Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Couch Potato Does Spring Cleaning

Petworth House in Sussex is one of those Stately Homes of England of which Noel Coward sang so eloquently. The oldest parts of the fortified manor house founded by Henry de Percy in the 13th century, still survive, but the mansion was extensively rebuilt in 1688 by Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset. For the past 250 years the estate has belonged to the Wyndham family: the current head of the family is Lord Egremont. The house and deer park were handed over to the nation in 1947 and are now managed by the National Trust. Lord Egremont's family live in the south wing, allowing the remainder to be open to the public.
The house contains an important collection of furniture, paintings and sculptures, including works by J. M. W. Turner and Van Dyck, exquisite, fragile wood carvings by Grinling Gibbons, and unique classical sculptures. There is also a 1592 terrestrial globe, believed to be the only one in the world still in its original state.

"Petworth House: The Big Spring Clean", is a fascinating BBC series of six episodes, narrated by the genial and erudite Andrew Graham-Dixon.

Every autumn, the Trust puts its 300 houses 'to bed', They close to visitors for the winter, and the professional conservationists move in to clean the artworks and the house itself. This work requires not just hard labour, but delicate hands and an in-depth knowledge of conservation science.

They work in almost freezing conditions and behind closed shutters. Heat and sunlight are bad! Paintings and furnishings fade, bugs breed, mould grows! Andrew dons his winter woolies, warm beanie and boots, and pitches in to help. The magic that happens in these winter months is a miracle to behold, as we get a close look at wonderful art treasures and the very fabric of the house.  

It is not a matter of dusters and vacuum cleaners – many of the art works are too delicate to touch even with a feather, and have to be cleaned by that thing the dentist uses to puff a bit of cold air on your tooth. They puff the dust away and suck it from the air with a funnel. The carpets have to be rolled back to expose the insect eggs that were laid during the summer, scaffolding is erected to clean the mouldings and ceiling paintings. The clocks and the curtains, the paintings, furniture and the kitchen utensils are all cleaned and tended by specialists, the acres of parquet floors are rubbed with beeswax by hand, on bended knee.
Having watched this series, I will be wearing a hazmat suit next time I visit a Stately Home, because  now I know how much grime I am shedding and how much damage my mere presence is creating!

I borrowed the series from the Eastern Regional Libraries. 



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