I have to admit that before I started with the House Team here at Attingham I had thought very little about dirt and dust. Yes it was unsightly and a nuisance but nothing a bit of Pledge and a yellow duster couldn’t get rid of. I soon discovered however that when it comes to caring for our special places and collections the National Trust takes dust very seriously (they apparently held a conference on dust which lasted three days!) but I have learnt why…
What is dust and where does it come from? Dust is defined as dry particles that can be removed from a surface by brushing or vacuuming. It is in the air all around us and can be made up of things such as textile fibres and bits of skin as well as tiny particles of carbon based things such as soot or inorganic materials like silica.
We as people are the biggest contributors of dirt and dust in a historic house such as Attingham, we bring all sorts of things in with us which gets deposited around the Mansion. This means that more dust falls closer to the places where we all walk; closest to the visitor route. Each year Sally hoovers a section of one of the historic carpets in squares to measure this distribution of dust. The dirt from the square is collected in a piece of material stretched over the nozzle of the hoover so we can see how much dust there is. The closer the string square section to the visitor route, the more dust and dirt there should be.
Dirt and dust can be very damaging to our objects in many ways.
- It may seem dry but dust is actually very good at sucking up moisture and when this lands on a surface it can cause damage through chemical reactions, for example the tarnishing of metal.
- Dirt and dust can provide a food source for all sorts of bugs and creepy crawlies which can cause harm to our objects and so cause biological damage.
- Although dust is small, the inorganic particles in it can have rough or hard edges which can’t be seen with the naked eye but can cause mechanical damage. When these particles are removed from a surface through cleaning or dusting they can cause scratches to the surface. This means that we have to be very careful how we remove dust and dirt, and how often.
Because of the physical damage which can be caused when we remove dust and dirt some items are only dusted and cleaned once a year, some once every few years. This year Sally dusted the Gasolier in the Sultana room very carefully and with a soft pony hair brush. I have just learnt that a Gasolier is a decorative gas lighting piece resembling a chandelier but it is hollow to allow gas to be piped through! However Attingham was never actually lit by gas. This lightfitting was bought to replace the chandelier sold in the bankruptcy sale of 1827 and was later converted to electricity. The Gasolier was cleaned by a conservator about 3 years ago and has not been touched since.
If you’ve ever had any building work done to your house, or even walked past a building site on a hot day, you will know the amount of dust that can be produced from construction work. It is no different here at Attingham and so our collection needs to be protected from the dirt and dust that will be created during the Through the Roof Project as well as the normal levels that enter the house with all of us.
This week the Organ in the Picture Gallery has been protected from dust and dirt for the duration of the building work.
The organ will now be boxed in, just like the rest of the furniture left in the Picture Gallery, so it is protected from any accident or damage.
Things are really starting to happen in the Mansion now. In the next few weeks we should have the scaffolding moving in so watch this space!