For all the faithful blog followers reading of my exploits at Dyrham Park, good news! I’m now working at Arlington Court and will be occasionally writing for the new blog there. Head on over for more of the same, and check out the blog by the Arlington Court Rangers too…
Category Archives: Conservation
As the summer season draws to a close we had a trial run of a behind the scenes taster tour for our volunteers. ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ involved us taking a trip to see the highs and lows of Dyrham. Literally. The first port of call is up the Cedar stairs to our 8a storage room. Then up to the roof, (awesome view…) back down the Cedar stairs (taking in a quick peek behind the panelling, to see part of a servant’s route) to the ladder store. Then the Church passage, (no points for guessing where that goes) and the Boiler passage (wonder what’s in there…) and finally the Lamp room (which doesn’t have any actual lamps in) and finally the mysterious and spooky Cellar where it’s Halloween all year round. The few we have conducted so far have gone down a treat, but due to the amount of stairs – not for the faint hearted!
With many visitors comes much cleaning so although it will be sad to see the summer season (what summer?) pass, we are looking forward to having two closed days so we can steam ahead with our cleaning programme. A surprise hit this season has been an eye-spy trail in the house. Along with a house eye-spy trail and an Arts Council Collection eye-spy trail we have also had a mouse trail for the younger visitors. This clever little idea has participants looking for toy mice hidden in the house show rooms. 17 in all. (If 18 or more are spotted we do try to catch them….) It has been very interesting watching how competitive family’s can be! All in the name of fun.
We’ve been busy with our audit of the entire collection, with a little help from the lovely Rowann Goldsmith from head office. What she doesn’t know about CMS isn’t worth knowing. (4,500-ish items…. shouldn’t take long?) It was time to tackle the Print Room. Named so, after the Victorian collection of portrait prints of the great and the good. This is one of the rooms at Dyrham towers I have a love/hate relationship with thanks to my brain…. In a former life I studied graphic design and do have a little ‘ocd’ with things being ordered and straight, which seems to entertain family and friends alike! With the ladder out to collect them down it’s a good chance to straighten them when no one is looking… This done, we then set to work cleaning and condition checking each one with soft brushes and a conser-vac machine to remove the dust, recording any deterioration on our plan of care forms as we go. Thankfully not much to report so far, but one case of mould has been discovered… (Boooo….) In a change of pace, one fine morning, we decided as we had most of us in, to re-arrange one of the bedrooms. As you do. The bedroom in question is the Tapestry bedroom and the bed needed to be re-positioned for historical accuracy. It had been against a wall opposite the fire place in reference to an early photo of the room but it had been decided to move it to the back wall. Not just bad Feng shui but it has been getting an unacceptable amount of light recently, so something had to be done. To move it effectively, the Tapestry itself needed to be replaced first, to hide a little gap. This was expertly done by Bridget as she knows the technique and the new gap is hidden by the bed itself. With the room furniture moved out of harms way, we all took a section and gently moved the bed to its new home. An easy task as although it’s heavy it’s also on wheels… Love it when a plan comes together!
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…