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Conservation

Behind Closed Doors

As the darker nights draw in and the clocks are wound back (yes, all 52 of them), Harewood House has closed its doors to visitors for the end of another busy season. It’s not time, however, for hibernation!

The winter months signal the start of the House and Collections Team’s busiest time of year; the annual deep winter clean gets underway, essential conservation work commences and preparation for the new season begins in earnest.

The closure of the House allows Harewood’s Housekeeping Team (a small, but determined group of just three) to work systematically around the visitor route cleaning from top to bottom – quite literally, so that any disturbed dust falls downwards and can be picked up at a lower level. Tower scaffolding is erected so that cornicing, pelmets and picture frames can be reached, and a buffing machine is brought in to tackle the floors below. Everything in between, from the great mahogany doors to gilded bedframes and fragile ceramics also need to be gently polished, waxed or hoovered.

The often delicate work that the Housekeeping Team undertakes is quite unlike the traditional type of cleaning that takes place in a normal home. To protect fragile historic surfaces and materials, abrasive chemical cleaning agents and equipment are discarded and replaced with sensitive washing up liquid, deionised water and cotton wool. Non-invasive cleaning techniques are also employed which utilise a multitude of brushes with different types of bristles, along with an array of low-suction vacuum cleaners fitted with gauze to catch any loose fibres or gilding – one specialist piece of kit is affectionately known as the ‘turtle vac’, as it can be worn as a backpack whilst working at height.

Although not every object on the visitor route is cleaned annually such as the paintings and books due to their volume and fragility, each item needs to be carefully assessed and checked to record any deterioration that may have taken place over the past year. It’s a time-consuming process, but essential one to monitor the condition of an object and identify any necessary remedial conservation action.

Other simple, preventative conversation measures are also implemented by the team during the five month closed season, giving items the opportunity to ‘rest’ whilst not on display to the public. This is particularly important for textiles, some of the most vulnerable objects in Harewood’s collection, which have a tendency to ‘set’ if left in the same position for too long. All carpets that had been rolled back to create visitor routes through rooms are unrolled once again, along with releasing each curtain in the House from its tie back. A key object is the Chippendale State Bed, famously slept in by a young Queen Victoria; its three mattresses are removed, laid out to air and checked for any signs of pests, and its heavy damask upholstery is untied and allowed to hang loose during this resting period.

The winter months are also a time when specialist and more challenging conservation work can take place. This year, the Collections Team will continue to conserve some giltwood carvings that are currently too fragile to display. The pieces include two 6ft supporting caryatids (female figures) from a mirror attributed to Chippendale the Younger, which have been exposed to historic water damage and high levels of humidity and dampness. As well as the removal of a layer of harmful dirt, the team use special adhesive in three strengths to tackle differing types of damage. The strongest glue will be used to re-adhere flaking gold leaf, the middle strength to smooth out wrinkled gilding, whilst the weakest mixture is used for cleaning. So far, the team have spent over 20 hours cleaning and consolidating the first caryatid, and look forward to tackling the second in the coming weeks.

For all great country houses, inventory work and the continual improvement of storage for their collections is an inevitable feature of any winter schedule. Often however, behind the scenes, projects such as these can continue to be undertaken throughout the open season and a number of significant projects are now nearing completion, including the inventory and re-housing of an important amount of metal work and silver. Each piece was first carefully polished, then meticulously listed and photographed to create an accurate overview of the collection, and finally, matching sets were re-united with each other. Meanwhile, the store room received a conservation-grade make-over by reupholstering shelves and draws with a specially designed silver cloth, a cotton textile with anti-tarnishing qualities due to small particles of silver embedded within its fibres. The fabric also works to reduce the sulphurous gases present in the environment that cause corrosion, ultimately reducing the amount of cleaning required.

A separate two month project has also seen the re-housing of Harewood’s collection of over 700 prints and framed artworks. Once again, an initial cleaning process was implemented, damaged prints were un-framed and loose prints placed in conservation-grade polyester sleeves and boxes.  Each individual print and framed picture could then be listed and photographed. This long process enables us to have a precise accountability of the collection and plan for its future care and preservation.

For housekeepers of old, ‘putting the house to bed’ meant to shut up a stately home for winter whilst its family was away; it is perhaps now a misleading expression. For Harewood, the closure of the House to the public marks the start of a crucial period of activity for the care and conservation of its world-class collection. Harewood House certainly never sleeps.

Axminster at Harewood

 

Harewood House has an axminster carpet
What are Axminster Carpets?

Up until the 18th century, few homes in England had the luxury of carpeted floors. Thomas Whitty of Axminster, Devon, was one of the men responsible for the growth in their popularity, particularly within stately homes.

After an inspiring visit to a French weaver’s workshop in 1754, Whitty discovered the secret to producing large, seamless, hand-knotted carpets that would allow versatility in their design. Using a wide vertical loom, patterns were created by knotting coloured wool around two, lengthwise or warp threads in the symmetrical Turkish style. In 1755, with the help of his young children and their aunt, Whitty produced the first Axminster carpet.

Whitty undertook many successful commissions throughout the second half of the 18th century, accompanying decorative schemes in some of the finest and most fashionable county houses of the time.

Harewood’s Yellow Drawing Room Carpet

Visit Harewood and see the Yellow Drawing Room

The Axminster carpet in the Yellow Drawing Room is thought to date from around 1780 and is integral to the decorative scheme of the Yellow Drawing Room. It is only one of 8 carpets across the country which remain within the original Robert Adam schemes.

As in many rooms designed by Robert Adam, the design of the carpet echoes the decorative plasterwork of the ceiling creating a sense of balance and harmony. The pattern consists of a central circular medallion and four pointed star, along with scrolling acanthus leaves and rosette borders.

Whilst the design of the carpet and ceiling are very similar, the colour schemes differ slightly. It is thought that Adam initially intended this room to have a pink and green colour scheme; after the purchase of vivid yellow silk by Edwin Lascelles, Adam’s design was adapted to incorporate the silk. It is likely that the carpet was already in production before this change took place, hence the absence of yellow in its design.

In the 18th century carpets were considered to be valuable and prestigious furnishings. It was recognised that they could be easily damaged and protective coverings also know as serge covers were
commissioned at Harewood to protect them.

Conserving the Yellow Drawing Room Carpet

See the Harewood's axminster carpet in need of restoration

Here you can see the difference between an area of the carpet in need of restoration verses a section which has been repaired.

The Yellow Drawing Room carpet is in urgent need of conservation treatment by professional textile conservators.

During Yorkshire’s Year of the Textile we are considering what kind of treatments they undertake and to what extent they are carried out.

We would like to ask what you think about the Yellow Drawing Room carpet’s conservation and would be grateful if you could answer our short questionnaire when you visit.

Each week we are holding talks about the carpet in the House to discuss this important topic. Talks take place at 12:30 on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

A day in the life of the Bird Garden team

Visit Yorkshire to see our Bird Garden

I took on my role as Bird Garden and Farm Experience Manager in December 2015, joining Harewood from Edinburgh Zoo. As manager, it’s my responsibility to oversee the daily running of the Bird Garden and the newly created Farm Experience. It’s an exciting, busy part of Harewood which is at the start of a three year development plan to enhance this much loved part of the grounds.

My day begins at 8am when I arrive at the Bird Garden kitchen with the rest of the team. The Bird Garden is home to 37 different bird species which all have specific dietary needs. From the tall, elegant cranes to the critically endangered Bali starling, we make sure each bird has the right food. We also prepare buckets of chopped carrots, apples, pears and leafy greens for our rabbits, guinea pigs and farm animals.

Once prepared, we head to the Bird Garden and begin the task of feeding and cleaning all the aviaries. We check all the birds to make sure that they are in good health whist we’re in the enclosures before the visitors arrive. One of my personal favourites in the Bird Garden are our family of palm cockatoos. These are unusual birds and it’s the first time I’ve worked with them. The youngest of the three birds is very inquisitive and he will often fly around the keepers, watching them closely as we clean and prepare the large aviary.

At this time of year we often find nests full of eggs which we will leave with parents to look after. On some occasions it may be necessary to take the eggs carefully to our artificial incubation room. Here we place them in specially designed incubators and hand rear any chicks that might hatch.

Once all of the birds are fed and checked, we go for a well- earned cup of coffee!

The next job is to clean out the farm animal paddocks and give them their first feed of the day. At 12pm, one of the keepers will take a bucket of eggs, veg and fruit to the pig enclosure. Here we invite visitors to take an item from the bucket and throw it over the fence for the pigs to enjoy. They are full of character and, since their arrival in March, I’ve grown very fond of them. Once the pigs have had their fill, we move onto the next paddock. Once again visitors can feed leafy greens to our hungry pygmy goats.

After lunch, I often leave the Bird Garden and Farm in the capable hands of the team and head over to the office to carry out the necessary (and inevitable!) paperwork for the day. This includes record keeping, ordering supplies, planning for upcoming events, liaising with the vet, managing new arrivals and arranging transportation of animals who may be leaving our care.

A significant role for the Bird Garden is the care and preservation of endangered species. Many of the birds we manage are in captive breeding programmes which supports their ongoing survival. These breeding programmes exist to support the genetic variation of captive populations. Computer databases help compile studbooks that record the details of each individual animal in the programme. This includes the animal’s sex, date of birth, and full family history. No money changes hands when we exchange animals with other zoos. Our aim is purely to save and protect endangered wildlife.

We have welcomed several new additions including six Humboldt penguins which arrived in early March from the Cotswold Wildlife Park in Oxfordshire. We also took on an egg which our colony have adopted. We hope that this foster-chick will hatch soon.

Other new additions include a pair of cheer pheasants which form part of our Himalayan themed enclosures overlooking the Lake, and a large group of roul roul partridge, an appealing, ground dwelling bird from Borneo.

When I’m in the office, it’s also the time that I catch up with the rest of the team who work outside the Bird Garden. The team at Harewood have a lot to juggle from school groups to TV interviews!

At 3:30pm, I will head back to the Bird Garden to carry out the Daily Penguin Talk and often find myself introducing not only the penguins, but also the wild grey herons and red kites that visit the enclosure hoping they might help themselves to a sprat or two!

Once I have answered the varied and interesting questions from visitors, I will either head back to the office, or carry out a variety of tasks around the Bird Garden until it is time to close for the evening. Every day there are new and exciting challenges arriving, so no two days are ever the same.

By Nick Dowling, Bird Garden and Farm Experience Manager

Yellow Drawing Room Carpet – condition checking

Conservation at Harewood on Axminster carpets

Carpets, due to their very nature as a floor covering, are vulnerable to deterioration. The Axminster carpet in the Yellow Drawing Room has been exposed to over two centuries of footfall, light, and the natural chemical decomposition of its organic woven fibres.

Over the course of its lifetime, the Yellow Drawing Room carpet has also been subject to a number of repairs which, in some cases, have been detrimental. Tight linen backing, glued hessian ‘patches’ and even a trip to the dry cleaners have all contributed to damage the carpet has sustained over the centuries.

In order to fully examine and record this damage, the carpet has been painstakingly reverse rolled under the supervision of a conservation specialist. Reverse rolling is a technique used to safely roll and unroll carpets reducing tension on the fabric.

It was the first time the carpet had moved in over 20 years and took 8 members of staff a full day to complete.

Revealing a hidden history:

Harewood House in Yorkshire has Axminster carpets

Rolling the carpet also uncovered a label attached by the Anglo-Persian Carpet Company who operated from the 1920s throughout the 20th century.

This company specialised in carpet repair and they were responsible for restoring many valuable carpets held in royal households and National Trust properties. It is likely that this company carried out some repairs on the Yellow Drawing Room carpet.

The carpet is currently displayed in the Yellow Drawing Room partially upside down to reveal the extent of the repairs and damage on both sides.

Conserving the Yellow Drawing Room Carpet

The Yellow Drawing Room carpet is in urgent need of conservation treatment by professional textile conservators.

During Yorkshire’s Year of the Textile we are considering what kind of treatments they undertake and to what extent they are carried out.

We would like to ask what you think about the Yellow Drawing Room carpet’s conservation and would be grateful if you could answer our short questionnaire when you visit.

Each week we are holding talks about the carpet in the House to discuss this important topic. Talks take place at 12:30 on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

New Plans Hatching in the Bird Garden

When I started on 7th December 2015, Harewood was already a hive of activity and over the past few months it has only gathered momentum!

Bird Garden Redevelopment Project - tree clearing credit Harewood House Trust (7)

The Bird Garden is undergoing a massive overhaul, with enclosures being taken down to make way for a brand new Central Hub. Tonnes of overgrown shrubs and trees have been taken away to open up beautiful views across the Lake.

The Bird Garden aviaries are also having a facelift and I am making plans for new species to join our existing collection. This will include a number of Himalayan birds that will be housed in the Lakeside aviaries.

Visit Harewood House in Yorkshire to see palm cockatoos

Palm cockatoos

We will also have aviaries dedicated to important international conservation work situated on the eastern side of the garden. These will be home to many endangered birds found throughout the world. A new species for you all to look out for this season are the Palm Cockatoos. This fascinating birds boast wonderful black feathers with an impressive crest and vivid pink cheeks. We hope that you come along to see these interesting creatures.

Harewood House penguin pool project

The penguins are also moving up the property ladder with a full refurbishment of their enclosure. New rock work and nesting caves will be a welcome improvement to our Humboldt family home.

And of course there will be the usual favourites including the Chilean flamingos, blue and gold macaws and Colin the Crow!

Harewood House has Harewood Farm with alpacas

This is only the start of the work that is planned before we re-open on March 25th. We are well under way with work on Harewood’s new Farm Experience. This week I have started to look for new residents for this brand new attraction.

We are all looking forward to welcoming you once again to the Bird Garden.