Hello, my dear readers! Since this is my first blog post ever (and I certainly hope not the last), introductions are in order. My name is Janet Hartley, and along with my husband, two teenage kids, a Newfoundland named Hector and a cat named Fluffy (not my choice), I live in South Hampstead, London. I have worked as a home cleaner, a tenancy-cleaning crew supervisor, and a quality assurance manager for one of the leading cleaning contractors in North West London for almost twenty years.
However, I may have to disappoint you if you expect to find another thoroughly cleaning-oriented blog discussing how to get rid of carpet stains with baking soda and lavender. Don’t get me wrong, there will be enough cleaning references in my posts. But that’s not the inspiration behind this blog.
The fact of the matter is – I have been something of a history buff my whole life. I learned to read on an encyclopaedia of world history, and my fascination with the past and narratives has remained strong throughout the years. Its focus shifted a couple of times – first, it was the Ancient East and Egypt, then Rome, then the Viking Age, followed by a strong interest in early post-Columbus South American history. But as I matured and came into my own, I really began to appreciate the historical treasures right under my nose and all around me.
If you love history, you can hardly ask for a better place to live than London. And I don’t mean the access to first-class libraries and some of the best bookstores in the world. The city itself is a historical lab if you know where to look. When you add cultural and literary references, you can probably find something interesting on every single street from Croydon to Barnet.
I know what you must be thinking – how can there be anything in common between cleaning and London history? Well, 99% of the time, there isn’t. But as I have already said, I have no intention to write about the “99% of the time”. It is in the other 1% that exciting stuff happens, and it will be the focus of my first story.
A few months ago, one of our phone operators came running into my office visibly excited. Since it was Saturday afternoon, I was the only senior cleaning manager at the office. I was desperately trying to finish my solitaire when Lucy (the phone operator) almost knocked my door down and announced triumphantly: “We have a potential massive quote request!” Now, Lucy is a trooper and not prone to hyperbole, so I closed the solitaire and started firing questions.
It was massive, indeed! One of Hampstead’s leading estate agents was looking for a reliable cleaning contractor with experience in large-scale residential cleaning. The company was managing a luxurious renovated Grade II 19th-century building, renting it to exclusive customers on a weekly basis. They had just terminated their cleaning contract with another company due to some scheduling mishaps and were looking for an emergency alternative.
I loaded the address they had left in Google Maps and could not believe my eyes. I knew the building! It was Old Conduit House at Lyndhurst Terrace, probably half a mile from where I lived! Within ten minutes, had I phoned the estate agent who had contacted us and scheduled an on-site consultation for Monday. While this was standard practice for such high-profile customers, I couldn’t suppress my excitement. I had always wanted to see Old Conduit House from the inside and check if the interior matched the exterior Gothic Victorian splendour.
On Monday, I arrived fifteen minutes early for the appointment and did a full circle around the house. It was magnificent! While it created the impression of a mediaeval castle with its stylized towers and battlements, I had no doubt the interior was modern. But the place was huge – and so would be our quote if we got the job, I added with an internal smirk.
A few minutes later, the estate agent arrived – a trim, elegant gentleman in his mid-forties. He let me in, and we started discussing the cleaning requirements. I felt like I was on double duty – the cleaner had to be on her A-game, acting professionally and assessing the features of the job; the history buff was salivating at having a tour of one of Hampstead’s most beautiful 19th-century buildings.
“So, tell me more about the place”, I asked innocently after we had finished the tour. The estate manager looked at me perturbed – he had just given me a 15-minute run of the cleaning task sheet he had in mind. “Oh, not the cleaning part. I have it all written down, and I will come back to you with our detailed offer and a rundown of the expected cost. But I am a bit of a history nerd, and I love all things Hampstead, so visiting Old Conduit is like a dream come true!”
His face brightened, and he nodded with a smile. “You are not the first person to say something like this. People are fascinated with Old Conduit not only because of its appearance and location. They love the spirit of Victorian London, and the house embodies it beautifully.”
“It was designed in 1865 by John Burlison, a student and the chief assistant to Sir Gilbert Scott, one of the leading Victorian Gothic architects. Then, writer Ernest Goodwin bought it in the early ’30s and renamed it Old Conduit House, after the Shepherd’s Well. It has been a hub of culture throughout its existence, and we have tried to keep its intellectual spirit even after the renovation.”
Needless to say, we got the job after discussing a few additional details. But I had the sneaky suspicion that the estate manager was disposed favourably towards our offer because of my little foray into the building’s history. Who would suppose my hobby could help me at work?