Before starting the AGMS course I knew that my interests lay largely in the collections of historic houses and hoped to be able to focus some of my studies towards this area. When an opportunity arose to work with the collections team at Lyme Park as they ‘put the house to sleep’ for the winter clean, I knew that I had come to the right place!
Lyme Park is a fantastic National Trust Property near to the Peak District with beautiful gardens and a deer park. Its collections span from the huge collar of a Lyme Mastiff to grand casts of Ancient Greek friezes. (It was also used as the setting of Mr Darcy’s House in Pride and Prejudice!) Walking the mile long path to the Hall on my first day was like walking back in time, and I had no idea how much I would be able to get involved with once there.
The title of my placement was ‘Conservation Assistant’ and the reality was that I was able to assist in a wide range of hands-on tasks in conservation and collections care.
The winter clean is an opportunity to focus on the collections whilst the house is closed. Furniture is covered in dustsheets and fragile objects such as tapestries and ceramics are given their essential conservation treatments.
The central focus of my project during this time was to help to update the locations of furniture and objects from the collection by physically checking their positions around the house. With the furniture covered in dustsheets and much of the fragile collection in storage for the closed season, a lot of the project felt like a giant treasure hunt, with me crawling underneath tables and peering behind paintings in search of their labels and inventory numbers. In the past, items have been relocated or put into storage but not updated on the Collections Management System, and this needed to be rectified to ensure effective collections management in the future.
As well as this, I was able to get involved with the winter clean in different ways each time I went. Tasks ranged from polishing silver meat dishes in the dining room to helping move large framed artworks in the long gallery. The placement was so varied that I was able to learn and practice a range of conservation techniques, which will be invaluable for any collections based career in the future.
Towards the end of my placement, the house needed to be woken up and put back together ready for the open season. Each room was transformed over the space of a week, it was really insightful and good fun to get involved with removing the dust sheets, rearranging the layout of each room to match photographs from the previous year, and seeing the furniture from the correct, upright angle!
This placement has given me great appreciation into the workings of a National Trust property and valuable experience of what vital tasks occur when the doors are closed each winter.