Wednesday, 26 June 2013

A Bug's Life

This week the Conservation team have been tackling the issue of pests in the house.  At this time of year, as the weather gets warmer, our resident bugs start breeding and multiplying, meaning that we have a task on our hands to keep them under control and protect the house and collection. 

Last Wednesday afternoon, we set up a stand in the Marble Hall to talk to visitors about the pests that we encounter at Petworth and how we attempt to tackle them.  We also set up a microscope and projector screen so that visitors were able to take a good look at our pests up close! 

We used a microscope connected to a projector to show the bugs up on the big screen. The sight of giant bugs certainly caught people's attention!
Some of the most common questions were:

How do pests get into the house?

Many visitors were surprised to discover that we had bugs in the house, but in such an old house as Petworth, it’s impossible to keep them out – they can sneak in through any little gaps in the walls, windows and doors or even down the chimneys.  They can also come into the house on an infested object, which is why we check any items coming into the house carefully.

 What sort of pests do you have in the house?

The most common pests that we find in the house are wood-boring furniture beetle and death watch beetle, textile nibbling carpet beetles, clothes moths, silverfish and booklice which graze on organic materials. Our collection is very rich in organic materials from woollen rugs to silk curtains and wooden furniture so it’s a haven for many different types of bugs!

 How do we control the pests?

By cleaning!  We monitor pests regularly using sticky traps in every room in the house, but the best way to keep them under control is to keep the house as clean as possible, so regular hoovering is the key.  Occasionally, if we find an infestation of a pest, we may be able to treat it in an effort to eradicate the pests, but we have to be particularly careful about using any chemicals which could cause damage to the house or objects in our collection.

Caroline Williams
Conservation Assistant

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Conservation in Action - A Sterling Job

This week, we’ve been concentrating on metals again, but this time the silver from the Square Dining Room. Visitors to Petworth on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon last week would have seen us hard at work in the Marble Hall.

These solid silver wine coolers come from a set of four which currently stand on the side table along the south wall of the Square Dining Room. They were made by Paul Storr of London in 1814 and are decorated with the 3rd Earl of Egremont’s coat of arms. They were based on the Warwick Vase, an enormous antique marble which was once owned by the 2nd Earl of Warwick.

The same questions came up frequently whilst we were cleaning:

How do you clean the silver?

We start by flicking the dust off with a soft pony hair brush. The tarnish is removed by applying a small amount of Goddard’s silver dip with a cotton bud, which is then washed off with distilled water before being dried with paper towel.

Silver dip?! I've been told to not used silver dip?

We use the silver dip in a very controlled way. It is applied with a cotton bud or a barbeque skewer covered in cotton wool for the more intricate areas, and is immediately washed off with distilled water. Only a small area of the silver is worked on at a time so we can be sure all the dip is removed before we move on.

Caroline is using a barbeque skewer to get into the detail of the silver.

How often do you clean them?

As little as possible! We strive to maintain a suitable balance between keeping the silver aesthetically pleasing for our visitors whilst ensuring they are properly conserved and looked after. Taking off the tarnish means removing the top layer of the metal, so the silver is only cleaned when it really needs it. These specific wine coolers were last cleaned three years ago.

This photo shows how tarnished the piece had become over three years.

It was an absolute pleasure to work on these beautiful pieces of silver. Visitors often commented on the level of patience needed to work on the pieces, but we all found it very therapeutic!

Sarah Baldwin
Conservation Assistant

Friday, 14 June 2013

Breaking New Ground

Over the half term break the Petworth Park Archaeology Project, with the help of nearly 30 volunteers, undertook its first archaeological excavations within the park.  For the first three days the focus was on three trenches on Lawn Hill – we had noted features in this area from historic mapping, recorded earthworks during our field survey and identified some interesting anomalies in our geophysical surveys which all led us to this area.

Locations of the Lawn Hill (blue) and Tillington (yellow) trenches
Two of our trenches appeared to contain very little, but they do help us to build up a picture of the park and how it has changed.  In one trench we identified the edges of what appear to have been quite substantial stone quarries - in the past the park was not just the ornamental landscape we see it as today.  Instead it might have been viewed as a larder, stocked with deer and rabbits, as a source of raw materials such as stone and clay, and as a working landscape where there were brick kilns and lime kilns in the 18th century.  Of course, today Lawn Hill is a grassy flat-topped hill with gently sloping faces – this is part of ‘Capability’ Brown’s legacy, and our excavations showed he must have gone to great lengths to turn an undulating and pocked outcrop of sandstone into a wide level expanse of grass.

Our final trench on Lawn Hill proved to contain much more substantial remains.  A large quantity of stone rubble and brick was identified, as well as plenty of pottery and small finds including a Jeton (a medieval French token), a cavalry spur and a gilded brooch or strap fitting.  The evidence seems to suggest this is the site of a substantial stone building which looked across the park between the 15th-17th century, possibly related to a tower-like structure which last appears on the 1610 map of the estate.  Perhaps this is the banqueting house known to have been within the park during the reign of Henry VIII?  Or the ‘castle’ referred to in the accounts of Elizabeth I?

Volunteers at work in the ‘banqueting house’ trench on Lawn Hill (right) and the medieval Jeton recovered from it (inset right).  This may represent the tower-like structure shown on Lawn Hill on the 1610 map of the Park (left)
Our final three days of excavation took us across the park to the paddocks and Colt House near Tillington.  From historic maps we know the area used to actually be a part of Tillington village, with fields, houses and sunken lanes.  In 1763 however, the park was expanded, encompassing this portion of the village.  By using the historic maps alongside the evidence from our excavations it was possible to reconstruct the layout of some of the village plots.  One trench cut across the outer wall of a building, into the front garden, where there were a number of small pits, and down to the garden wall, across the sunken lane and across the boundary of the property opposite.  Our second trench showed the back garden of this opposing property, with a boundary ditch and a number of pits, probably from fruit bushes or small trees.  The finds from this area represent the domestic items we might expect from a village in around the 17th and 18th century – jugs and glass bottles, loom weights and clay pipes – but some of the pottery recovered also hints at earlier medieval origins for the village.  Much later, over the top of this garden, a crushed chalk pathway had been laid to serve the elaborate Colt House built in 1841 – nearly 80 years after the village had been cleared.

A carefully excavated medieval property boundary ditch at Tillington, packed with stones, glass bottles and pottery (top right).  Volunteers also got the chance to learn about archaeological planning and recording (left) and the occasional well-earned break (bottom right).
A further trench was dug to investigate earthworks and geophysical anomalies near the park wall.  These appeared to be large dumps of clinker, slag (metal-working waste materials) and general detritus, interspersed with areas of crushed chalk.  This appears to have been laid down at the end of the 19th century, or early 20th century, as an area of hard standing – though for what purpose exactly it remains unclear.  Perhaps it was for one of the military units which were stationed within Petworth Park during the First World War, or for a fair or similar event.  Hopefully careful examination of the archives by our Documentary Research Group will give us the answer.

We have accomplished a huge amount over just six days, thanks to the hard work to our team of dedicated volunteers, and we have only just begun to scratch the surface – keep an eye out for our July excavations (13th-22nd) and 'Digger's Big Weekends' looking at the ‘lost’ North Wing of Petworth House!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Father's Day at Petworth House

Treat your dad to an unforgettable Father's Day at Petworth House. What better way to spend your day than with a walk around Petworth Park, look out for the fallow deer, or even bring a picnic and relax in the beautiful surroundings (fingers crossed for some more decent summer weather). This Father's Day weekend, 15th and 16th June, will also see the Petworth House stables being brought to life by our historical interpreters and horses!  Enjoy an exciting and rare opportunity to explore the stables and discover their rich history - from racehorses to warhorses.

There's also plenty to see in the house, firm favourites with dads usually include the intricate Grinling Gibbons carvings in the Carved Room and the Molyneux globe, dated at 1592 it's possibly the earliest English globe in existence, supposedly given to The Wizard Earl by Sir Walter Raleigh during the time they spent in the tower together during the early 17th century.

What will you discover?

Monday, 3 June 2013

Conservation in Action - Going Copper Crazy!

Every other Wednesday afternoon, some of the conservation team clean pieces of the collection in front of visitors. This week, myself, Michelle, Brian – a dedicated volunteer – and some of our younger visitors were hard at work in the servant’s quarters.

 Anyone who has visited the kitchens at Petworth knows that we have quite a large collection of copper! Whilst a lot of it got cleaned during the winter clean, many of the smaller pieces were still awaiting our attention.

This week we focused on the little pastry and jelly moulds – some of which are very intricate! We had quite a lot of fun discussing the creations that could have been made by combining the products of the moulds!

Whilst we are cleaning we are keen to answer any questions from visitors. These are some of the most frequently asked questions.

What do you use to clean?”
First, the piece is dusted using a hog’s hair brush. A small amount of Autosol metal polish is applied, in order to remove corrosion, stains or tarnish that may be present on the item. Once the polish has been buffed away, a thin layer of renaissance wax is applied, in order to seal and protect the metal.

How often?”
It is important that the copper is not over-cleaned, as every time polish is applied and buffed away, a layer of copper gets removed. We treat the copper annually – which is quite enough to keep us going!

And perhaps the most commonly asked question:
Do you fancy coming over to clean my copper?!” 
Thanks for the offer - but we have enough here to keep ourselves busy!

Conservation Assistant

Every other Wednesday we clean a different part of the collection in front of visitors during our 'Conservation in Action' events. Keep an eye out around the property to find out what we are cleaning next!