Spring cleaning at Fishbourne Roman Palace

IMAGE: Sussex Past

Fishbourne Roman Palace in West Sussex is home to the largest collection of in situ Roman mosaics in Britain – including the famous ‘Cupid on a Dolphin’ mosaic seen here. There are 29 such floors on display. In advance of the palace’s reopening to the public this past February, some of them got a bit of spring clean – no small task, as it can take up to ten hours to sweep the dust from each one. Starting in the North Wing, the team slowly worked their way up to the other end, before going back to the beginning to start again – in this way, every floor gets cleaned about twice a year. This process used to be done after hours, but with the site closed for refurbishment, the team had the benefit of being able to clean in broad daylight. They have now decided to continue with their cleaning regimen during opening hours so that visitors will be able to appreciate how these historic mosaics are cared for.

Explaining how the careful cleaning is done, Dr Rob Symmons, Curator at Fishbourne Roman Palace, said: ‘Methods for cleaning mosaics have evolved over the years, and now we are trying a very sensitive approach, where we’re using small fine brushes and just sweeping that gently across the surface. We go to great lengths not actually to stand or put any pressure on the floors because they can be very fragile.’

Any dust removed from the mosaics is then collected and analysed, so that the rate of dust accumulation can be monitored, as well as being assessed for any changes or evidence that the tesserae may be eroding.

TEXT: K Krakowka