Volunteer Experiences

We’ve been very lucky recently to have been joined by a new conservation volunteer at Knole who’s spent a few months with us to lend a helping hand. He has very kindly written a little about his experiences with the team!

Volunteering at Knole

The single greatest and most interesting part of being a Conservation volunteer at Knole has been the immense variety of tasks and small projects that are undertaken by the conservation team.

Involving everything from cleaning 18th century caffoy fabric to waxing the lead fish tank in stone court, it is hard to say that being a Conservation volunteer at Knole entails two even similar days. With the nature of the larger restoration project at Knole, as well as the day to day running of any property of Knole’s size the outlets for conservative work is seemingly endless.

The Monday deep cleans are the best chance to work on the items which are either vast or extremely precious, requiring more time and specialist equipment than many other of the usual but by no means insignificant objects. Utilising specialist material brushes as well as museum vacuums in my opinion the most fascinating part of the deep clean has been the work on the Orangery statues as well as the Roman busts of stone court. Whilst the cleaning of the Great Screen using cloth and ladders is also spectacular, if you think the screen is not amazing enough.

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The Great Screen was built c.1605-08 when Thomas Sackville did much to create the Knole you see today. The impressive edifice is bristling with heraldic symbols.

Being involved in the caffoy cleaning project was also highly rewarding. Once again the opportunity to use specialist conservation equipment and follow the stringent methods used to transform the fabric highlighted how precious Knole’s textiles really are. This time it was novel to use smoke sponges and once again low power vacuums to restore the caffoy. I can say that the process of removing a few hundred years’ worth of grime from the fabric was the most rewarding part of all of the mini projects which I have helped with over the last two months.

The caffoy material normally lines the Cartoon Gallery. During July 2016 we gave this piece a thorough clean!

The caffoy material normally lines the Cartoon Gallery. During July 2016 we gave this piece a thorough clean!

Another untold perk of being a volunteer in the conservation team here at Knole is that you truly get to experience the full character of the property, through objects, the different conditions and periods of each parts of the house, some of which is publicly accessible. Being able to see items which the team have restored or conserved is also fulfilling and history creating in itself.

All in all I have thoroughly enjoyed what seems like a very short couple of months at Knole with the conservation team and cannot overstate how fundamental they are to the condition and running of Knole as one of the country’s greatest properties. I would recommend to anyone who has even a slight interest in conservation or history in general to give conservation volunteering at Knole a go.

-Matthew

 

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.

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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.

 

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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

Shakespeare Revisited (Favourite objects)

In honour of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare we thought we’d share one of our ‘favourite object’ blogs from last year. Our conservation volunteer Hannah shares her thoughts on our Shakespeare sculpture found in the Great Stairs at Knole.

As Knole is such a big and beautiful house full to the brim of interesting objects the idea of choosing one favourite piece presented a difficult task, one which I tried to approach from a variety of angles. I looked for the most grand object, the oldest, the biggest, the most expensive, the most detailed etc. (the list goes on). Over my month of work experience back in 2013 my favourite object changed from week to week – from the portrait of Frances Cranfield hanging in the ballroom, to the stunning silverware in the King’s Room, to the royal bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room; and yet, there was something about each of these objects that did not quite stick.

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He was once Vita Sackville-West’s bedroom doorstop!

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Shakespeare at home at the bottom of the Great Stairs

Every time I walked through to the Great Staircase however, my eye was caught by this funny little wooden doorstop, carved in the form of William Shakespeare. I was intrigued by its quirky appearance and when I finally got up close and saw the sentimental quote, ‘We shall never look upon his like again’ carved into a scroll in his hand, I was sold. I still look at him fondly whenever I walk through that part of the house and if there was ever a fire he is the first thing I would save.

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‘We shall never see his like again’ inscribed on Shakespeare’s scroll

He is not particularly grand, large or detailed but he is unique and will always hold a special place in my heart. To me he represents a love of literature and a tribute to those who create wonderful worlds for the rest of us to get lost in. As it turns out, choosing a favourite wasn’t such a difficult task after all.

Hannah

A Day in the Life of the Conservation Team

 

In a sense the title of this blog is a bit of a misnomer, because no two days at Knole are ever the same. Every day is different and it’s partly the variety that makes Knole such an exciting place to work. However, it’ll hopefully give you a flavour of what we get up to, day to day, in order to look after this magnificent house and its collection.

The work of the conservation team changes with the seasons. Over winter, when the house is closed, we are busy working in the show rooms, condition checking and deep cleaning the rooms and the all the objects in readiness for re-opening.

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Zena cleaning the textile of a chair during winter before carefully condition.

 

This winter has been a bit different because of the project. Although the first half of the house (from the Brown Gallery to the Leicester Gallery) had its normal winter clean, the second half of the house (from the Ballroom to the Cartoon Gallery) was emptied in preparation for the project work that will be going on in there this year. You can see some of the collection from the second half on display in our Great Store.

Now the house is open, our routine changes. In the morning, we spend the first few hours when the house is closed getting the show rooms ready to open. Every room is vacuumed to pick up anything left behind by our visitor’s footwear the day before. We also dust any flat surfaces in front of the rope barriers and check to make sure that no cobwebs have appeared overnight. Any glass is cleaned to get rid of dust or finger prints. The blinds are set, the curtains are opened and then we’re ready to welcome our visitors for the day.

 

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One of several long galleries at Knole that need careful attention every single day.

 

There are several reasons why we do this daily clean in the showrooms. Obviously we want the house looking its best, so people can fully appreciate the incredible collection that we have here. But it’s also a vital part of the preventative conservation work carried out by the conservation team. Monitoring the environment and general good housekeeping is the first step in combating the deterioration of our unique historic collection.

The afternoons at Knole vary hugely. Some days we are in the house working on various objects in front of our visitors. These conservation engagements can involve anything from textile cleaning to treating for woodworm and are a great way to show the public how we care for our collection at Knole. Other days we may be monitoring the environmental conditions in the show rooms or polishing door brass. But one thing’s for sure, no two days are ever the same!

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Injecting a pesticide to treat for woodworm. Something we do fairly frequently!

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Decanting the Collection

 

Welcome back to the Knole Conservation Blog. As followers of the blog may already be aware, we are in the midst of an ongoing conservation project here at Knole. This has kept us pretty busy over the past couple of months with no signs of slowing down.

The project itself combines the construction of a new Conservation Studio with extensive work in the Showrooms to improve heating, lighting and the general display of the collection. It’s the Showrooms work that we’re looking at today. In order to gain safe access to all the necessary spaces, everything that lives in what we call the second half of the house (the Ballroom, Reynolds Room, Cartoon Gallery and King’s Room) must be removed to temporary storage.

The Cartoon Gallery at Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent

The Cartoon Gallery. Every piece of furniture and painting had to be removed from the gallery.

 

After a long period of preparation we began decanting the collection on 4th January. This has involved a gargantuan effort from everyone at Knole. This includes staff, volunteers, and contractors who came to help. We even had assistance from some of our neighbouring NT properties!

 

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The Cartoon Gallery. We have even removed blinds from the windows and have had to erect temporary coverings to protect the vulnerable red textile on the walls.

 

The thing about National Trust houses (and all museums for that matter), is that we can’t just go around moving things on a whim. The value and fragility of the collection means that we need to keep a very careful track of where everything is going, what condition it was in when it moved, whether it was cleaned/needed cleaning etc. etc. As you can see there is a lot to do!

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The Ballroom during the cleaning, covering and documentation process.

We inspected, cleaned, documented and labeled. When this was done we were finally able to get things moving. For four weeks we have steadily worked our way through each room. First removing furniture, then paintings, carpets, tapestries and eventually even the light fixtures. You won’t recognize the house now!

Unfortunately some things have to be left in the house while the work happens around them. This is very few items and is really only things too big or heave to be easily removed. The Kings Bed, some marble tables and table tops, a harpsichord and couple of large tables are all to be left where they are. Every other piece of our collection is all gone and has been placed either in temporary storage for the coming year.

Left: The Reynolds Room after emptying. You can see gaps in the caffoy wall covering where paintings have previously hung. Right: The Cartoon Gallery with  everything removed apart from the heaviest 3 items.

 

 

Stay tuned to find out more about our big move!

Knole Conservation Team

 

 

Summer’s here…nearly

After a long, cold winter the conservation team are taking every sunny opportunity to get out and do some of our more pleasant outdoor jobs. For those of you that don’t know Knole well we have a portion of our collection outside exposed to the elements 365 days a year. This includes a pair of prehistoric elk antlers that measure 7 foot from tip to tip, a lead fish tank and a considerably array of busts and other statuary.

When the winter is finished battering our poor outdoor objects we swoop in at the first sign of a sunny day to give them some tender loving care. Our first mission (as always) is to give everything a good dust and clean. We work our way along the loggia making sure that every piece is carefully dusted. You’d be amazed at the amount of dust a pair of antlers can hold onto over a year!

Cleaning elk and waxing Romans.

Cleaning elk and waxing Romans.

Some of the busts in particular have fallen foul of pigeons over the last year so we have been very carefully cleaning off their droppings where we find them!

For the antlers, this is all the help they get. Once they have been de-cobwebbed and dusted we leave them alone. Step two for the busts and lead work in Stone Court and Green Court is to provide some kind of protection against the elements. We do this by applying a thin layer of microcrystalline wax polish developed by the British Museum which protects and damp and dust. Long-time readers of the Knole conservation team blog may know that this is something that we regularly use inside the house as well as out. It provides a protective barrier layer and can be applied to almost any surface! We make sure we get into every nook and cranny on the detailed statues ensuring they have the best possible protection. With the application of this wonder substance we’re done!

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Knole Conservation Team

Our Favourite Objects – Part 10!

The latest entry in our favourite objects series is from Hannah who is one of our wonderful conservation volunteers here in the house. Keep reading to find out what she thinks is best about Knole!

As Knole is such a big and beautiful house full to the brim of interesting objects the idea of choosing one favourite piece presented a difficult task, one which I tried to approach from a variety of angles. I looked for the most grand object, the oldest, the biggest, the most expensive, the most detailed etc. (the list goes on). Over my month of work experience back in 2013 my favourite object changed from week to week – from the portrait of Frances Cranfield hanging in the ballroom, to the stunning silverware in the King’s Room, to the royal bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room; and yet, there was something about each of these objects that did not quite stick.

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He was once Vita Sackville-West’s bedroom doorstop!

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Shakespeare at home at the bottom of the Great Stairs

 

 

 

 

 Every time I walked through to the Great Staircase however, my eye was caught by this funny little wooden doorstop, carved in the form of William Shakespeare. I was intrigued by its quirky appearance and when I finally got up close and saw the sentimental quote, ‘We shall never look upon his like again’ carved into a scroll in his hand, I was sold. I still look at him fondly whenever I walk through that part of the house and if there was ever a fire he is the first thing I would save. 

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‘We shall never see his like again’ inscribed on Shakespeare’s scroll

 

He is not particularly grand, large or detailed but he is unique and will always hold a special place in my heart. To me he represents a love of literature and a tribute to those who create wonderful worlds for the rest of us to get lost in. As it turns out, choosing a favourite wasn’t such a difficult task after all.

Hannah