‘Clean on Me…’

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‘Get back to where you once belong…’

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!

‘Is this a Dagger I see before me…’

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‘Fortune favoured the bald…’

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…

‘The Last Post…?’

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‘And now, the end is near…’

While we were in the neighbourhood, a trip to ‘Back to Backs’ seemed like a plan! This unique property is slap bang in the middle of Birmingham city and has been the haunt of trainee Husnara who has recently completed an amazing wallpaper exhibition relating to the properties. They are basically a bunch of really small houses bunched together (small enough for me to totally lose count how many times I bumped my head or stubbed a toe!) sharing a common courtyard, washroom, outside toilets, and made for a real close community vibe when they were occupied in back in the day… As the buildings around them changed over time, they reamain an amazing snap-shot of the cities history. A bit of a fluke they survived! fellow trainee Bethany treated us to an after-hours trip around Dudmaston Hall, (A beautiful house set in lush grounds) the highlight of which was a Henry Moore sculpture in the property’s contemporary art collection. We were quickly whisked off to nearby Wilderhope Manor for some grub, a pint, a chat and a well earned rest. The property has had a recent face-lift and has been split up into dorms. Of the many trips up & down the winding staircases, on only one occasion I didn’t bump my head or trip over a floor beam. The reason for our visit was our end of training course presentation the next day. (Upon arrival, my quip to fellow trainee Mel -who was a little dubious about our accommodation- that she was booked to sleep in the barn, went down like a sack of the proverbial.) Having been fed and watered, t’was time to hit the sack ready for the final day. Slap up breakfast devoured we all headed downstairs for our project presentations. All were tough acts to follow so when it was my turn to go, any mental preparation I had done went out the nearest window. Along with any ‘speech giving’ confidence I had managed to round up. Somehow I muddled through and before I knew it myself the other trainees and esteemed guests were standing in the rain and wind outside for the graduation/ presentation/photo op. Adding a touch of glamour to the proceedings was none other than the lovely Helen Lloyd who wrote all the good bits in the ‘Manual of Housekeeping’… The conservators Bible….

Having plenty of time to reflect on my year during my journey home, (while singing along to an awesome road-trip playlist) I have lost track of how many people I would wish to thank. The staff at Dyrham, have been relentlessly amazing from day one. Every skill I’ve learnt has been nurtured and every opportunity has been explored. I have had without doubt the best year of my working life and although it’s been at an amazing opportunity to work at an wonderful property, the staff have made it such an awesome experience. Most importantly the Lovely (but bossy) Katy Dainton needs a special mention. Not only did she put up with me for 9 months, but was fundamental in my Dyrham experience. Much love also has to go out to Eilidh, Cath and Lin for their help and support as well as my beloved team, Bridget, Margaret & Jane.
It’s been emotional……………

Stay Tuned…

‘Saxon The City…’

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