In caring for and looking after Chawton House, we manage the material fabric of the building and objects through a process of conservation: that is, the careful management of change. This enables us to uncover and share the significance of the history we safeguard, ensuring that we protect, enhance, and interpret the past for all to enjoy, currently and in the future.
When Chawton House was privately owned, it was only when guests were visiting that floors were left unprotected and the most precious objects uncovered. Now on public view, Chawton House Library is visited by far more people, making protective precautions all the more necessary. With an increase in visitor numbers to the House, a greater emphasis has been placed on a programme of conservation and restoration. Over the winter of 2011-12, an annual Winter Conservation Programme was put in place that utilised the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping and Museum Association guidelines to plan and implement a schedule of preventative conservation measures needed as part of a thorough Collections Management policy. This involves slow, careful techniques, in which soft hand-brushes and non-abrasive polishes are used to clean with the least damage. Carpets are vacuumed and rolled to relax their pile, and furniture and metalwork are cleaned and polished before being shrouded and ‘put to bed’ for the winter.
With the house closed for a six week period over the winter, a full cleaning programme for objects and surfaces can be carried out, which takes care not to damage by over-cleaning, and makes sure that each item has its own up-to-date condition report. Amongst the commonest enemies in historic houses are dirt and dust, physical wear and tear, to which floor surfaces are particularly vulnerable. Touching objects also results in the transfer of damaging salts, acids and fats secreted by even the cleanest hands.
Pest management and control are essential part of the good cleaning programme. A conservation plan of the rooms includes the location of bug traps placed in them to monitor possible insect infestation.
In 2012, Chawton House Library secured generous funding from the de Laszlo Foundation to produce a survey of the painting collection which assessed its overall condition and made specific recommendations to secure the longevity of each painting.
Further details will soon be placed here regarding the conservation of our objects and our art collection.