There's nothing we love more than cleaning a historic interior after a serious building project. The results are always visible and there's something magical about seeing a building coming back to life after major work. It was a privilege to be involved in the Auckland Castle project; there's something particularly special about it, in terms of ambition, vision and scale but also the level of community involvement and the sheer level of hard work and persistence from staff and volunteers. Watching a building that was historically an unapproachable (and no doubt terrifying) bastion of power and wealth turn into a welcoming and innovative visitor experience has been an exciting roller coaster ride - and we were only there for some of it!
Our work started in May, helping prepare the new Bishop Trevor Gallery for its first ever exhibition. The Hog and Fitch trademark attention to detail really came into its own here, as we banished builder dust from every surface, nook and cranny to make the safest possible temporary home for some very special loans. There was plenty of time on hands and knees cleaning floors and radiators and up ladders getting into cornice details. Let's just say we know those spaces very well indeed...
Our best moment was when staff came in, sniffed the air with us and pronounced it clean. We love it when a cleaning project hits that very telling tipping point.This work also included some of the first historic spaces to re-open, including the wedding cake symmetry of Wyatt's stunning anteroom. The bird's eye views from the scaffolding gave a whole different perspective and increased our admiration for the architect. We're glad the sight of someone with a vacuum cleaner up a very tall scaffold entertained a few passers by. For us, it was just business as usual- but in a very cake-y kind of heaven.
The next phase was, quite simply, everything else. Ceilings, ceilings and more ceilings - and what ceilings they were - whole new worlds we could get lost in. Windows, shutters, walls, doors, ledges, light fittings, fireplaces, radiators, skirtings, floors and so on followed. And we were also locked away in the hidden spaces that can harbour dust - cupboards and lift shafts and ventilation grilles also received the full Hog & Fitch treatment.
Fortunately we weren't alone in this mammoth task. The Auckland Project has a really dedicated and extremely hard working team of volunteers - and dedication and hard work are just what's needed to tackle the daunting Throne Room floor. Our final remit was to train and mentor this team in preventive conservation and conservation cleaning, working alongside them over a period of several weeks, as the castle made the change from building site to historic space. We looked at a whole variety of topics, with a mix of more formal sessions, hands-on practice and time working together. We'll really miss being part of the team but know we're leaving the castle in capable hands.
The castle reopens in November. We're not putting too many pictures on here yet as we don't want to spoil the surprise - but we'll add some once it's open. It really is a stunning transformation. Go and see it for yourself.
All images by Hog & Fitch, with thanks to The Auckland Project