phone mail2 facebook twitter play
Interview with Blenheim Palace’s ‘Restoration & Conservation’ Tour
Image Credit: Blenheim Palace

Interview with Blenheim Palace’s ‘Restoration & Conservation’ Tour

7 January 2017 | Edd Elliott

Time for a little early spring cleaning at Blenheim Palace as they unveil their latest tour “Restoration & Conservation”, an exclusive peak at the process of refurbishing one of Britain’s most cherished stately homes. We talked to Karen Wiseman, Blenheim’s Head of Education, about the new tour and the trials of heavy hoovering.

Culture Calling: Hi Karen! Blenheim Palace’s “Restoration & Conservation” tour starts on Monday 9 January. Could you tell us a little about what the tour is all about and what visitors can look forward to?
 
Karen Wiseman: The tour explains to visitors how we care for the collection. During the winter we do what we call the “deep clean”. This is, in the first instance, a comprehensive review of the collection followed by a thorough clean alongside the ongoing conservation and restoration works. The tour explains how the tapestries are cleaned and how we deal with gilded frames etc. It will also talk about various projects such as conserving the Boulle furniture and how the art restorer cleans the paintings.
 
CC: As you say, the tour exhibits Blenheim’s “Deep Clean”. What exactly does this involve? What sort of wear and tear does the palace accumulate over the year?
 
KW: When the Ops Team do the deep clean they start first with the ceiling and then work their way down. They use museum hoovers, soft paint brushes and they hoover up the dust. There is no point in dusting in the traditional way because all that does is move the dust around.
 
The main wear and tear comes from visitors – accidents like their bags bashing a marble topped table, or from the chewing gum left stuck to the furniture. Other factors which affect the collection in terms of wear and tear is the damage done by light and moisture. Light doesn’t just fade the colours in fabrics over time it can also shred fabrics. So we do our best to reduce the exposure of the collection to direct sunlight whilst still having enough light so the visitors can see. Also visitors will insist on breathing and the moisture in the breath of 700,000 people can affect the fabrics.
 

Photo Credit: Blenheim Palace
 
CC: Which of the art pieces in the tour requires the most care and attention to renovate?
 
KW: Probably the most intricate pieces to restore are the Boulle furniture. Possibly the most tricky to clean is the silver centre piece which comes apart and there is a knack to getting it back together again. One of the Operation Managers used to be the 11th Duke’s Butler so he knows everything there is to know about cleaning silver and in particular that piece.
 
CC: Not all of the tour is about Blenheim’s interior. One of the big renovations is of the ‘Capability’ Brown Cascades. Could you tell us a little about this process?
 
KW: The dam was constructed between 1764 and 1774 by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown to hold back the waters of the River Glyme and create the centre of his landscape at the end of the Blenheim Lake. Owing to the age of the dam and the requirements of the Reservoirs Act, repairs and engineering works to strengthen it were deemed essential.
The works were carried out between May and October 2009. On completion of the project, 36,000 daffodils were planted around the dam, making it a spectacular attraction every spring.
 
CC: Blenheim Palace is obviously revered as a site of immense cultural history, but it also has to constantly modernise to remain a modern, exciting attraction. How do you balance those two needs – to preserve and update?
 
KW: The overriding aim of the Estate business is to preserve the Palace and its collection for the future. The bulk of our visitors come here because of the displayed artefacts and art and the Baroque architecture of the Palace so the historical nature of Blenheim is very important. In terms of the modern elements of the business, the Blenheim Art Foundation has introduced an annual modern art exhibition. The premise being that the family have collected and displayed art throughout the 300 year period of the Palace’s history and so the modern art exhibitions continue this tradition.
 
CC: “Behind the Scenes” themed events seem very much in vogue at the moment – Modern Art Oxford has had similar exhibitions over the last year. It’s a very contemporary idea. Why do you think people are interested in these kinds of tours? And why are they so popular now?
 
KW: I have been at Blenheim for over 10 years and the visitors have always been fascinated by how we care for the collection and the fabric of the building. Sometimes they are pleasantly surprised that some things we do are exactly the same as they do – we clean the windows using water, for example. We perhaps are more gentle with the old panes of glass here than we need to be at home but the process is the same. They are also interested in the specialist methods of cleaning. One of the most frequent questions we get asked is ‘Are you scared handling the objects?’ Of course when you first come here it is daunting but we are trained and we take great care.
 
Possibly the reason people are interested in the behind the scenes type tours is simply the very normal fascination of ‘how’s that done?’ – a fascination that perhaps never leaves us from childhood.
 
Blenheim Palace’s ‘Restoration & Conservation’ tour begins on 9 January. For further details, please see their website.

Tell us what you think

You may also like

Interview with Levison Wood

Interview with Levison Wood

When it comes to stories of incredible wildlife encounters at the most exotic corners of the globe, there are few who can beat Levison Wood.…

Extreme Sports Getaways in South-East England

Extreme Sports Getaways in South-East England

The South-East – home to “the Garden of England” and the South Downs. Quiet, calm and peaceful… Or extreme! Because alongside rolling fields and sedate villages, Kent…

Glass Microbiology at the At-Bristol Science Centre

Glass Microbiology at the At-Bristol Science Centre

The city’s most popular science centre, At-Bristol is now showing a unique fusion of science and art in the new Glass Microbiology exhibition, created and designed…

Cary Comes Home: The Cary Grant Festival, Bristol

Cary Comes Home: The Cary Grant Festival, Bristol

The organisers of the Cary Grant Festival – die-hard fans Charlotte Crofts and Fern Dunn – have teamed up with Bristol Cathedral to host a series of…

Bang Bang: Interview with Caroline Langrishe

Bang Bang: Interview with Caroline Langrishe

Saucy satire Bang Bang opens at the Mercury Theatre Colchester on 24 February. George Feydeau’s tale of high-society lady Leontine and her less-than-faithful husband Duchotel, the…

Top 5 Pizza Spots in Brighton

Top 5 Pizza Spots in Brighton

Brighton is famed for its rock and fish & chips, but would you think of it as the hub of authentic Italian pizza? You will…

Not Dead Enough: Interview with Laura Whitmore

Not Dead Enough: Interview with Laura Whitmore

Laura Whitmore is an instantly recognisable face on television. She got her big break in 2008 after winning a competition to become the face of…

Degas to Picasso: Creating French Modernism at the Ashmolean Museum

Degas to Picasso: Creating French Modernism at the Ashmolean Museum

Is it really possible to cover all of Modernism in France in one exhibition? Degas, Delacroix, Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Pissarro, Seurat, Matisse, Braque, Picasso – a…

Top 5 Running Routes in Bristol

Top 5 Running Routes in Bristol

Get out; get fit. Those things we should all be doing. But if you don’t know where to go it can often be hard to find…

GEEK Festival: Interview with Chris Snelson

GEEK Festival: Interview with Chris Snelson

Attention gamers: GEEK Festival returns to Dreamland Margate this 17-19 February for a mad mix of all things gaming. We talk to Programme & Event…

More inspiration...

Interview with Levison Wood

Interview with Levison Wood

We talk to explorer Levison Wood about his expeditions and his upcoming UK tour.
Extreme Sports Getaways in South-East England

Extreme Sports Getaways in South-East England

We lay-out all the best extreme sports options on offer in Sussex and Kent.
Glass Microbiology at the At-Bristol Science Centre

Glass Microbiology at the At-Bristol Science Centre

We examine Luke Jerram's intricate sculptures in Glass Microbiology, the latest exhibition from the Bristol Science Centre.
Cary Comes Home: The Cary Grant Festival, Bristol

Cary Comes Home: The Cary Grant Festival, Bristol

We take a look at the Cary Grant Festival and their latest screening in Bristol Cathedral.
Bang Bang: Interview with Caroline Langrishe

Bang Bang: Interview with Caroline Langrishe

We talk to Caroline Langrishe about her performance in upcoming comedy play Bang Bang.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!