Andrew Graham-Dixon and the team leave the grandeur of the main house to tackle the servants' block, and he polishes some of the 1,000-piece copper cookware range.
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In an idyllic landscape, created by master gardener Capability Brown,
sits one of Britain's finest stately homes -
Thanks to the National Trust, it's now open to us all.
Except during winter
when, like most of the Trust's homes, Petworth shuts the public out.
When the house is closed, however, it's far from quiet.
HUMMING OF LOTS OF DIFFERENT MACHINERY
Normally, nobody gets to see what happens here
during the winter months. But this year,
I've been given unique, privileged access
to see what really goes on behind the scenes.
When the public has gone, the National Trust's expert conservation teams
get the chance to do some housekeeping on an epic scale.
We get to see things up close people don't see.
It's amazing. Who else gets to do it?
I had no idea until I took on this task
quite how filthy the visitors were.
'And this winter, Petworth's got a new cleaner.'
-I can see I've made a difference.
-Have you waxed it?
'It's a rare chance to get hands on with history...'
Oh, It's heavy!
'..and glimpse the secret life of a great country house.'
On this visit, we're conserving Petworth's servant life -
scrubbing in the kitchens,
going very deep below stairs
and helping a stopped clock to strike again.
I'm joining perhaps the biggest spring clean in the world,
which all takes place during the freezing months of winter.
As winter draws on, ever more of Petworth's grand state rooms
have been methodically inspected, cleaned and covered up.
This week, the conservation team faces a rather different challenge.
They're leaving the main house behind and heading to the place
where their predecessors would have worked and lived -
Petworth's purpose-built servants' block.
Upstairs were sleeping quarters, downstairs the kitchens.
They're preserved now as they would have looked when last in use,
just before the Second World War,
although some of the equipment here dates back much further.
The ironwork on this roasting range is 17th century
and the brickwork probably Tudor.
So in the 19th century, this sort of wonderful
-cog and wheel, Heath Robinson thing would have turned it?
-But in the 17th century?
-In the 17th century, it would have been a boy.
-A boy? Oh, poor boy!
-Not the best job in the kitchen.
Through here we have the Glow-Worm,
it's like an Aga, and that's from about the late 1930s, early 1940s.
And then we have the gas range, which is from the 1920s.
So it's like slices of the house's history in the kitchen as well.
Yeah, you can read the progress of cooking technology.
-It is. And here we have the bain-marie
which is from 1872. Basically, it was filled with water
so the cooking sauces would be kept warm,
-but wouldn't continue to cook and spoil.
The kitchens are big enough to serve a grand hotel.
35 people would once have worked in these rooms,
producing an average of 100 meals a day and, when guests came, up to four times that.
So the conservation team split up to tackle
different sections of this domestic production line.
The still room was where bottling and preserving took place,
and where staff made breakfast and beverages.
-Is this a coffee grinder, Jacky?
-Yes, it is.
Oh, yeah, It's got a little drawer.
I'd be the size of a house
if I had a kitchen like this. I wouldn't stop baking.
Sue's working in Petworth's specialist pastry room.
You can even still see the residues of cooking left on these moulds.
It's a real part of this very utilitarian object's history
which makes this just as interesting as some of the fine art in the house.
Practical antiques like these call for a different
kind of conservation technique.
This is clearly not a job for cotton buds.
It's the filthiest task of the winter clean.
Is this one of your favourite jobs, or...
-I love this job!
-You're like Cinderella in a boiler suit.
'I'm worried these overalls
'will make me look more like an ugly sister.'
Ooh! Oh, my God.
That is seriously tight!
'But I need the protection to carry out my first task of the day -
'The first stage is to get the surface rust off.'
So if you just use this brush here.
There's some rust on the dog's bum. We'll start with that, shall we?
-How come there's rust on this?
-Well, it's a cast-iron object
and kitchens are quite damp cos over here it's a much colder environment.
'With any flecks of rust removed,
'now we need to take the roasting range back to black.'
-So am I going to use this stuff?
This is the traditional black lead, the original they used to use.
Oh, I like that.
-So what am I going to use?
-You're going to use some of this one.
-It's a modern equivalent.
-"Black grate and barbecue polish."
I suppose this is a kind of 17th-century barbecue.
And the idea is you want to mainly cover the rust bits.
It creates a protective layer
and it stops the oxygen from rusting the surface of the cast iron.
The thing about this house, Anna, don't you feel spoilt?
In the sense that there's just art everywhere.
I've got a kind of little bas-relief here.
There's a dog under someone's arm,
a bloke going, "Eurgh!" and a little boy screaming.
Maybe that's the little boy who used to have to turn the spit.
Oh, he wouldn't have dared cry, Andrew. He'd have lost his job.
OK, next you need to buff it off.
-Is it going to end up shiny?
-It does have a bit of a shine to it.
-Like a dull shine.
Cos the whole effect here is of a kitchen that's, as it were, in use.
We don't clean the soot off the chimney back, do we?
We leave it because it's part of the history of the kitchen.
-So I'm getting it?
-You are, you're getting it.
'The servants' quarters seem to have
'almost as many rooms as the main house.'
I actually managed to get lost. Where am I now?
-Well, you're in the chef's sitting room.
-At the end of a hard day,
toiling over his sort of industrial-scale hot stove,
he sits down. It feels very domestic, this space.
It makes me feel as if the people who once filled that kitchen,
-it's as if they just got up and left.
-It's a very human sort of space.
-How much do we know about them?
We know a fair bit. In fact, here, we've got a few photographs
of some of the male members of staff, particularly, from Petworth.
-Including one of the chefs.
That reminds me of that famous line, "Never trust a thin chef!"
Were they from this part of Sussex?
Well, apparently, they were often French
because French chefs were considered to be the best.
And it was, you know, a sign of great prestige
to employ a French chef.
-Do they get paid loads of money as well?
-They do. No-one was paid more than the chef.
I wouldn't like to get on the wrong side of him.
-Are these also portraits of those who worked here?
His name was Joseph Pattinson and he was the house steward in about 1890.
God, that facial hair! I mean, goodness me!
-He was as bald as a coot under that hat.
He ran everything. He did the accounts,
all the ordering. So he was in charge, basically, of what was
quite a reasonable-sized business.
Gosh. And who's this?
Well, that's the housekeeper, Mrs Rawlinson,
who was the most senior of the female staff. She earned far less,
less than half the amount that Mr Pattinson earned.
Mrs Rawlinson. She looks very Victorian.
She doesn't look as if she'd be easily amused, does she?
Well, the housekeeper had to keep quite strict discipline.
Who are these fine, upstanding gentlemen? Who are they?
They're the footmen. They would wait at table and run errands round town
and they would be the visible face of Petworth House
around the town and the community.
Were they actually specifically selected
because they were rather dashing and slim?
Footmen were supposed to be very tall
and to have rather fine calves, so they looked good in the uniform.
So where would you be in this hierarchy?
I'd probably be a housemaid.
The closed season is the ideal time for specialist conservators
to visit National Trust houses
to inspect the subjects of their expertise.
Horologist Jonathan Betts has come to check the condition
of Petworth's clocks.
They should be pretty good time keepers, these.
Though the kitchen clock still works well after 220 years,
another in the main house is more of a worry.
So this is the boulle clock that we've been having some problems with.
We've had problems turning the key. It's very stiff.
If in doubt, it's always better, under those circumstances,
to leave it stopped and call a conservator to have a look.
This clock has been ticking since 1710. Its boullework case
is fashioned from tortoiseshell with bronze inlays.
It was made in France, as a plate inside reveals.
The next thing to do, really, is to get the clock out.
The cause of the problem must be within the mechanism, known to horologists as "the movement".
To allow a good look inside, the curtains have been raised.
a rare privilege in winter.
-Now, I think you said that it was very stiff to wind.
So we'll see what's going on with the main springs.
The clock needs to be wound at two points.
The right-hand side controls the time keeping.
There is some wind in the going side.
The other side controls striking the bell, which remains in the case.
-This is actually wound right up tight.
-Might be why the key is bent.
That's probably why the key is bent
and that is definitely a sign that somebody's going too far.
-It wasn't me, it wasn't me!
-No, I'm sure it was done a long time ago,
clearly there's been a long-term problem with this clock.
The striking is certainly in trouble.
Don't quite know why that is at the moment.
Ah! Yes, I do, yes, I do. I can see what the problem is.
Just noticed something.
The main spring is trying to escape from the barrel,
horror of horrors. That means we're going to have to take it all apart.
Jonathan needs to get beneath the dial of the clock.
Experts like him never call it the face.
Now, an absolute golden rule with all spring-driven clockwork
is before you go any further, you must always let the power down.
If this clock were taken apart without releasing the energy in the springs,
there would be a very, very loud bang.
Clocks have been known to hurt people.
In fact, when I was a boy I lost the top of my thumb
for a short while, after having let a clock down inexpertly.
Eventually, Jonathan digs out the spring which has caused the problem.
You're not supposed to see that. That's supposed to have a cap over it,
which is here lying loose.
If you're vigorous at your winding, it's possible then for the spring
to push the cap off again, and it does look as though
this spring has tried jolly hard to do that.
So it's necessary to get the spring back down, And the way you do that
might sound rather brutal.
We would call it, you know, applying appropriate force.
That should do it.
Next, he adds a synthetic lubricant to the spring,
which had dried out while its cover was off.
We tend to think of high-performance oils
as being oils used in car engines, but actually,
they're the sissies of the oils, really.
Horological oils are much more demanding.
That small quantity has to last for perhaps 10 or 15 years.
It mustn't evaporate. It mustn't turn acid,
otherwise it will corrode the metals it's trying to lubricate.
20th-century oils are, of course, a great deal better
than 18th and 19th-century equivalents.
They used to be animal fats.
OK. That's the main problem sorted.
All Jonathan has to do now is put the clock back together again.
I think I'll put that one in later.
Which, not surprisingly,
is rather more complicated than pulling it apart.
Meanwhile, Anna's dusting the case,
itself a miracle of craftsmanship from the period of Louis Quatorze.
The Sun King's cabinet-maker, Andre Charles Boulle,
was such a master of elaborate marquetry
that any work in this style now bears his name.
The sculpted details are moulded from gilt bronze,
or ormolu as it's been known since the 18th century.
And the winged figure on the top is none other than Fame.
After an hour's painstaking engineering,
Jonathan finally has the clock back in one piece.
It's tremendously satisfying.
You feel as though you've given it new life, you know.
It is a very rewarding exercise.
When the public return in March,
they'll hear the timepiece strike once again. And yet, surprisingly,
what visitors like to hear isn't what's best for the clock.
There are very few objects in historic houses
which are still expected, to this very day,
to perform their original function.
And it's a big ask. All these functional objects
are slowly wearing themselves out.
But with clocks stopped throughout the houses,
the houses would have a very dead feeling.
There's something very emotive about a stopped clock
and as long as the mechanisms are regularly inspected,
we can reduce that deterioration
to an absolute minimum.
That's what conservation is all about. It's a compromise, basically.
Back in the kitchens,
it's time to start work on the 1000-piece batterie de cuisine,
some of which was in use when Victoria came to the throne.
To own this much copper cookware was a sign of great prestige.
Looking after it was highly labour-intensive, and it still is.
So the pans are being moved to somewhere with enough space
for a whole team of voluntary polishers.
'These ladies are all members
'of the National Association Of Decorative And Fine Arts Societies.
'And today, they have a new recruit.'
You tell me what to do.
-You're the bosses.
-Put an apron on.
-Put an apron on.
you start with one or other of those brushes
and you dust it off inside and out.
'Dust must be banished, otherwise it could scratch the metal
'when we rub the polish in.
'We're using the least abrasive type possible, which is car polish.
'Being soft enough for use on chrome, it's also ideal for copper,
'as well as the inner lining material, tin.'
You ladies cleaned all of these pieces of copper last year.
Is that right?
You didn't do a very good job because it's still...
-Oh, thank you(!)
'Of course, what we're taking off isn't dirt.
'The tarnish is part of the metal itself,
'the unavoidable result of its surface reacting with oxygen.'
I am actually just taking off a tiny little layer of the object's skin.
Everything gets thinner with polishing, exactly.
-So, what do you think?
-I'm impressed. What is that?
-Think of a raised game pie.
-Ah, isn't that great?
So the pastry would have come out
-with these gorgeous markings round it.
I think, well, what do you think? I see I've made a difference.
-Have you waxed it?
-Well, that's the next process.
-I've got to wax it as well?
Wipe it round inside. You don't want it thick. That's enough.
Just swish it over the whole thing.
That now gives it a surface
that protects it.
'The wax does the same job for copper that black lead does for iron -
'it slows down the oxidisation of the metal.
'Each object is monogrammed with an L for Leconfield -
'the family title at the time, and either P for Petworth
'or another L, indicating their London residence.'
-Marks out of ten?
-Oh, definitely eight, I would say.
That was a very precise half compliment that you paid me there.
-Your next one.
-I feel like I've been promoted.
Wow. What I love about this stuff is it sort of projects you
back to a time when sort of food was sculptural.
You know, the food was for display.
Every jelly is a castle, every pie is fortified. So, OK.
-I think the hog hair.
-You think the hog?
-No this one's mine, that one's yours.
'The more complex the cookware,
'the longer the cleaning takes.
'My mould calls for cotton buds.
'No wonder the volunteers will have to come in once a week
'for the next two months.'
Your houses must be very super, super clean.
No, because we're too busy doing things like this.
That's... That's what I call sacrifice.
Polishing the fitted copper is a task left to Petworth's
Jacky's working in the scullery,
where all the copper would have been cleaned.
Though she's not using the same polish as her historical forebears.
They used some horrendous things. There is a recipe,
used in this scullery, with sand, salt and vinegar.
Jacky knows all this because when Petworth's open to the public,
she sometimes demonstrates historic housekeeping techniques.
We've got some fantastic polishes.
This is the stuff they used in the old days?
Yeah, these are from Mrs Beeton's books and other books that you get
on household management. Have a smell of that one.
Oh, actually, it's not bad.
-What's in it?
-Beeswax, white wax,
curd soap, turpentine and water.
-Do you just like mix it all up or do you have to cook it up?
-You boil it.
You boil everything except the turpentine.
-I suppose my question would be, you know, does it actually work?
-It might be all very nice...
-Yes, it does work.
I actually use that on my oak table at home in the dining room.
I know what goes in it and most of it's natural.
Most of the spray cleaners that you can get have got silicone in them,
which isn't good for the wood.
So would you say that all of the cleaning recipes and remedies of the past
are superior to what we use now?
No, definitely not.
Things like this, which was a marble cleaner,
it's got pumice,
soda and chalk in it.
It's far too abrasive.
We can look round some of our marble busts and statues and say
one of the reasons why the surfaces have gone is they used this sort of cleaner.
When Petworth is closed to the public,
the heating is switched off,
which in the depths of winter,
means that we workers really look forward to our tea breaks.
Upstairs from the kitchens were bedrooms for the staff.
Men at one end, women at the other, kept strictly apart at all times.
Actually, Andrew, you do realise if you'd been caught on these stairs
you'd be instantly dismissed, because these are the female stairs.
-Yes, female staff only.
These days, the housemaids' bedrooms
are meeting rooms and offices for the National Trust.
As well as their cleaning schedule, the conservation team follow a strict baking rota.
Today's it's Judy's turn.
Mmm. Is that lemon curd I taste? It's homemade lemon curd.
I like lemon curd. I'm glad to see that as well as preserving
so much else, you're preserving the tradition of the tea break.
I think we need it. It's so cold down there.
You need regular tea breaks to keep warm and the sugar to keep going.
'Daily cake is clearly an important perk of working here,
'but an even bigger one is the sheer satisfaction.'
-You enjoy the job?
You don't go to work thinking...?
No, not at all. Passionate is a word that's overused these days,
but it is a word that applies to the job we do.
I don't think any of us could do this job if we weren't passionate about history
-and the things we do.
-This house spoils you
because of the standard of our collection. The paintings are fantastic, furniture's amazing,
the story is incredible.
-Except it's too bloody cold.
-That goes with the territory, Andrew.
-That's my one complaint.
-It means we can guilt-free eat lots of cake.
Over the centuries, Petworth has twice been struck by major fires.
One of them started in the kitchens.
It's a major reason why the servants' activities
have been set apart from the main house since the 1750s.
This arrangement also had certain other advantages.
Now, the aristocracy didn't actually want to see their servants.
They didn't want to witness such vulgar activities
as the carrying of food or laundry.
So although this is the most direct route from the servants' block
to the main house, it's not one the servants themselves would ever have taken.
They were kept hidden in a tunnel directly beneath my feet.
Though staff are now allowed to be seen, Sue's heading underground,
along with consultant ecologist Daniel Whitby.
The tunnel's out of bounds most of the time,
at least to people, because these days it's home to some protected species.
The National Trust's mission is to conserve
British wildlife as well as British heritage.
-Some droppings on the door here. And a few urine stains.
Droppings are a definitive sign that bats are definitely presently using the building.
The droppings aren't fresh, because in winter bats aren't feeding,
Dan visits a number of times each winter
to conduct a survey for the Trust on just how many bats are sleeping here.
But they're not always easy to spot.
Most people have the impression, looking for bats,
you walk into a building and they'll be hanging there.
And out of the 16 UK species, there's only two of them that do.
All the rest of them are really crevice-roosting bats
so you have to look into all the cracks and crevices in the tunnel if you want to find them.
-There's one there.
Yeah, just in that hole above the pipe.
That's a natterer's bat.
And it's hidden right up in that crack in the brickwork there.
Natterer's are probably the most common species we find in hibernation
in this tunnel here.
You're only going to see them with a bit of luck.
At just five foot wide,
the tunnel must have sometimes been congested with footmen
and housemaids, especially if they were carrying trays of food.
Also housed down here was a well house.
That too is now sometimes home to bats.
The well itself is over 120 feet deep.
Originally, there would have been a donkey who would have walked
round and round, and he would have provided the power to bring the water up.
And a small boy's job was to sit in the corner and whip the donkey
if he ever stopped. But as technology improved, they then put in this generator.
On this visit, they can't see any bats out of WELL.
So the search carries on.
From this end of the tunnel, servants would emerge with food
and scurry to the dining room.
But Dan and Sue's mission isn't over because the tunnel network on this estate
The laundry was located half a mile away in Petworth town,
and that had its own subway.
They wanted to have this kind of private access to it
so they could bring the carts of dirty laundry through their garden
rather than running them through town and everybody seeing their dirty smalls.
Second World War bombing caused the tunnel to collapse,
as well as destroying the laundry.
But what remains is the perfect winter hideaway for bats.
This time, it's a brown long-eared.
We want to have a quick look at the bat. We don't want to spend too long in there.
The longer we spend, the more disturbance we're creating
and increases the chances that it might decide to come out of hibernation.
Dan's regular surveys have discovered that Petworth is home
to an incredible 14 species, out of the 16 present in the whole UK.
The variety of places they can winter here
is an undreamed-of legacy of domestic service at its grandest.
While Sue's been hunting bats,
work in the servants' quarters has been finished for another year.
I think what struck me most about the experience
of working in the servants' quarters here at Petworth
has been the sheer fund of knowledge once possessed by those who lived and worked here.
A tremendous range of knowledge about how to run a house,
how to keep a house clean, whether that might be preparing exactly the right kind of solution
to clean a particular type of floor, or knowing exactly how to polish every last piece of copper.
Now let's face it, most of us nowadays
just don't have time for that degree of perfectionism.
But if anyone really is keeping that tradition,
that fund of knowledge alive, it's the modern day housekeeping team
here at Petworth, and they're doing it with a real passion.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Andrew and the team leave the grandeur of the main house behind in order to tackle the servants' block. He dons a boiler suit to take on the filthiest task of the winter and polishes some of the 1,000-piece copper cookware range. Also, a horologist visits to make sure Petworth's antique clocks are keeping time.