08 / 2020

Behind the Gates

Parham House & Gardens may have been closed this summer but, behind the gates, life has been busy for those that look after this place. We caught up with Head of Parham Housekeeping Christine to find out what has been going on during these strange months of lockdown.

What it takes to look after Parham

Christine runs the Parham housekeeping team at Parham House & Gardens and her long list of jobs normally starts in October.

“People often think that when the gates close at the end of the season we all sit back and enjoy it, but in many ways, we are busiest when we are closed.”

With Parham remaining closed this summer, Christine was busier than ever.

Clearing down

First on the list during the closed season is the process of ‘clearing down’. All the artefacts are cleaned and stored away and every piece of furniture in the House is cleaned and polished, then covered in dust sheets. For every piece, there is a bespoke cover that has been specially made for it.

There are countless antiques at Parham; from the incredible collection of clocks to a Tudor oak chest – the oldest piece in the House, dating back to c.1555. So this job alone can take months.

All 110 casement curtains in the windows are taken down, washed, and ironed and replaced with a clean pair. Towels are laid on the window sills to absorb any leaks, a task which the housekeeping team affectionately refers to as “putting nappies on the baby”.

As anyone who has experienced a British winter will attest, the closed season can be wet and windy, so this is an important and necessary undertaking at Parham.

Putting nappies on the baby

Resting the needlework

Parham’s famous needlework display is taken down and laid flat, so it can be rested. Parham has one of the finest and most important collections of 17th-century embroidery and tapestry in the country, ranging from an unparalleled group of Stuart embroidered pictures and panels, together with covers for furniture, room hangings, and bed hangings, all of which are also covered to protect them in the winter.

The chandeliers in the Great Hall, Saloon, and Green Room are cleaned and cobwebs removed. This involves putting up scaffolding and many hours of elbow grease. In the Great Hall, the beautiful light-filled room that is the heart of the House, the plates along the top of the wooden panelling are taken down and polished.

Dustsheets being put on all of the furniture by Parham's Housekeeping
The Long Gallery in winter mode

Maintaining Parham

There are also big maintenance works that need to be organised and managed. Whilst these are normally carried out by Parham’s maintenance team, or by external contractors when a room needs to be repainted or a new floor is required, it is Christine and her Parham housekeeping team who move the delicate fixtures and fittings into temporary storage.

This year has, of course, afforded Christine more time for some of these tasks than she might have had otherwise.

“Lockdown has presented us with a longer closed season but we have still been very busy cleaning, redecorating, and restoring.”

In the last few months, she and her team have waged a campaign against clutter in Parham’s storage rooms, cleaned and relocated all of the china to a new home, and cleaned a suite of rooms at the top of the House to allow for important restoration and maintenance work to take place.

No idle hands here

Christine has been working at Parham House for 29 years and enjoys the responsibility of caring for the House and its antiquities.

“There is a lot of work to do, but it’s very satisfying to be able to look after all the different elements of a historic house. Obviously, it’s wonderful when the House is open and filled with visitors, laughter, and our beautiful flower arrangements. But there is something very special about the place when it is quiet and still and we can focus on our housekeeping tasks,” she says.

Parham House & Gardens will open for the 2021 season at Easter. As one of the country’s finest Elizabethan houses, it is a beautiful place to while away a few hours…

…but it wouldn’t stay beautiful for long without Christine and her team.

All of the cleaned curtains folded up by Parham housekeeping team
All the curtains are washed every year
06 / 2020

A stitch in time

Lady Emma Barnard recounts how Parham's delightful collection of samplers reveals stories from the past.

05 / 2020

Memories of wartime in lockdown

The last time that Parham was in a comparable situation to the current pandemic was during the Second World War. Lady Emma Barnard reveals how she finds echoes of those days everywhere, including some surprising wartime rediscoveries.