The big winter clean at Tintagel Old Post Office.
As Tintagel Old Post Office prepares to open its doors for the 2016 season, we look back at the cleaning and conservation work done during the quieter times of the year.
Every late October/early November, Tintagel Old Post Office shuts its doors to the public and over the Winter months, the house and the collections are meticulously cleaned and cared for.
The best way to describe how we go about this process, is by saying we use a ‘top-down’ approach to both the items in the collection and the fabric of the house itself.
We start with the rafters and the underside of the famously wavy slate roof, clearing away the thick stubborn cobwebs that have been allowed to accumulate during the year when out-of-reach spiders have free-reign over the upper echelons of the house.
This is a delicate process as the limewash – the white mortar paint, which keeps the house watertight but breathable – tends to crumble if brushed too vigorously. As this covers most of the interior of the house, the walls also have to be dusted delicately – something all the more precarious when you’re up a ladder.
This is a real opportunity to get up close and personal with the warped green-oak beams that have somehow propped the ancient slate roof up since medieval times, save for a respite of conservation work in 1992.
Down the walls and to the floors. The timber floorboards of the house get filled with all sorts of dust and detritus brought in by the numerous visitors over the season. The best way to clear these: kebab skewers. Not the most high-tech piece of kit, but effective. Not the most glamorous of jobs, but essential. You’d be amazed how must dust is generated from a season of people entering a room for just a matter of minutes.
The flagstone floors, put down sometime in the 16th century require good old fashioned elbow-grease, and we clean them the traditional way, on our hands and knees with hot water and rags. There’s a lot to be said for the old methods. If you think slate is self-cleaning from people walking over it, then you’d be amazed by how quickly our white rags turn black.
The windows get a similar treatment, but we are careful not to use any chemicals or to be too vigorous as the panes are covered with transparent UV filters to prevent the damaging effects of constant sunlight on the paintings and samplers, which if left exposed, would fade over time.
On to the collections. Many of the items simply require a good dusting. This includes ceramics, paintings, samplers, pewter items and the like. Occasionally the ceramics are washed, but only with minimal tepid water and only every few years.
With the furniture, it’s the joints where the dust accumulates, the nooks and crannies. For this, we use special brushes to gently get into the grooves and prevent buildup. The main thing is to keep the dust moving, to clear it away and clean it up, because when it settles, it’s like cement. The occasional rub of NT wax polish brings the old items back to their best.
Some metal items require polishing to really bring out the shine and all fireplaces, pots, pans and irons are blackened with special grate polish which will slowly wear-off over the coming season.
Throughout this whole process, we are going through the conservation records to see if any of the items have deteriorated or need special treatment all the while recording our work on them this time around.
The beds are re-made, paintings are put back up, the clocks are wound and the house is ready for another year in a long history spanning more than six centuries.