What the butler saw...

PUBLISHED: 16:21 08 February 2008 | UPDATED: 15:01 20 February 2013

Basildon Park

Basildon Park

Josephine Murray goes behind the scenes at Basildon Park, near Pangbourne, to discover that, when it comes to good housekeeping, granny really did know best...

FOR THE STAFF at National Trust property Basildon Park, near Pangbourne, best known as Netherfield Hall in the latest film of Pride & Prejudice, the winter closed season is far busier than when the house is open to the public, from spring through to autumn.

From the end of October to the reopening in March just three staff; house steward Neil Shaw, housekeeper Margaret Rhodes and volunteer Ramila Turner clean the dozens of rooms from ceiling to floor, and all the objects in between.

Everything is checked for deterioration and damage, and if necessary treated by conservators. Closing the house allows lighting and heating, normally at comfortable levels for visitors, to be reduced.

Only the room being cleaned is exposed to light, to protect the contents from fading and particle damage, while the temperature is lowered to control humidity levels and protect objects from mould.

The staff use trusted, old-fashioned cleaning methods, which can be found in The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping, published by Elsevier. Says Neil : "At Basildon Park we use cleaning products which have been around for years and aren't full of chemicals like modern ones. They're very effective, and much better for old and delicate items. You can find the products we use in hardware shops or via the internet." So, here are some of Neil's old-fashioned cleaning tips. Why not try them at home and see the difference?

Delicate or old cushions, curtains and upholstered furniture should be vacuumed using the nozzle attachment of the vacuum cleaner through a piece of nylon gauze, which enables dust and dirt to be sucked up without catching threads.

At Basildon Park different sized square pieces of gauze are attached to wooden frames to make them stable. The nozzle is also covered with gauze for extra protection. Clean flat surfaces of leather, glass, wood and marble with lint-free dusters with the corners folded inwards twice to create a soft pad with no edges to catch on sharp edges.

Other parts of furniture should be cleaned with a small pony hair brush with tape wound round the metal section to prevent scratches. For example, marquetry could be snagged and lifted off if dusted with a cloth. Polish wood with Renaissance wax - the silicone in modern sprays and polishes can damage old furniture.

The chandelier in the Octagonal Room is cleaned by taking it down section by section, starting at the top.

Every time a piece is removed, the corresponding piece must be taken down from the other side to prevent the chandelier tipping. A fine brush is used to remove dust into a vacuum cleaner, then the glass is polished with a micro-fibre duster.

These are very effective at removing dust, dirt and grease from glass, including windows, without the need for a cleaning agent.

Basildon Park staff use Peek, a very fine abrasive metal polish, to clean metal work, including fire irons. Apply it with cotton wool then use a fresh piece to rub it off.

A hog hair brush can be used to remove any trapped polish. Rub small bits of rust off with wire wool. Goddard's long term silver polish cloths, which are impregnated with polish, are great for cleaning less tarnished metal items, such as the cutlery on display in the dining room at Basildon Park. Protect metal items with a thin layer of Renaissance wax, a fine micro-crystalline polish.

Unglazed pottery is porous, so don't clean it with water as this will stain it and dissolve glue in any broken pieces which have been stuck together. Simply brush dust off with a pony hair brush, ensuring you're not holding the item by any delicate apertures, such as the handle or spout.

Brushing gilded ceramics could damage the gilding, so put a drop of sensitive skin washing-up liquid in de-ionised water - tap water contains damaging sodium and calcium - apply with cotton wool and rinse off with just the water on cotton wool. Clean intricate parts with a cotton bud made from cotton wool wound around the end of a wooden skewer - plastic cotton buds contain glue which can damage old ceramics.

Bad handling, very high or low temperatures and humidity levels, dirt, even gravity, all damage books. Some books in the library at Basildon Park are jacked up with a piece of wood underneath to prevent gravity dragging the pages down to the level of the cover. Books should be stored vertically, with space behind and in front of them on the shelf to allow air to circulate.

Try not to store them on outside walls, which are more prone to damp. Clean books by putting a whole section onto a table, then use a dry badger hair shaving brush to take dust off the cover and first and last few pages of each one.

This is enough to check for insect damage. Brush the dust into the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner - this is easier if you hold the book near a box with a nozzle-sized hole in it and the vacuum cleaner underneath. Don't open old books to more than 90 degrees.

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