DURING ITS Victorian heyday, 15 members of staff would have ensured Brodsworth Hall’s 30 rooms full of Italian sculpture, French chintzes and Axminster carpets were kept looking their best.
Now that job is down to two collections care assistants, Robin Matthews and Tina Hornsby, who since October, have spent countless hours ensuring every inch of every room - and every item in them - has had a thorough clean before it re-opens for the public on Saturday.
Brodsworth Hall, a country house a few miles north-west of Doncaster, is one of 400 historic places under the care of English Heritage that will open their doors for the main visitor season this weekend.
The last few days have been spent furiously removing sheets and scaffolding protecting the art and furnishings that have been painstakingly cleaned by Mr Matthews and Ms Hornsby - but don’t expect a polished finished.
Part of the beauty of the Hall and its contents is that much has been preserved, rather than restored, revealing a fragile and fascinating collection. Much is the legacy left behind by its last owner, Sylvia Grant-Dalton, who gradually retreated into just a handful of the halls rooms before her death in 1988, turning the key in locks as she went.
The result was that original 1860s furniture was left, sometimes mixed with 20s or 40s additions, until English Heritage acquired the property and opened it up.
Brodsworth Hall’s curator Caroline Carr-Whitworth said: “It’s quite a delicate act that Robin and Tina do in their work. Brodsworth is different to other country houses, in that there is a great Victorian collection, with quirky, modern things overlaid.
“A lot of the original interiors have survived but are very fragile, and they have had special training from conservators because we preserve, rather than restore, what is here.”
During the winter shut-down, absolutely everything in the Hall is cleaned, and this year, special conservators were brought in to trial repairs to the Victorian roller shutters on the exterior of the house.
Using historic technology, one of the shutters was taken apart, repaired, and put back together in a process which will hopefully be repeated through all of the hall’s shutters.
The Hall will open again to tours on Saturday, when work maintaining the property will be scaled back to make way for visitors.
Mrs Carr-Whitworth said: “It’s a huge job to get the Hall ready over winter. If you think how this house was run with 15 indoor staff in the 1860s, there would have been at least four housemaids working everyday to keep everything clean.”
There has also been extensive work in the gardens, were the daffodils are now in bloom.
This year marks a real change for English Heritage, as on April 1 it becomes an independent charity. The new status will bring a major programme of conservation and repair - the biggest in the organisation’s history.
Across its 400 castles, palaces, Roman and prehistoric sites, conservators spent 3,000 hours in March dusting, brushing and vacuuming around objects and historic buildings, while gardeners and other staff help uncover properties and put the finishing touches ready to greet visitors for the year ahead.
They have also been retouching paintings, carefully cleaning the contents of Darwin’s study at his Kent home, including scientific implements and skulls, repairing fabrics at Dover Castle and using vacuum cleaners and brushes to spruce up Roman artefacts at Corbridge.
Across Yorkshire, Mount Grace Priory near Northallerton; Rievaulx Abbey near Helmsley, Conisborough Castle near Doncaster; and Whitby Abbey are among those that will extend their opening hours to weekday from this weekend.