Yes it’s that time of year again, once again time to don our hard hats, steel-capped boots and our best Del-boy references,
for the cleaning of the Gold Room’s chandelier and sconces. With an estimated number of 4000 glass beads and droplets, the cleaning of this beautiful Baccarat chandelier is no mean feat, and takes the House Team about a week to complete.
Baccarat (for those of you who don’t regularly clean chandeliers yourself!) is a French Crystal company dating back to 1764, when King Louis XV of France gave permission for a glass-works to be established in Baccarat, in Lorraine. By the nineteenth century, Baccarat was producing all sorts of crystal treasures from perfume bottles, to chandeliers, to crystal-lined staircases! The many crystal stars, flowers, spheres and droplets that piece by piece, make up our intricate chandelier at Polesden, are stunningly crafted.
Polesden’s chandelier was created in about 1860 when the Baccarat firm was really taking off – after gaining royal commissions and a worldwide reputation. Mrs Greville clearly built her collection like she planned her party guest-lists: according to the tastes of royalty.
So now we’re all a bit better acquainted with our Baccarat chandelier, we can look into how exactly it got cleaned last week… The House Team cleans the chandelier annually, often in front of the public as a ‘Conservation in Action’ activity.
‘Conservation in Action’ is when we perform our conservation work during open season, so you can all get a better insight into the day-to-day care of collections like Polesden Lacey’s. The first thing we do to clean the chandelier, is set up the scaffolding and any extra lighting we need to access and assess each glass bead. Our equipment consists of a pony hair brush, which we use to work off all the dust from each crystal, before spraying a water-and-alcohol solution onto a cloth, which we then carefully apply to the glass beads only.
I’ll let you into a secret though, too much cleaning of our collections can do just as much damage as too little. To this end, we don’t unhook the crystals so as to not weaken their delicate fittings, and we’re very careful to only apply the alcohol solution to the glass beads, and not the ormolu (gilded metal) frame.
Whilst a member of the House Team (refer to the picture of yours truly below), or one of our lovely Conservation Interns is working on the chandelier, one of our Conservation Demonstrator volunteers is in the room too, explaining our conservation work to all of you chandelier enthusiasts!
Children (or indeed adults) get the chance to play with their own pony hair brush and basket of crystals, and ask any questions that spring to mind. The recurring visitor query was, “how do you know where you’ve got to?!” This kind of question is exactly why we do Conservation in Action. The key to cleaning any object, complex or simple, is to be methodical. You must work from top to bottom so the dust settles on pieces you’ve not yet cleaned, which makes keeping track of the sections you’ve completed, very simple.
Conservation in Action is so important for our visitors. It helps inspire a deeper interest in the care of our collections and changes the way visitors interact with historic objects.
Now, Polesden’s visitors like you will look at an object like the chandelier in a different way. You will see not only its story in the past, but also its present care with a view to protecting it for the future.
I trust you’re all perfectly well prepared to clean your own chandeliers at home now (preferably with more success than Del Boy and Rodney) but do re-visit the Gold Room to see our newly kaleidoscopic-twinkling Chandelier for inspiration! We’ve got many more Conservation in Action activities planned for the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for more opportunities to see our collections in a different light (pun absolutely intended).