Diary of a House Elf: Putting the house to bed

If you visited our house in November or December, you may have noticed that a few of the rooms were either closed off or had the furniture covered in white dust sheets. You might have spotted maids and footmen do this on some period dramas, such as Pride & Prejudice, when the family leave their houses for long-periods of time. But what on earth are they for? Let our chief House Elf explain…

During the last few weeks of the season we began cleaning the upstairs rooms and covering the furniture with dust sheets. This process takes place in every room as we carry out the deep cleaning of the house. This ‘putting the house to bed’ is an historical process and would have been carried out by the servants in a country house during the 18th and 19th centuries when the family were away for the season in London or visiting other houses. The purpose of this work is to remove all the dust and dirt that has accumulated during the year – and there is a lot of it!

 

The Drawing Room ready for bed

The Drawing Room ready for bed

Once all of the furniture has been cleaned we use the white covers (or little hats made of acid free tissue for the small ceramics) to stop the objects from getting dirty again whilst the rooms are closed. (They also help to limit the amount of light falling on the objects).  Even when the rooms are closed during the winter months, dust resettles from the air or from the work that we do such as building the scaffold or cleaning the picture frames. Protecting the objects from getting dirty means that they do not have to be cleaned again before we reopen the house in February. This prevents damage to the objects through wear and tear as each time we dust an object it effectively is being damaged in the same way as when people touch the objects. Therefore by putting the covers on we stop the need for more cleaning and thus help to protect the long term future of the objects.

This work is carried out at all of our houses during the winter months ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

This work is carried out at all of our houses during the winter months ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

In addition, putting the covers on the objects means that the house elves do not have to do the same work twice. It takes us us about 4-5 months to clean the whole house properly so those rooms cleaned in October and November are going to be dirty again by February if the objects are not covered. If we did not use the white covers we would be permanently cleaning the house!

House Elf Michelle cleaning the buffet

House Elf Michelle cleaning the buffet

You can find out more about how the National Trust cares for its collections on our website here.
This short video from Hill Top explains more about the process of putting the house to bed.

If there is anything else at Charlecote that you would like to know more about then please let us know.

Julie, Chief House Elf

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