One of the main highlights of the visitor route is the splendid display on the Great Dining Room table. In order to keep it looking impressive, each winter the display is dismantled and undergoes a process of examination and cleaning.
The centrepiece of the display is the silver surtout de table which was commissioned by the 6th Duke of Devonshire in the early 19th century. In recent years the surtout underwent delacquering- a process that removes the protective coating that can degrade over time. As a result of this, the silver is now more susceptible to tarnish and requires an annual clean.
During the winter period the display is removed from the table and every object is condition checked. Imperfections and levels of tarnish are compared with previous years’ assessments. Each piece is then dismantled into its component parts and dusted with a soft brush, ahead of being wet cleaned. This is achieved using a combination of steaming, silver-cleaning foam, and an array of soft sponges and brushes. Some tarnish build-up may need to be cleaned two or three times before it’s completely removed. Each piece is then dried before being submerged in fine boxwood sawdust overnight, which ensures that every pocket of detail is free of moisture.
The entire table setting can take up to three weeks to be cleaned, but the finished spectacle once the table has been re-set makes the hours spent worthwhile.