With the country on lockdown, the once bustling house and grounds fell silent. The team in charge of looking after the Devonshire Collections found themselves in strange environmental conditions, finding new ways to keep the collection safe and increasing safety measures ready for when we reopen our doors.
Impact on the collections
Country houses are a lot like living organisms in that they react to the changes in their environment. With the curtains and windows closed, interior doors shut and the regular movement of people non-existent, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has had various effects on the house and the collection. Evidence of this can be seen in the change in dust patterns as well as the moths trying to make a home in the library. This combined with humid summer months mean that the team have had to find new ways to stabilise the conditions in the house, including through the use of dehumidifiers and fans.
The team have also been adapting current measures used such as the Hanwell System, which measures changes in the atmosphere and is an essential tool in helping to preserve the collection. The system enables staff to access atmospheric conditions from home and advise the onsite team of any fluctuations in the environmental conditions in the house and store rooms, thus, ensuring that the light, temperature and humidity levels remain within recommended parameters.
There have also been positive outcomes – as odd as this may seem. With hundreds of visitors walking through the visitor route every day, the house and collections are put under a lot of pressure and are only allowed to rest and recuperate during our closed season from January to March. The impact of the pandemic has meant that both have had a chance to properly rest, with less light exposure, cleaning and handling.
One of the Chatsworth House Trust’s charitable objectives is to ensure the collections at Chatsworth are seen by as many people as possible, both nationally and internationally. In a normal year this would include loaning pieces to fellow visitor institutions, with items being accompanied by members of our collections team to assist with installation and de-installation. Recent restrictions on travel meant that we have had to look in to new ways for this to take place.
At the start of March we lent a selection of Delft pottery to The Hague for their exhibition, Royal Blue. As the world went into lockdown, the exhibition was delayed and the pieces remained safely stored in the Netherlands. As the ease of restrictions began and visitor attractions slowly started opening up, the Chatsworth team conducted a video call overseeing technicians from The Hague unpacking and condition checking the pieces.
This has been an eye-opening experience for the team and has prompted a rethink about how we will operate in the future. Might we no longer need to accompany certain items to exhibitions around the world, and instead work closer with the teams already in place digitally? This could potentially reduce our environmental impact.
Preparing to welcome you back
Getting ready to welcome back our visitors has been a thought on everyone’s mind here at Chatsworth and making sure guests can enjoy the house while keeping safe is of the utmost importance. The housekeeping team have implemented new safety measures to keep both our visitors and staff safe, including hand washing stations at the house entrance, sanitising stations throughout the house and a new one way visitor route. Our in-house joiners have even built a new handrail for the Painted Hall staircase to allow for regular cleaning as the polished brass of the original would not cope well with anti-bacterial sprays.
Now more than ever we look to you for support not just through visiting the house but by sharing in our charitable objectives as well. In order to achieve our charitable objectives, we rely upon visitor admission to the house, garden and farmyard, the Friends and Patrons of Chatsworth programmes as well as sponsorship and grant funding.
If you would be interested in getting more involved with the work of the Chatsworth House Trust and understanding more about how we care for Chatsworth and the collections, you may be interested in joining our Patrons scheme.