked on at least six of the paintings at Knole around 1826. He is remembered chiefly for his minimal cleaning at the National Gallery, and the particular type of varnish he used – ironically a mixture of oil and mastic that unfortunately over time becomes very insoluble.5

From the mid 19th century to the mid twentieth century no conservation records have yet been found, although this does not mean that work was not carried out.

By the 1950’s and 1960’s the National Trust were involved with Knole, and the day to day correspondence between Mason the Knole House Steward, and Bobby Gore the National Trust’s Historic Building Secretary, refer to a “local man” who was called in when a picture needed attention.6 He is named variously as Waters, Walters and Walker. In Gore’s opinion Walters was described as having a hand “that is far from light, but he was cheap and he worked on the premises”. W e know nothing of what he did apart from one painting, The Unknown Portrait of Edward Cranfield, which was given a shellac varnish. The use of shellac might imply that Walters was more used to working with furniture than paintings.

Obviously we cannot say exactly what Walters did at Knole. But we can see evidence of a type of typical country house repair work, often carried out by local craftsmen on paintings in situ. Partial cleaning in the paler areas of the sitter’s faces; some more large scale uneven cleaning carried out while the paintings are framed; and possibly even on the wall. Drip marks from, we imagine, large wet swabs that have cut in to the surfaces of varnish and paint, lumps of cottonwool left on the surface of paintings during careless cleaning. Areas of flaking paint and loss that have been reattached and filled in with large clumsy oil retouchings which would have served both purposes, sticking the paint on and filling in colour loss. Nails tacked through the front of paintings to reattach them to stretchers. There are examples of all this at Knole. We can speculate that the whitened areas of varnish that we see on the Knole paintings may be exacerbated by water based cleaning methods– easier to use than solvents on site, but in the case of Knole not ideal as it might encourage mould growth. We can see evidence of this type of crude approach at Knole

By the 1970’s there are records of London based freelance Restorer/Dealers (rather than artists) working on the Knole collection. Keenan, Ellison and Freeman who are all recorded in the National Portrait Gallery’s List of Restorers.

In 1976 Hermione Sandwith carried out the first proper condition Survey of Paintings and since then independent and museum conservators have been bought in regularly to work at Knole carrying out preventative and remedial conservation, and a number of paintings have had full conservation treatment. 3

Condition of paintings

These initial condition reports from the 1970’s do not mention mould growth, but a great deal of flaking paint which was the main priority for conservation work carried out during this decade

Although the house was always known as cold and damp, the first actual outbreak of mould on the paintings was recorded in 1981 in all the rooms apart from the Brown Gallery and the Ballroom. National Trust memos in 1981 describe the moulds’ occurrence as exceptional and blamed the very bad winter and the restriction on ventilation due to building work. Gary Thomson the National Gallery’s Scientific Officer was called in to advise and he confirmed that the “unusual condensation sometimes followed by mould, has been pretty common after last winter.” There followed a major campaign of restoration, much of it carried out under Alec Cobbe and the Hamilton Kerr Institute throughout the 1980’s. Most paintings were treated in situ to remove the mould. It was brushed off, but in some cases led to costly varnish removal, paint consolidation, re-varnishing and lining. Since then mould problems have been noted in 1988, 1991, 1993, 2001 and then continuously really, whenever conservation staff have condition checked the paintings.

Why did mould occur at Knole at this time?

Most of the showrooms at Knole are unheated, and the low temperatures inside the house have exacerbated high humidities providing ideal mould conditions. Very unusually mould is often present on the front of the paintings, not only the reverse. This is probably because the front of the paintings become so cold sometimes that condensation, water droplets, actually form on their surfaces at a microscopic level, which together with household dust that the mould can feed on, provide the right conditions.

Other factors may play a part and more research is needed to establish why the mould first appeared then, if indeed it did. For instance did the showrooms in fact have some heating such as open fires before the National Trust took over Knole in 1946, or after? Are there new moulds that grow at lower relative humidities? Does the humidity from increased visitor numbers play a part, or even Climate Change? What is clear is that mould spores have now penetrated throughout Knole and when environmental conditions deteriorate the spores sprout.

The low light levels essential for the fragile, rare textiles at Knole exacerbate this. Mould growth is restricted by UV light that is found in daylight. At the moment these low light levels have one advantage – hiding the condition of some of the paintings. The building work at Knole will include better lighting. This will mean that the surface problems on the paintings will also be more visible

In a condition survey in 2012 least 80 of the approximately 310 paintings were noted to be affected by mould; and at least 90 paintings were noted to have de-saturated whitened varnish layers. 4

High relative humidities have other consequences for paintings. Panel paintings have warped or split in the fluctuating humidity, canvas paintings can be slack and deformed with areas of raised and flaking paint. Varnish layers are also affected by cold temperatures making them brittle and de-saturated. Damp conditions enable moisture to get into the structure of the varnish giving an opaque, white appearance, sometimes in patches or associated with crack patterns, sometimes as a more overall problem.

The mould itself may be pushing paint off. Glue size layers and glue paste linings provide another food source for mould. The mould appears to be growing under the paint, pushes up through cracks, dislodging paint, causing flaking and loss. Mould spores within the painting structure cannot really be removed and so the only treatment option is preventative – to keep relative humidity below 70%.

Recent conservation work

The fluctuating humidity and temperatures levels generally accelerate the ageing process of paintings and of restoration work. Paintings that have been sympathetically restored as recently as 1998 have redeveloped surface issues. The Diana and Acteon, after Titian in the Billiard Room was restored in 1998 and in certain lights we can see that mould growth and varnish issues are reasserting themselves. Tina Sitwell noted in 1993 “mould and de-saturated uneven varnish layers would be expected to come back within 10 years”. (In general the Trust hopes in situ work will prolong full conservation treatment by 25-75 years.)

There has been an over reliance on making do with in-situ work in the light of the futility of carrying out expensive full conservation treatments that don’t last. Lady Martha by Mytens that hangs in the Leicester Gallery has had repeated in situ work (1972, 1973,1988) but it’s appearance is still unsatisfactory. Delaminating canvas, raised canvas seam with flaking paint, thick discoloured overpaint covering original paint. The surface is patchy with mould or opaque varnish, and it can only now be improved by full conservation treatment. This in turn will only be worth doing once the environmental conditions are stabilised.

What has worked at Knole

Not surprisingly the choice of conservation materials affects the longevity of the restoration. The Titian already mentioned, was relined using traditional paste glue on to linen. On the other hand Lionel Cranfield by Mytens in the Leicester Gallery was lined and restored in 1996 using synthetic non moisture responsive materials (Beva 371 adhesive and polyester sailcloth). The mould growth and cracked opaque varnish noted and treated in 1992, 1993 and then again in 1996 have not yet reappeared, although the varnish is now slightly de-saturated.

Future work

In the future the programme of building work should make Knole leak and draught proof. Work in the Reynolds Room is now complete, conservation heating has been installed using a heated mat placed under the carpet to form a large low level warm area. By increasing the temperature in the room by only a couple of degrees, the relative humidity stays below the mould growth set point of around 70%.

Once this was established the Reynolds Self Portrait came to the studio to trial the type of in-situ conservation that will be possible in the Knole studios in the future. The Reynolds is an extreme example of the typical problems in this room with mould and perished patchy varnish layers. After proper examination of the painting, cleaning tests and analysis to understand the complicated layers of paint and varnish, it was relatively straightforward to remove surface dirt, mould and just one thin top layer of varnish probably applied in situ during the last 50 years. Much of the patchy white surface deterioration was in fact in this top layer. After this, consolidation of raised paint, minor adjustments to the retouching, and re-varnishing, the surface has improved. We are now monitoring this painting to see if the varnish remains saturated and that no mould reappears. This type of treatment is particularly relevant to the Reynolds paintings as they are often very soluble and so full cleaning may not be possible, even if it was desirable.

 

Reynolds, self portrait, on right: after conservation surface cleaning, on left: detail of surface condition before treatment.

Reynolds, self portrait, on right: after conservation surface cleaning, on left: detail of surface condition before treatment.

 

As the work at Knole progresses and the environmental conditions improve in each room, conservation and restoration programmes can be re-established. On site at Knole conservators will carry out remedial work in a well-equipped studio, including proper technical examination, analysis when necessary, and with equipment to carry out some removal of more recent varnish layers to improve the paintings’ appearance. It is an exciting opportunity for research – even just examining the painting backs and the stretchers labels will provide new information on their history and condition. Full conservation treatment priorities will be have to be decided and a difficult balance must be found between the absolute necessity of work on this important collection, with an awareness of the house’s history and a sensitive approach to how the paintings have been displayed historically.

Melanie talking about conservation of Reynolds portraits on a tour of the show rooms.

Melanie talking about conservation of Reynolds portraits on a tour of the show rooms.

References

1 A Laing, article William Seguier and Advide to Picture Collectors, from Studies in the History of Painting Restoration 1998, Archtype publications, Ed. Christine Leback Sitwell, Sarah Staniforth.

2 John Bridgman, An Historical and Topographical Sketch of Knole, 1817, p.56,J Simon, Website of British picture restorers, 1630-1950, http://www.npg.org.uk

3 J Simon, Website of British picture restorers, 1630-1950, http://www.npg.org.uk

4 J Simon, A Guide to picture frames at Knole, Centre for Kentish Studies: Sackville Manuscripts, U269/E426).

5 A Laing, article William Seguier and Advide to Picture Collectors, from Studies in the History of Painting Restoration 1998, Archtype publications, Ed. Christine Leback Sitwell, Sarah Staniforth

6 National Trust corresepondence 1950’s

The King’s Closet – now you see it, now you don’t!

The King's Closet.

The King’s Closet.

Over the winter as a part of the last phase of our external building works, roof repairs were carried out to the flat lead roof above the Kings Closet. We were concerned about plaster and dust possibly falling into the room and damaging the fragile textiles that hang on the walls and ceiling.  So the decision was made to remove the textile on the ceiling and walls.  However before the textile conservators could come in to take down the textiles we had to clear and pack all the other contents of the room. Most of the object have gone up to our store room, but there were a couple that we could not have removed to the store room, such as the very heavy cassone and the day bed.

Removal of the textiles safely and in such a confined space was a complex operation requiring the conservators to create ingenious solutions!

Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

A ants eye view of the ceiling textile. Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

The image above shows a purpose-built frame for the space so the ceiling textile could be detached and have a surface to rest on. Zenzie Tinker, textile conservator, and her colleagues spent several days planning and then taking down the textiles.

The removal of the tassel fringing begins. Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Zenzie gets up close and personal with the fringing! Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

The red ceiling fabric is a silk taffeta, probably late 18th century and was found to be an old window blind that has been reused. Not an unusual

Zenzie begins to remove the tacks holding up the ceiling textile.  Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

One end of the ceiling textile is unattached and resting on the specially built support frame. One half to go! Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Once the ceiling textile was fully detached it was carried out on a supporting dust sheet in to the Cartoon Gallery ready to be packed. Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Now to start removing the wall textile.

Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

As the wall textile is detached it is carefully rolled on to a supportive tube to prevent as much physical stress to the textile from occurring. Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

An unknown door was revealed as the textile came off. Another mystery to solve! Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

An unknown door was revealed as the textile came off. Another mystery to solve! Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Once on the supportive tube the textile can be safely transported out of the room. Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Just the textile attached to the door to go! Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

The textiles were extremely dusty and fragile, with holes and areas of insect damage.

The textiles were all taken up to our conservation store where they were surface cleaned and condition checked before being carefully packed for long term storage.

Where the textile has been protected from light and dust the original vivid green colour can be seen.

Image copyright of Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd.

Three different green wall textiles have been used in the room, one is late 17th century, another is coarser and c 1720-30 and there is a fragment that is c 1740-60.  Two different braids were found. The earliest is a flat braid, probably contemporary with the 17th century textile; the later is a woollen bobble braid which is probably 19th century.
All the textiles are now safely in store and will be reinstated once they have been conserved as part of the Inspired by Knole project.

Siobhan and Emily

A winter clean and other things

Wow – where did November and December go?  We’ve been so busy winter cleaning Christmas crept up on us.  The house has been a hive of activity.  We’ve worked our way through all the show rooms, condition assessing and cleaning all objects and furniture, which are now put to bed under their winter covers.

Lucy and Melinda cleaning one pair of torchere's from the Spangled Bedroom

Lucy and Melinda cleaning one pair of torchere’s from the Spangled Bedroom.

Winter cleaning in the Brown Gallery.

Winter cleaning in the Brown Gallery.

Newest member of the team, Alex, gets to grips with vacuum cleaning tassels!

Newest member of the team, Alex, gets to grips with vacuum cleaning tassels!

Zena vacuum cleans the textile of one of the Brown Gallery chairs.  Before beginning with the cleaning Zena condition checked the chair and updated the records on the laptop.

Zena vacuum cleans the textile of one of the Brown Gallery chairs. Before beginning with the cleaning Zena condition checked the chair and updated the records on the laptop.

The Cartoon Gallery 'put to bed'

The Cartoon Gallery ‘put to bed’

Hannah, one of our volunteers, removes dust from the silver urns in the King's Room.

Hannah, one of our volunteers, removes dust from the silver urns in the King’s Room.

Once the surface dust is removed, tarnish is then cleaned away using a Goddard's silver cloth.

Once the surface dust is removed, tarnish is then cleaned away using a Goddard’s silver cloth.

Working alongside us in the show rooms have been conservators, architects and archaeologists.  Sadly they weren’t helping us with the winter clean, but carrying out enabling works to help inform the interior conservation work due to start in 2016. Graham Marley, furniture / wood conservator, has been drafted in to lift our historic floorboards and wooden wall panelling. Some of the floorboards that were identified for lifting are those which have been lifted up in the past and so should have been easy to lift again.

Graham begins to remove some panelling in the Leicester Gallery.

Graham begins to remove some panelling in the Leicester Gallery.

Before enabling works began in any of the rooms, we had put them to bed first as a precaution in case a lot of dust was created in the process.  We had to move some paintings too before Graham could actually access the panelling.

This portrait is the largest painting we had to move.  It took 6 of us.

This portrait is the largest painting we had to move. It took 6 of us.

As well as a fair few cobwebs behind the painting, was also a patch work of panelling.

As well as a fair few cobwebs behind the painting, was also a patch work of panelling.

When we went through one of our secret passageways we discovered…

That the panelling in the gallery correlates with this now blocked up window.

…that the panelling in the gallery correlates with this now blocked up window.

With boards lifted and panelling down our architects have been able to investigate the unseen structure of the building to try and identify routes that cabling will take.  The show rooms will be re-wired during the work, which will allow us to upgrade our historic lighting and install various types of heating equipment.  By the end of the project the show rooms at Knole will have conservation heating for the first time in their history.

A section of panelling removed from the north wall of the Brown Gallery.

A section of panelling removed from the north wall of the Brown Gallery.

The enabling works also provides the opportunity to look how the sub-structure of the floors were constructed.  All of the work has been recorded by building archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA).  We’ve been hoping for some exciting finds under the floors and stashed away in the walls.  We haven’t found any human bones or lost documents, but plenty of other things that tell the story of how these rooms have been used over the centuries.

...and under the Leicester Gallery floor is part of a medieval wall, what remains of pre-Sackville Knole.

Under the Leicester Gallery floor is part of a medieval wall, what remains of pre-Sackville Knole.

Finds underneath the Brown Gallery floor.  That's where all our pencil's went!

Finds underneath the Brown Gallery floor. That’s where all our pencil’s went!

All the finds are recorded and processed by the MOLA archaeologists. Tassels and textile fibres have been found from the furniture too, even some cut human hair from under the Spangled Bedroom floor. Remnants of a 17th century hair cut...? Maybe.

All the finds are recorded and processed by the MOLA archaeologists. Tassels and textile fibres have been found from the furniture too, even some cut human hair from under the Spangled Bedroom floor. Remnants of a 17th century hair cut…? Maybe.

Archaeologists hard at work!  The hat was very necessary, Knole is far from warm this time of year.

Archaeologists hard at work! The hat was very necessary, Knole is far from warm this time of year.

In the New Year, we’ll be back to work off all the turkey and mince pies by cleaning all the show rooms from ceiling to floor. Scaffold at the ready!

Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah & Zena

 

Protecting the Upper King’s Room

Old watering cans, empty picture frames, an old traveling case filled with empty shoeboxes, easels, mirrors, wall hangings, tables, ceramic bowls, an elaborate punched metal hanging lamp, a collapsible writing desk, a mattress, a tea chest,  stacks of prints in gilded frames, a whatchamacallit, and some thingamajigs. The Upper King’s room at Knole has it all, and all of it covered in layers of dust almost undisturbed for at the last 50 years.

UKR 1

Situated above the sumptuous King’s Room on the south west side of the house overlooking the garden, the second floor space had fallen into disuse over a century ago and has been used by the Sackville-West family to store items no longer needed or not fit for purpose.

Knole restoration work_120

The Upper King’s Room before being protected for external building work.

UKR 2

Beginning in August, a team of conservation staff and volunteers began to go through the clutter, dusting off the cobwebs, carefully examining and recording the condition of each object. Tears, mould, dust, chipping gesso and gilding, insect holes, and general wear and tear were all recorded. Recording the condition of objects is an important part of the conservation process. It establishes a baseline for monitoring the object in the future, providing valuable data for the management of change in the collection.

UKR 4

As the scaffolding for roof repairs went up around us, the Upper Kings’ Room remained pleasant through the Indian summer. It is a bright space, uncharacteristic compared to most of Knole’s stately dark paneled rooms. We slowly worked our way through the prints, newspapers, photographs, tables, chairs, and dishes, wrapping and packing them to keep the dust out when repairs to the roof begin.

DSC00225

We saw objects that told stories,  that conjured up images of times gone by. My favorites were the many traveling cases that suggest the connection of the family to a wider world: a traveling case with portraits, that would likely be taken along when the family was spending a season away, and a case full of shoe boxes and perfumes, the remnants of a fashionable life. The objects in the Upper King’s room cannot begin to tell the whole story of Knole or the Sackvilles throughout the centuries but in the time I spent there, I began to get a feel for the hundreds of years of history told by the presence of these objects.

UKR 3

The Upper King’s Room ‘put to bed’ to protect the contents fom external building work.

Leslie (conservation student internship)

Learning from Wimpole

The Hall at the Wimpole Estate, in Cambridgeshire, has been undergoing a book conservation project this year.  Sadly in 2010, 400 of Wimpole’s books were water damaged by snow melt.  They believe the leak was caused by a build up of snow and ice in the gutter above the Book Room. When the snow thawed, the meltwater seeped under the eaves and dripped slowly through the building into the book shelves below, only to be discovered during routine cleaning by one of their Conservation Assistants.

The Book Room, view from the Gallery door looking through the three arches towards the window at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire

The Book Room at Wimpole

The book conservation work is focussed on 259 books which need intensive treatment to remove water staining. Each stained page has to be treated separately, by adding more water to the page and then blotted dry. The process is slow and methodical. It will take the team of paper conservators up to two years to finish the project.

Photo 07-10-2013 13 12 18

The conservation studio set up in the Red Room at Wimpole.

The work is taking place in full view of all of Wimpole’s visitors in one of the ground floor show rooms. Siobhan and I went for a visit in October to meet with the lead project conservator, Graeme Gardiner, to discuss how they set the project up and how it was going.  It was great to hear how Graeme has found the experience of working in front of the public and engaging with them about the work has been really positive.

Photo 07-10-2013 12 58 33

Work desks set up for the conservators to work at.

It was very useful for us to see the types of equipment they had got in to set up the studio to help give us some ideas for how to fit out the Knole conservation studio when it is built.  It also helped us to decide on adding in a visitor engagement opportunity to next year’s Knole Unwrapped Experience.  Knole Unwrapped 2014 will involve volunteers cleaning, carrying out basic conservation repairs and re-housing the books, loose prints and paper in the Outer Wicket Tower rooms.  One of the volunteer roles will include being a visitor guide and taking visitors up the tower to see the volunteers at work and learn about the conservation work taking place.

Print room-1_2_3

The Print Room at Knole, on the second floor of the Outer Wicket Tower.

Watch this space for more information on the project and volunteer opportunities available.

For more information on Wimpole’s book conservation they have made a brilliant short film about it:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzTcu70Wzxo

Emily and Siobhan