Petworth House is the focus of a six-part TV series which begins next week.
Produced by Wall to Wall, Petworth House: The Big Spring Clean follows art historian and writer Andrew Graham-Dixon as he assists the staff in putting the National Trust property ‘to bed’ for the winter, an exercise which is housekeeping on a grand scale.
The series, which starts on Wednesday, April 13, on BBC Four, will see Andrew supporting the house team by learning to clean and care for its historic objects, from paintings and neo-classical sculpture to clocks, carpets and one of Britain’s oldest globes.
The Big Spring Clean will also involve Andrew getting a glimpse of downstairs life by cleaning jelly moulds in the vast servants’ quarters, and joining the gardening team in the 700 acres of landscape created by Capability Brown.
Petworth House has some of the finest collections of treasures to be found in any stately home in Britain. Visited by more than 100,000 people each year, the property boasts some of the country’s best paintings, carvings, furniture and sculpture.
A hub of activity between March and November when it is open to visitors, the series will show how the property is equally busy in the winter months when it closes its doors to enable a select band of staff and volunteers to clean and care for its collections.
The film crew visited the house more than 50 times during the winter shutdown in preparation for the series.
Andrew Graham-Dixon said: “Working alongside the National Trust’s skilled team was a thrilling experience for me. I’ve spent a lot of my life looking at works of art and reading about them. But when you’re in the position of actually handling them – and learning how best to care for them – you experience them in a totally new way.
“I had long admired the incredible collection of Turner paintings at Petworth House, but last winter I actually touched one – with a brush, to dust it – and scrutinised every last millimetre of the canvas in a way I never have before.”
Most of the National Trust’s properties need to close in the winter, said Helen Lloyd, the trust’s deputy head conservator. It allows time for the specialist process of deep cleaning.
“Opening to visitors generates quantities of dust which we must remove from fragile surfaces.”