I spent yesterday and the day before taking guided tours around East Riddlseden Hall, and talking to visitors about the conservation work that we do over the winter. More happens in the house when it’s closed than when it’s open!!
As you know, my husband left back in February. It’s meant that many things have had to change – I’ve had to get a proper job (running a business with your ex is a bit career-limiting). And that’s meant that I had to give up my regular volunteering – I was a Room Guide with the National Trust, and I loved it.
But this last week I’ve been on annual leave from my actual job – so at the weekend I’ve had chance to go in and do some volunteering. And that’s another thing – when you don’t have a normal job, you don’t get holidays. I’ve really enjoyed my week off! I took a road trip to see my son, and I celebrated my birthday while I was at it!!
The House closes at the end of October, but for weekends in November we do guided tours. The entrance fee is the same, the shop and the tearoom are still open, you can still go round the gardens, and the tours are free.
A team of us take groups of people around the house, explaining what we do while the house is closed over the winter. We talk about dust, and the damage caused by light, and how to clean a ceiling. We talk about humidity, and why we don’t clean the oil paintings and what silverfish can tell us. We talk about waxing the floors and pony-hair brushes and how to clean a tester bed.
Because the house is in a state of chaos, a guided tour is the only way you can visit at this time of the year – we can’t let people just wander around at will as we would during the season. The tours are very popular, and people are genuinely interested in what goes on ‘behind the scenes’. A frequent comment is that they didn’t realise that there was so much to do, or that they didn’t realise it was so technical.
The major job this year is to clean one of the decorated plasterwork ceilings. This involves scaffolding, a Tyvek suit, a face mask, a ‘Museum’ vacuum cleaner, a hog’s hair brush and a smoke sponge (a bit like a very soft eraser, that seems to just pull the grime off the surfaces like magic). It takes about 30 person-hours to clean one of the ceilings – slow, painstaking work. Our conservation assistant is more than happy to take a break to explain what she’s doing!!
Once upon a time, this sort of work would have been carried out away from the public gaze – a legacy of the idea that servants in grand houses shouldn’t be seen. Thank goodness this is no longer the case, and cleaning is now recognised as the technical and physically demanding job that it really is.
It’ll all be happening again next weekend – come and visit!! More details here.
Guess what!! I’ve been invited to be a guest blogger on Sixty and Me, a blog aimed at helping older women to be happy, healthy and financially secure. My first article has been published!! You can see it here!
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