Now is the time of year Hoghton Tower gets ready for the new visitor season. Reporter Fiona Finch and photographer Neil Cross went behind the scenes at the historic county property to see work in progress.
Spring has not yet officially sprung, despite Lancashire’s sunshine weather in recent days.
At one of Lancashire’s most renowned homes that means there is still time to carry on cleaning and conserving.
Spring spells visitors for historic Hoghton Tower, near Preston.
But if the welcome mat is to be put down properly at this historic property its rooms must be meticulously cared for, their contents appropriately conserved and regular checks made to ensure everything is in tip top condition.
That means attention to detail counts. The many small window panes of glass must be carefully cleaned, as must extensive wood panelling, carpets and decorative objects. Paintings and their frames must be checked and cleaned too, surfaces are dusted, polished or waxed as appropriate and the ‘“to do” list goes on ... and on.
Scaffolding may even have to be set up to access the inaccessible.
With a property which welcomes visitors and hosts special events and weddings, farmers’ markets and concerts the window of opportunity to do this work is limited.
The Tower is the ancestral home of the de Hoghton family and in recent weeks Lady de Hoghton has been masterminding the annual spring clean which heralds the start of their busy season.
She stresses the curation of the property is immensely important, explaining the duties of the Hoghton Tower Preservation Trust. The Tower website advises that Trust’s creation “has established the house as a destination for culture education and entertainment whilst ensuring that the fabric of this historic treasure is preserved for future generations”.
As a property tracing its origins back to the 1560s, this annual duty is no ordinary spring clean.
Lady de Hoghton sums up the rolling programme of care, with some tasks, for example, carried out in alternate years, as: “a maintenance and curation job” saying: "I have to be a curator - informally though!"
Experts from English Heritage provided advice on appropriate cleaning methods for the often ancient furnishings, objects and artefacts found in such properties at a special event at Browsholme Hall, near Clitheroe, two years ago. Such advice and tips about where to purchase appropriate specialist cleaning materials are invaluable. So too is attention to detail.
This opportunity to oversee such a thorough clean comes only, says Lady de Hoghton, when there are “pockets of emptiness” in the Tower diary i.e.certain weeks from January to March.
Her team comprising cleaner Barbara Jurkiewicz and maintenance man Wojciech Zynda are on the look out for a particular enemy - woodworm. The trio have a multilingual vocabulary for the little pests known as kornik in Polish and tarli in Italian.
Lady de Hoghton said: “These are the enemy hidden in the corner. .. we know where they hide. There’s a frame in a room upstairs, so every year we check that.“
A particular 17th century cupboard gets the same check. Meanwhile spiders can be a nuisance in one particular room, memorably setting off an alarm.
Another horror would, says Lady de Hoghton, be “cementification of dust” so any offending dust is very meticulously cleaned from decorative details and edges.
Two years ago scaffolding was again erected to clean the five metre high Banqueting Hall ceiling.
The Grade I listed building has been the venue for numerous royal visits , including one from James I who is reputed to have knighted a loin of beef in the hall.
Lady de Hoghton points out a prized possession: “This is the famous beef table. The leg have been nicely cleaned and then the top has been polished properly.”
Sometimes she might decide furniture needs moving around: “This means this house is not a still museum”.
* Hoghton Tower’s house, garden and tearoom will re-open on April 8 and will be open from 10am to 4pm from Sundays to Thursdays until October 6.
* The publlc wings and gardens are run as a charitable Preservation Trust set up in 1978.
* On Friday March 15 a fundraising ‘E Lucevan le Stelle’ opera dinner will be held at Hoghton Tower, with proceeds going to the restoration of the Banqueting Hall windows. Numerous other events are held through the year, ranging from plant fairs to weddings.