‘…(Conservation in) Action stations!…’

Thursday’s at the House and Carriage Museum, have been extra busy recently. They have been our Conservation in Action days. This is a chance for staff to get hands on with the collection and also a chance to educate our visitors in all things conservation related. Following on from the success of last year’s conservation store – behind the scenes; we decided to expand the programme to include a different theme of work each week. In the session, we focussed on books.

The task was to clean and condition check a selection of our copies of The London Illustrated News. We set up a cleaning table and some equipment and set to it. One of the elements of the afternoon was to discuss handling techniques with visitors. The simplest way of removing a book from a shelf, is to pinch the top of the spine and pull backwards. Holding the top of the spine and pulling the book towards you, is the simplest, but also causes the most wear and tear.

The other main problems for books are; light damage, pests and environmental problems (Too high or low humidity). The best way is to gently the books push either side of the desired one, thereby exposing a portion to hold, or reach to the top back of the shelf and gently push your book towards you. This avoids the overused top of the spine and gives your book a fighting chance for the future. Pests to look out for are booklice and silverfish, but depends on what the pages and cover are made out of, as skin and leather for example, can attract other pests.

Another session saw us amidships, cleaning one of our many Napoleonic model ships from the collection. Principally mixed material objects, they are made with meal bones for the hull and hair and material fibres for rigging; they are among the most problematic objects we have. This is mainly because of their fragility and value as the collection was started by Rosalie Chichester; the last family member to live at Arlington Court. They are all small scale versions of ships that were well known to the model makers, who created them from memory with crude tools and in primitive conditions. They are a true testament to craftsmanship.

Our most recent session, focussed on pictures within the collection. As before, our main task was to condition check them while talking to visitors about handling techniques and cleaning procedures. Two of the best examples we had to discuss, were a painting depicting a yacht owned by the Chichester family and a portrait of an unknown man, both in gilt frames that have seen better days. Cleaning the surface of the gilt work can be a tricky task, so as with most conservation cleaning, if we assess if it needs cleaning at all rather than damage it.

Other pictures from the collection we had to check were; a light damaged print of a young lady, a gauche painting of a landscape in Italy, flecked with mould and a water colour painting of a Lily, showing the plasterwork of one of the showrooms in a different colour to how it is today. Cleaning a painting; whether it is on paper, canvas or board, is only to be carried out if needed. The cleaning can be done with a soft pony hair brush, in measured strokes, but care needs to be taken not to push dust underneath the frame edges. Good practice includes brushing the dust away from the edges to the middle and cleaning the centre area last. Ideally into a vacuum so the dust is removed rather than just moved.

Conservation in Action sessions are currently running on Thursday’s up to July 14th

‘…(Un) Happily ever after…’

A new exhibition has just been launched here at Arlington.
It takes a look at the darker side of Victorian life and childhood.
A fascinating yet melancholic subject, we discovered some sobering facts about food, drink, travel and life in general. Depending on how wealthy your family was, would also have a dramatic effect on your life expectancy…

Simple products like bread and milk would need to be as cheaply produced as possible to meet the high demand of an ever growing population in the nineteenth century.
Unfortunately, this led to less than ideal additives being put in, to make the product go further. This included chalk and plaster in flour, and boracic acid in milk that was though to purify it.

This was the age of invention, but it came at a high cost. New ‘cures’ for teething for example, were found to be opiate based and a new wonder product from America for teething and troublesome infants, was found to contain around 65% Morphine.
No wonder children were seen and not heard. Toys were often painted with products that contained lead, that if consumed would be extremely hazardous. Even high quality wallpaper paint, contained lead. We have a fantastic example in the Morning room of the house!

If you were unlucky enough to be born into a poor family, you could expect to be put out to work at a factory, mill or farm from as young as 5 years old. You could expect to work eight to twelve hours a day, six days a week. This would have been a dangerous environment and as there were few regulations to protect workers until the end of the century.
Unfortunately, a young workforce could easily be exploited. Some factory machines could only be operated by children due their small size. Illness would also be a common occurrence, as diseases like small pox and scarlet fever would spread quickly in poor living conditions.

Mortality, came to call on all and the rich were not spared. Carriage travel, seen as a status symbol, was often hazardous. As the population increase was at a significant rate in the eighteen hundreds, more and more vehicles were using the same streets.
The most common incident would be a frightened horse that would often gallop away with the carriage in tow, with or without its occupants. In 1866, four people per week were killed in London, from horse and carriage related accidents.

Where did Rosalie Chichester fit into this picture?
The last of her branch of the family, she was the only daughter of the estate owners and had a life of relative luxury. Schooled at home and looked after by a governess, she was encouraged in her leisure pursuits such as painting and photography, giving us a record of her passion and interests.
The exhibition runs until the end of October.

The plan for Clandon

…good to know its future is in safe hands…

Treasure Hunt

The Marble Hall, 1, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images The Marble Hall at Clandon, following the removal of the debris and the stabilisation of the remaining wall surfaces. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

An announcement was made yesterday about the plans to bring Clandon Park back to life following the devastating fire last April.

Crates with salavaged items from the Saloon, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images Crates with salvaged fragments in the Saloon. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

Over the last nine months, the colleagues involved with Clandon have reviewed a number of options, ranging from leaving it as a ruin to a full restoration. They considered the architectural significance of what had survived the fire, the items salvaged from the building and what was technically possible within it.

Cleaning the leg of a marble topped table in the Marble Hall, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images Conservator cleaning the remains of a side table in the Marble Hall. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The criteria guiding the decision-making process reflect the National Trust’s core purpose. They include making sure that Clandon remains open to the public, considering Clandon’s historic and cultural…

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‘…You’re the pest thing…’

It’s pest time again at the carriage museum. This is where we collect up all of our sticky blunder traps to see what and how many creepy crawlies are trying to eat the collection. They are called blunder traps as the wandering insects literally blunder on to the sticky pad of the trap and stay there.

We have around 100 traps to check, so this does take quite a while to collect, analyse, record and put back. The main reason sticky traps are used is to have evidence of which species we have, so we can act accordingly. It’s also to keep a record of numbers, to note any increase or change. Even the less trouble some ones like spiders can give us an indication of an environmental change, albeit a slight one.

It does help to have a fairly strong stomach for these tasks though, as when at the analysing stage, the traps do niff a little bit due to the fact you have a box full of dead and decaying insects under your nose!
To record the findings, we use an NT standard spreadsheet so we can detail each species, trap and its location. The most common culprits at the carriage museum are brown house moths. The larvae do love to try to munch on our textiles. Silverfish also graze on our collection and love damp environments, so an increase in them is a bit of a warning. Carriage interiors contain organic products over 100 years old (silk, wool, carpets, leather and horse hair) To avoid the interiors getting dusty during the open season, the doors are closed to protect the insides. This however, does mean that there are some nice dark undisturbed areas where the moths like to hang out.

As well as pest week every 3 months, we regularly check the collection and have a strict cleaning plan. This helps to keep them at bay as much as possible.
Unfortunately this process is not perfect and we do get the odd extra visitor that we would rather not catch in a trap, so every effort is made to stop this from happening. The sides of the traps in certain areas are taped up to prevent anything larger than a beetle stumbling in.

Once recorded, the contents are each given a blob of correction fluid, to note which specimen has been recorded. They then get put back into their locations and replaced with new ones if they are full. (yuk!) Ready for next time.