Keeping Melford Hall spick and span

PUBLISHED: 12:20 07 April 2015 | UPDATED: 12:20 07 April 2015

Conservation volunteer Sue Price cleaning Chinese vase 2

Conservation volunteer Sue Price cleaning Chinese vase 2


In April the National Trust’s Melford Hall reopens. Jeremy Owen uncovers the work that’s been going on during the long, cold winter months

Melford HallMelford Hall

It’s that time of year again when we’re all thinking about giving our homes a good old spring clean.

But what if you look after a 16th century mansion house, complete with a towering grand dining hall, well-stocked library and collection of antiques gathered from across the centuries?

Over at Melford Hall in Long Melford, the National Trust team spends the entire winter months giving the house a deep clean.

Each room is given a once over, with every single object in the 1,673-strong collection checked and cleaned – and because the rooms and objects are of historic importance, they are given an in-depth conservation clean, using strict conservation techniques.

National Trust house steward Lorraine Hesketh-Campbell cleaning suit of armourNational Trust house steward Lorraine Hesketh-Campbell cleaning suit of armour

National Trust house steward Lorraine Hesketh-Campbell is managing the months-long clean.

“We start in the winter and continue right up until the start of April. It is a steady and careful process, taking care not to rush and to do everything to the trust’s strict conservation standards,” says Lorraine.

“We inspect and thoroughly clean the collection and all the places we cannot reach during the open season. Often this means moving objects away from walls, dusting inside and underneath items, rolling and rotating carpets and occasionally using scaffolding to reach things placed up at high levels.

“Cleaning is quite a basic description for what we do, really. There are no yellow dusters and spray polishes in Trust housekeeping cupboards.

Suit of armour -at Melford HallSuit of armour -at Melford Hall

“We have specific pieces of equipment for each type of object and specific cleaning methods, so it requires a lot of patience and training.”

By using preventative conservation techniques, rather than reacting once a problem is discovered, the charity can stop any deterioration before it takes hold. This means dealing with everyday things which, left untreated, can cause serious damage – including humidity, dust, pests and damage caused by bright light.

Dust is a particularly difficult problem – something that may come as a surprise to most people, but its harmful effects have been the subject of many studies and surveys carried out by the trust.

“If dust is left to settle over a long period of time it can bind to the surface of an object, make it look unsightly and hide historically important features or information,” says Lorraine.

Volunteer Bob Thurlbourne using step-ladder and  backpack vacuum to clean high upVolunteer Bob Thurlbourne using step-ladder and backpack vacuum to clean high up

“Dust affects all types of organic material such as books, paper and wood, but can also settle in porcelain cracks, and stain marble. Dust is also great for pests as it absorbs moisture, making it attractive to insects, and can encourage mould growth.

“Thankfully our collection is in a fantastic condition because of the care and attention it has been given over many decades, first by the private owners and then by the National Trust.”

A condition report on each item catalogues its present state so it can be monitored over time. The report includes the cleaning materials and techniques used as well as any new historic information.

Lorraine, who has been with the Trust since 2013 and has worked in the heritage sector for over 20 years, is part of a small team of staff and volunteers who care for Melford Hall.

“We really do rely on the dedication of our brilliant volunteers. We couldn’t care for this wonderful house and its collection without them,” she says. “Personally, I really enjoy caring for such an important and varied collection in such a warm and welcoming place. Carrying out research and sharing it with the volunteers and visitors is extremely rewarding.”

Melford Hall is open to the public on 1pm to 5pm weekdays and noon to 5pm weekends (generally closed Mondays and Tuesdays but open on bank holidays). For more information see the website or call 01787 379228.

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