Spick and span for the new sea­son

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Historic Houses -

Af­ter six months of hi­ber­na­tion, the dust cov­ers are off at Aud­ley End House, just out­side Saf­fron Walden in Es­sex. Un­like Na­tional Trust prop­er­ties, which are open all year round, seven days a week, such English Her­itage sites are shut to the pay­ing pub­lic dur­ing the off-sea­son. But, de­spite the seem­ingly de­serted cor­ri­dors be­tween Oc­to­ber and Easter, this is the busiest time of year for the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s 500 clean­ing and main­te­nance staff.

Rather than a Kim and Ag­gie-style blitz, the English Her­itage spring clean to get each of the 400 prop­er­ties ready for open­ing at the be­gin­ning of the Easter hol­i­days, is a like a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion. No oil painting is left un­turned. Ev­ery fix­ture, fit­ting and stick of fur­ni­ture, from the 17th-cen­tury ceil­ing pan­els in the saloon to the an­tique rock­ing horses in the nurs­ery wing, are cov­ered in dust blan­kets dur­ing the win­ter.

This is part of what it is called “putting the house to bed”, an old prac­tice to pro­tect the pre­cious con­tents of the house. A pro­ce­dure that gets in­creas­ingly im­por­tant as each item gets older and such prop­er­ties grow in pop­u­lar­ity and are ex­posed to sun­light and peo­ple on a far more reg­u­lar ba­sis.

“Tra­di­tion­ally his­tor­i­cal houses were not used all year round,” says Mia Jack­son, col­lec­tions cu­ra­tor at Aud­ley End. “They were some­body’s coun­try house, who might spend more time in Lon­don. When they went away, they would send some­one up to cover the fur­ni­ture.”

In the early days of Aud­ley End, a vis­i­tor’s sta­tus could be judged by how much of the fur­ni­ture was un­cov­ered. “They would only un­cover ev­ery­thing for the King’s visit,” Jack­son says. “You could come for cof­fee and find out what they ac­tu­ally thought of you,

Spring clean­ing English Her­itage’s 400 homes is a her­culean task. Eleanor Doughty gets her hands dirty

Open for busi­ness: staff have been busy pre­par­ing Aud­ley End House for its sea­sonal re­open­ing. It is open noon-5pm daily un­til Septem­ber 30. Adults £16.60, chil­dren (5-15) £10. Fam­ily £43.20 english-her­itage. org.uk

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