During training for a previous collections based volunteer role I was informed by the staff member leading the session that the National Trust, Europe’s largest conservation charity, standards of collections care were the ‘goal’ for many conservators within the industry. This stuck with me and I was keen to one day volunteer within a National Trust property to witness this reputation for myself and learn new skills. Therefore, when I spotted the Preventative Conservation and Collection Care assistant role on the list of placements that I could undertake during my Art Gallery and Museum Studies masters I jumped at the chance.
My placement took place within one of the National Trust’s lesser-known and more unusual properties that was only a ten minute walk from Liverpool City Centre. The Hardmans’ House is the former photography studio and home of prominent Liverpool photographer Edward Chambré Hardman (1898-1988) and his wife Margaret. The property has been preserved in its entirety with photography equipment, working darkroom, studio and authentic documents related to the couple’s business and personal affairs. It is the only known property of its type, which gives it national importance and allows visitors to step back in time to witness 1950s domestic life, Liverpool and the workings of a professional photography studio.
The Hardmans’ House closes each year for the winter season allowing staff and volunteers to assess the collection, perform conservation work and clean the house. This process begins in November when the house is ‘put to bed’, mirroring the centuries old tradition of large houses being closed up when families left on extended leave during social seasons. I joined the team on placement mid-way through the winter clean to work on projects such as creating light management plans and to perform preventative conservation on some of the 10,000+ objects within the collection, including wet cleaning the entire bathroom using cotton wool! A particular highlight for me during my placement was in the days leading up to the re-opening of the property where I was able to make my way around the house ‘waking it up’ and uncovering many of the hidden gems that had been hidden during the winter.
My experiences on placement at The Hardmans’ House have been both positive and at times challenging and I have thoroughly enjoyed gaining experience working with such a diverse collection. Following the completion of my placement, I hope to continue developing the skills that I have developed through volunteering in other museums and potentially would consider further roles within the National Trust. I plan to return to The Hardmans’ House this summer but this time as a visitor to experience a tour led by its experienced tour guides, many of which have been volunteering since the property was passed to the National Trust in 2002.