Category Archives: Arms and Armour
For Dyrham’s portfolio staff day out this year, it had been agreed for us to take a trip to Cornwall and visit Cotehele. I was childishly excited to be included on a trip to one of my favourite counties, and having not visited the property before, was looking forward to seeing the house. (Not so much looking forward to the 3-ish hr coach trip.)
The traffic gods were with us and after a pit-stop, arrived on time to be greeted with blazing sunshine. Splitting into small groups we scanned the area and chose what to do first. I elected to join Bridget, Nat, Ali and Cath to take a quick walk to the Quay to make the most of the weather. Luckily for my companions I had forgotten my swimwear. A short walk took us to the boatbuilding yard and after a little sightseeing spotted a good place for lunch. Suitably re-fuelled a short walk, (sure it was longer on the way up) took us back to the house.
A beautiful and impressive courtyard let to one of the most awesome entrance halls I’ve seen, impressively decked out with a variety of armour and weaponry. Bridget and I were each given the chance to hold what can only be described as a gargantuan sword. (The blade guard looked more like antlers) This, I think, gives a ‘don’t mess’ message to your dwelling – a ‘Tudor intruder’ deterrent. Our companions went ahead while we took our time. A seamstress by trade, Bridget was in heaven studying the many tapestries in the rooms and taking photos with her ‘iPatch’. (Not a typo, it’s what she calls her iPad) It was noticed by many during the day, usually with an ‘ooh what’s that?’ Maybe we should have got the Apple Company to sponsor the trip. If tapestries are your thing, then a visit is a must.
A familiar comment from over-hearing the odd conversation was how dark the rooms are. Rightly so, considering how unique tapestries are. Made entirely from organic materials, they are exceptionally fragile and prone to damage from UV light, as well as temperature and humidity changes. The time and skill involved in creating them is quite exceptional too. They would have usually been created by men working from the back of the tapestry, section by section, sometimes using a mirror to check progress of the design. Having finally made our way to the exit, we had a lovely stroll around the gardens and finished up at the tea-rooms. Sustenance was needed for our return journey, and what trip to Cornwall would be complete without a cream tea!
Just as I thought my time at Dyrham towers was at an end, a temporary job opportunity arose. Naturally I applied, and was delighted to be short listed, interviewed and successful! (Still a bit of a surprise…) As soon as I had made a triumphant return, I was put to work. One of the many enjoyable elements of being a conservation assistant (I have a new name badge that proves it!) is the myriad of different tasks to be done during a working day. As well as the usual daily clean, volunteer and visitor engagement, came the chance to do some cheeky ‘conservation in action’. A devilishly clever plan had been devised by House Manager Eilidh and House Steward Lin. The plan is to systematically inventory and condition check the collection, room by room, starting in the West Hall. That meant I was going to be helping to check the spears and swords! (The phrase ‘Perks of the job’ springs to mind!) Just about containing my excitement we set to work. The spears were a little dusty and the blades a smidge rusty in places, but the most time on each one was spent de-tangling the tassels. A little bit like undoing dreadlocks… (before any ‘how would you know’ comments, I did have dreads in my ‘full head of hair’ days but got fed up trying to undo them and shaved them off…)
Next came the swords and as with the winter clean in the West Hall, the temptation to bust out a few ‘On Guard’ movements was overwhelming… These fellows were an absolute delight to work on. The sword collection at Dyrham is quite a varied one ranging from a Japanese Katana to 1820’s Bayonets. We have four of these fellows and they all needed a little TLC. This was a rare opportunity for a humble conservation assistant to dip one’s toes into the realm of restoration. Our aim is the ‘careful management of change’, so the ideal is to preserve objects in their current state. With the brass handles and knuckle guards, a little more was needed to stop any further deterioration of the surface, and to give more of a ‘loved look’. For this we set up shop in the Dining Room so we could talk to intrigued visitors as we worked. After dusting we brought out the ‘Auto-sol’. This as many of you may know is a metal cleaner, and it’s used with the finest wire-wool money can buy. After the residue is cleaned off it’s time for a little ‘Renaissance Wax’. This is a micro-crystalline preservative and is worked onto the surface and then buffed, leaving a subtle shine… (What’s good enough for the British Museum is good enough for us!) Job done…
Well not exactly at dawn, but first thing in the morning. The day had finally arrived… As this years winter cleaning schedule moved on to the West Hall, it was time to take down, inspect and clean the swords. I had secretly been looking forward to this for sometime! The first task is to set up a work station. This incorporated a table covered with acid-free paper, a ‘hogs hair’ brush, ‘Auto-Sol’ for metal cleaning, ‘Renaissance Wax’ for surface preservation and 0000 grade wire-wool. Each sword is then removed from it’s mounting on the wall, one at a time, and handed down to a colleague to be placed in order, so they can be returned in order. This is when you can get up close and personal.
After a quick brush-dusting, the rust inspection can begin. If none is detected, and thankfully this was mostly the case, a thin layer of wax can be applied to areas that might benefit from a little TLC. The few blobs of rust we did find got a dash of ‘Auto-Sol’ and a quick buff with wire wool to stop any deterioration. This is a really good excuse to marvel at the workmanship and design. Although some were dress swords and therefore more decorative than functional, it is a good point to note what that function was, so to give the object due respect as well as care and attention. (I should note at this point, that I successfully resisted the temptation to shout ‘On Guard!’ and challenge a co-worker to a duel…)