Saturday, 18 April 2015

Snap Happy

So you’ve heard all about the kind of conservation and cleaning jobs we do over the Winter; now to tell you about one of our other projects!

A few years ago, the National Trust set up a new online system for managing each property’s collections. The aim is to get every object within every Trust property onto this Collections Management System (CMS). Bearing in mind that the Trust has over 300 historic properties across the country, with even smaller houses such as The Hardmans’ House holding 13,000 objects, it’s a bit of a mammoth task. It’s estimated that when the inventory is completed, it will contain over 1 million items. Much of the content that has already been uploaded has been made available to the public via National Trust Collections. Simply type in your search criteria and you’ll be able to find a whole host of historic artefacts at your fingertips. From 16th century bedsteads, to early 21st century toothpaste, we’ve got it all!

Search by property name, period of history or object type

One of the most important parts of the online collections system is that each entry has a visual representation to accompany its description. Having photographs of each object allows us to identify any visible damage or signs of deterioration. If the object is particularly valuable, it can also help to create a replica if it is lost, stolen, or becomes too fragile to be on public display. For the purposes of CMS, it’s useful just to be able to have a clear view of what the object you’re looking for looks like. The Hardmans’ House has around 10,000 objects already on CMS. However, only a small fraction of those have photographs to accompany their descriptions. So this Winter, we continued the task of producing these photographs, focusing on Hardmans’ collection of children’s toys that were used to entertain his younger clients, and some other fragile plastics.

Quite fitting: Our very own photo studio

A small studio was set up in our exhibition room, with proper lighting, tripods and backdrop. With the help of some camera savvy volunteers, we began photographing and recording each object ready for them to be put on CMS. The objects had to be carefully unwrapped and positioned to show the most detail. Photographs were then taken from each angle, and the inventory number, photo number, and photo description were then recorded on a concordance sheet. Thousands of photographs later, our work is almost complete, and these delicate 1950’s toys each have a digital record of their current condition.

An adorable velvet stuffed dog

A doll in lederhosen

An electric motorcycle racing game

However, we’ve only just scratched the surface of our collection! We’re hoping that with the success of this project, we can extend it later on in the year to include other areas of the collection. If you feel like inventory photography is something you’d like to be involved with, or you’d like more information on how to get involved with some of the other work we do, then please get in touch with a member of our team. You can email us at or call us on 0151 709 6261.

Megan Thrift
Winter Conservation Volunteer
The Hardmans' House

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Busy bees behind the scenes

It’s week two of our Winter conservation blog series, here to provide you with an insight into what happens behind the scenes at the Hardmans’ House. This week we’ll be finding out what our volunteers get up to during a normal Winter at 59 Rodney Street. I’ll be running through what’s been happening in the house regarding our conservation and cleaning regime...

Speke Hall, South Range
Even before the house shut its doors at the start of November, a team of eager volunteers began an intensive two day training course in preventative conservation held at Speke Hall. To ensure the safety of both the collection and our volunteers, it’s important that it’s not only new recruits that take part in the training. Even our most seasoned volunteers came along to refresh their skills ready for the Winter. This makes it a great opportunity for new volunteers to find out more about the property they’re going to be working in, and to meet their future co-workers. Items on the agenda include conservation cleaning, health and safety training, inventory checking, inventory marking, object condition reports and object handling – all of which have to be covered by the end of the two days.

A winter volunteer, Tatiana, gently dusts the stairwell
Conservation cleaning is a little bit different to your average household clean. Its aim is not just to keep the objects dirt/dust free, but more importantly, to do as little damage to them as possible in the process. The equipment it uses may seem basic, but avoiding the use of modern chemical cleaners and scratchy materials is very important. We use soft pony hair brushes for delicate items and ceramics, and hogs hair brushes for more robust items such as pieces of furniture. The dust is swept into lint free cloths so that it doesn’t escape back into the room only to settle again. Specialist ‘museum vacs’ with controllable suction are often used for heavier dust, and for cleaning drapes and curtains.

A dedicated and steady handed volunteer inventory marking

Inventory checking involves working through each item in the house, and using its unique reference number to determine whether it’s in its rightful place based on the inventory database. If an item doesn’t have a reference number, then it must go through the inventory marking process. This mark must be easily removable, so that it doesn’t damage the object, and it’s important that the right method is chosen. Here’s an example of a code that might be used for one of Mr Hardman’s cameras:

National Trust. Rodney Street. Scientific Instrument. Number 133

We can also use the code to look up whether the item has been given a condition report in the past. These reports are used to track the deterioration of each artefact over time, and also to provide a description of the object in case it is lost, stolen or accidentally damaged.

Matthew is busy inventory checking our Ground Floor Office

For our new volunteers (myself included), your first Winter can be a bit of a learning curve! There’s a lot of new information to take in, and skills to be learnt, but there’s no denying it’s a very enjoyable experience. If becoming a Winter conservation volunteer sounds like something you’d be interested in, then get in touch!

Megan Thrift
Winter Conservation Volunteer
The Hardmans' House