National Trust properties in Kent: getting ready for spring
PUBLISHED: 16:11 05 February 2018 | UPDATED: 16:16 05 February 2018
National Trust properties may be closed for winter, but behind the scenes conservation experts are busy cleaning and preserving the precious treasures inside, ready for spring opening
The annual winter clean is currently underway behind the great oak doors at Knole in the heart of Sevenoaks.
The showrooms close over winter for this vitally important work involving a team of conservation experts. They are busy cleaning and preserving the precious royal treasures inside, ready to reopen from the end of next month.
Given the size of Knole and the vast collection held there, it has always been a huge task for the National Trust’s conservation specialists. This year, however, additional works are going on in some of the showrooms and the Great Hall is being completely redecorated. Such is the scale of the task that the extensive refurbishment is set to continue until 2019.
The winter clean at Knole takes four months. Scaffolding is put up to provide safe access to the ceilings and higher wall hangings, trestle tables are brought in and large white cloths laid out to protect furniture and objects from dust.
The team must assess and record the condition of every single item in Knole’s extensive collection and ensure everything is immaculate and in good repair before the new season.
Temperatures can drop rapidly over winter, but team spirits remain high. Conservation assistant Melinda Hampton says: “Despite chilly temperatures inside the house, the winter clean is the highlight of our year and a chance for us to get close to the objects we care for.
“We love having the house to ourselves and, thanks to our newly installed conversation heating, have needed slightly fewer thermal layers this time round!”
The team members use a basic cleaning kit, including a museum vacuum with adjustable suction levels to clean textiles without damaging them. They use a hog’s hair brush for robust surfaces and a pony hair brush for more delicate areas.
Silver is polished with a special cloth and china ornaments are cleaned every two years with a weak solution of washing up liquid and cotton buds.
Paintings are carefully stroked with an ultra-soft gilders’ tipping brush to remove loose dirt and cobwebs. Wooden surfaces are no longer polished, but simply brushed to remove the dust.
A big part of the winter clean this year has been the work of specialist textile conservator, Zenzie Tinker and her team, cleaning parts of the caffoy in the Cartoon Gallery and the Reynolds Room.
Caffoy is a rich, red-coloured wool fabric, similar to velvet, with a floral pattern stamped into the pile. It dates from the 18th century and was used for wall hangings and upholstering some of the items of furniture in the collection at Knole.
The surface of the caffoy is gridded out and each section is vacuumed on a low suction before being wet cleaned with a damp microfibre cloth to remove dirt and dust.
Each section is worked on for the same length of time and the team aims to ensure that the clean and appearance of the caffoy is consistent across the whole surface. No chemicals are used, just water and elbow grease.
While the annual checking and cleaning takes place in one half of the showrooms, specialist contractors are hard at work in the other half. They have been lifting up floorboards and taking down paintings and wall panelling to install new conservation electrics, lighting and heating, as well as making structural repairs.
In the Great Hall, experts are working on scaffolding several storeys high. The finished results will see the walls and ceiling returned to a previous historical colour scheme and portraits rearranged to reflect a former picture hang.
Find out more
Although the winter clean at Knole is now a well-established procedure, the team is always keen to hear from people interested in volunteering to be part of the process. Anyone interested in finding out more about volunteering opportunities at Knole is invited to get in touch on 01732 462100.
Half of Knole’s showrooms will reopen on 27 March, with some showrooms closed for ongoing restoration until 2019. The Gatehouse Tower, conservation studio, courtyards, parkland, café and shops remain open all year round.
For more details about late winter and spring attractions at Knole and events and activities taking place at the National Trust across Kent, visit: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kent.
Emmetts in winter
Emmetts Garden is set to open early this year, offering a chance to pay a winter visit to Frederick Lubbock’s garden retreat near Ide Hill.
Take a crisp walk in this enchanting Edwardian garden and look out for the first glimmers of spring bulbs coming into life. Come and see some of the majestic trees in the garden free from leaves and striking in form. Pause for a moment and enjoy some breathtaking views across the Weald and local reservoirs.
Families can tackle a hot air balloon trail during half-term and discover the story of the inventor of Emmetts’ ram pump. Collect a trail map from reception and follow the paths around the garden from 10 to 18 February, 10am-4pm.
Little ones can also let loose in the wild play area, hide in their very own tepee or try crafts in the discovery cabin. Trail costs £1 per child, normal admission applies.