Attingham Mansion is rather lucky when it comes to fireplaces, with many examples of Greek and Roman influence and mythology, they are very much a statement of a grandiose past. My name is Simon and I regularly volunteer at Attingham helping with conservation work. I have had the privilege recently to give the fireplaces a little tender loving care to keep them in their resplendence for the present and future generations, and this blog post is concerned with this.
Like all things, including us, a little bit of intervention is needed to keep them at their best and prevent further deterioration, and this is really what Preventive Conservation is and what my work as a conservation volunteer involves. Each year in the closed season the house gets what we call a ‘deep clean’ to take the opportunity to get the jobs done that would be difficult to do when the house is open and busy with visitors. So, for the past few weeks I’ve been helping the house team with the fireplaces.
Whilst working on the mantelpieces I would sometimes notice small areas of damage and these can really fire the imagination if you let them – was it an overworked servant; a disgruntled Lord; or a drunken RAF officer that chipped the frieze, who knows?
Anyway, I digress, the first thing we do is give them a check to see if any new damage has occurred or if there are any areas of concern that need reporting. Sometimes we discover small areas of rust which mostly can be buffed out with a little metal polish and cloth or, if stubborn, a non-woven abrasive pad with a little polish on. Then it’s a case of giving them a good dust with a hog’s hair brush which is more robust than the pony hair ones we use for more delicate objects, but is fine on marble. Most years a good dust and a clean with deionised water before a coat of wax or black leading is applied is all that is required, but this year we decided to give them a bit more attention.
Every few years it is good practice to give them a more intensive clean and after brushing and vacuuming the dust we armed ourselves with cotton swabs, buds and a solution of white spirit and deionised water. This was applied via the cotton to all the more awkward to reach places to remove most of the dirt that has accumulated there. You may have noticed I used the word ‘most’ as the aim is not to have the object looking brand new rather to keep it presentable with its historical context intact.
Once all the residue had evaporated (excess can be dabbed off with a paper towel) we then started to apply the wax with a clean brush in a circular action and, after some time to allow it to dry, buffed it with a clean cloth. Once the wax had been applied to the marble and metalwork we finished off with black leading the areas of the grate that needed it. And that is essentially how we look after the fireplaces in our care ready for another busy year in front of their admiring audiences.