Stately staircase prepares for facelift

A stunning staircase in a Norfolk stately home is being prepared for a major conservation project in a busy run-up to Christmas.

By next spring visitors to Blickling Hall will be able to walk up the steps in the Great Hall where the gentry used to tread.

A �65,000 scheme will do beetle treatment and structural work as well as improving the lighting to show off the historic paintings in the impressive entrance to the National Trust's Jacobean houses.

Work on the woodwork and wiring begins in early January, but staff are currently busy clearing the antique furniture from the Great Hall in readiness.

It means carefully removing paintings from high up on the walls, and lifting heavy and delicate chests and chairs into safe storage elsewhere in the building.

Staff are wearing white cotton gloves to move some items such as a gilded Italian wedding chest. Paintings are being re-hung in the Long Gallery library - their original home when they first came to the house in the 18th century. Some pierces are being cloaked in acid-free tissue and bubble wrap to protect them in storage.

Among the items being moved are clocks, and a sedan chair, which the wife of one of the marquesses is said to have died in while crossing a London park in 1769.

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Wooden figures on the stair newel posts, including soldiers, gentlemen, a kilted Highlander and a Cossack, are also being removed during the work.

Once the room is as clear as possible some flagstones will be lifted to help gain access to the staircase wood which needs to be treated for prevention of death watch and furniture beetle.

Scaffolding will be put up and also used to inspect the ceilings and paint finishes.

House manager Jan Brookes said: 'The end result will be an incredible entrance to Blickling Hall, a real sense of arrival, climbing the magnificent Jacobean staircase and experiencing it as those people who lived here once did.'

Earlier in the year tests were carried out on the staircase to ensure it was strong enough to take the weight of visitors, who are not believed to have used it since the hall opened to the public in the 1940s.

Mrs Brookes added that lighting was being added to provide a better view of the paintings of Norfolk figures in the Great Hall.

Visitors to the hall when it reopened on February 19 would be able to see some of the work in progress, although the stairs would not be in use until April.

Conservation staff will be working up until the Christmas break moving the furniture. Assistant house manager Louise Green added that most of the items were small and light enough for the staff to handle with the use of trolleys. But there were a couple of larger, heavier bits which could result in them calling in the gardeners, who might be glad of the chance to work in the warm.