Dust is a fact of life. It settles everywhere despite the efforts of even the most fastidious of cleaners, and it’s not particularly pleasant.
Dust is even worse when you’ve had works carried out. It gets into nooks and crannies and because building works generate more heavy duty debris, it can be a harder to clean than everyday detritus.
Which is why our Bridge Chapel and Bridge Chamber has been visited by a team of heritage cleaners.
Virtu Conservation Housekeeping specialises in preventative conservation. Established more than a decade ago, their clients include English Heritage.
A key principle for heritage cleaning is to use the least invasive method possible, which is particularly important on old and fragile items. Our Bridge Chapel is medieval and the Bridge Chamber is Victorian, some of the furniture and decorative items within our collection are hundreds of years old and need more care than the average household ornament.
Charlotte Worden, Director of Virtu Conservation Housekeeping explains: “We carried out a top down conservation clean of the building interior to remove all the building dust which had accumulated during the works.
“Using the least invasive cleaning methods possible meant almost all the cleaning we carried out was “dry”. Liquids are only ever used extremely sparingly, and they are avoided if at all possible. Even when a liquid is used for a particular material, we generally only use de-ionsed water.
“We use natural hair brushes for cleaning with different levels of softness. Natural hair, such as goats hair, is hollow and very good at picking up dust. Goats hair brushes are used most often, but for very delicate items we may use a sable hair equivalent, and where dust is compacted on non-vulnerable surfaces, hogs hair brushes are often used.
The technique is known as “brush vaccing”. The dust is gently brushed from the object into the head of a low-suction vacuum held nearby. This protects the surface while ensuring as much dirt as possible is sucked away. Work generally starts high up and gradually moves downwards, so that any stray dust particles can be picked up at the next level.
Charlotte adds: “It’s a different approach to how we often think about cleaning, where elbow grease and shine are often emphasised. With heritage cleaning the approach is to be as gentle as possible. We do as little as we can to achieve the necessary results. Most importantly you need to know when to stop so you don’t cause unnecessary damage.”
The team who worked the Chamber and Chapel are conservators and collections care professionals, with expertise in different materials. Despite the gentle nature of the cleaning, heritage cleaners have to be strong. The work is very physical and requires building scaffolding for cleaning at height, and using extender tools to reach hard to access areas – for instance in the Bridge Chapel.
Charlotte continues: “There are naturally many aesthetic reasons for removing dust, but it is also very important to remove dust and dirt from hidden areas you can’t see, such as high up surfaces or in void areas behind decorations. This is important from a conservation point of view because sitting dust attracts moisture and pests and can also damage surfaces. Dust can also be redistributed by air currents, so even if it’s not visible today it could settle elsewhere in the building tomorrow.
“Clearing all of this dust away now will make it easier to maintain and care for the building in the future.”
The team spent four days working their way through the two buildings, with the Bridge Chapel the biggest task.