By Dayna Woolbright
Once upon a time at the Gressenhall super store a young girl called Dayna had a special visitor…
No it wasn’t my fairy god mother but David Harvey, one of the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology service conservators. Norfolk’s conservation team are based at the Castle Museum in Norwich but they frequently visit the other sites to evaluate objects and offer guidance in collections care. The work that conservators’ do is very important, it’s their job to ensure that objects stay in a stable condition so that they will last for future generations to enjoy. This can be achieved in a variety of ways such as making sure the environmental conditions stay at a constant level, fluctuating temperature or relative humidity (the amount of moisture in the air) can damage some materials as they expand and contract becoming brittle or warped. Conservators also make bespoke packing boxes for individual items that need extra protection. These are created from special materials which will not damage the museum pieces inside. However, a major part of a conservator’s job is the cleaning and restoration of objects.
It was cleaning that David had come to speak to us about, how very Cinderella. Myself and fellow museum trainee Wayne were going to get a lesson in basic conservation cleaning. This involves using a brush to carefully remove any dust that may be on the objects surface. The best way to do this is using a gentle ‘flicking’ motion, which disturbs the dust without smearing it. Any detritus is then sucked up the museum vacuum so that it doesn’t settle elsewhere.
The technique is applicable to most things and many objects in the super store will receive this treatment but with over 2,000 items the question was where to begin? We thought it would be best to start working on an object which was made from a number of different materials so we could perfect our technique and chose the Brougham carriage. A Brougham is a light four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage used during the 19th Century which was either invented or made fashionable by Lord Brougham. It’s one of my favourite objects in the store because it is like something out of a fairy-tale but its size meant that it was going to need more than a wave of a wand to get this ready for a ball! Wayne concentrated on cleaning the outside while I worked on the interior, while cleaning the textile seats I was amazed by the attention to detail. The door handles are constructed of bone or ivory and passengers seeking a little privacy could pull the silk blinds over the front windows. This is a good quality example; the makers name is inscribed in the centre of the wheel, ‘Thorn Patent Norfolk Carriage Works, Norwich.’ It was probably collected by the museum because of this local connection. It was obviously made for someone wealthy as the materials would have been expensive but unfortunately we do not know who owned it. However while cleaning I did discover a small label tacked to the underside of the driver’s seat with a name written on it, perhaps that of the owner, we may never know.
After a few hours the cleaning was done and we were very proud of our efforts, the carriage is now fit for a princess and her prince so this is one tale that has a happy ending.
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