Every year, in the winter, Shaw’s Corner is transformed. The dark, heavy furniture is covered with dust sheets, the fragile objects are packed away and the house settles down to a few months of rest. And then; in the darkest days, when the rooms are at their very coldest (or so it seems to us) the dust covers come off, everything comes out of its boxes and we sit down give it all a thorough clean and a condition check. It is one of the joys of the job – being able to get up close to these incredible objects, each one of which (usually) has an incredible story to tell.
Over the past week we have been winter cleaning this study. We started, last Thursday by getting out our trusty hoover and vacuuming the entire room ceiling to floor – paying particular attention to the picture rail, which always gets covered in dust. Next we checked all the furniture for anything that might have befallen it over the past year, before giving it again cleaning each piece. Everything had survived the season unscathed, even the Regency cane work settee which is very close to the visitor route, and gets leaned on a fair bit as people are drawn into the room. With museum vacuum cleaner and brush in hand, we took down all of the pictures, cleaned the glass and swept off the dust. Shaw’s desk and chair were polished to the high shine they deserve – and we didn’t forget Miss Patch’s desk either!
Today we’ve been cleaning Shaw’s books. There are nearly 1000 volumes on the white shelves of the study and as they are almost all fascinating, it can be quite a distracting process! We saw first editions of Shaw’s works translated into six different languages, many texts on yoga and Eastern philosophy, shorthand textbooks – including one using a flier for the 1945 film of Caesar and Cleopatra as a bookmark, alongside socialist works by H G Wells, Beatrice and Sydney Webb and Karl Marx.
The rich variation and huge number of the texts hits us instantly with the huge breadth of Shaw’s knowledge and interests. The wide spectrum of authors and the nature of the personal inscriptions and letters that sit inside so many enable us to comprehend how incomprehensibly vast his connections and intellect was.
All in all, a pretty interesting and inspiring day – if a little dusty!
Lizzie Dunford, Ass. House Steward