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You may remember our last conservation-themed post where the Conservator (Archaeology) for Hampshire County Council very kindly provided us with information about the conservation work that had been done on a beautiful jug that was being prepared for inclusion in the museum here at Basing House. The museum is currently being refurbished and this has provided an excellent opportunity to look at the object collection for Basing House and to do some work on the conservation of some of these objects.

The Conservator (Archaeology) has provided the following post:

Dust, dirt, and the cleaning of a Civil War armour backplate

The dangers of over-cleaning in conservation are often underlined, but it is necessary at times to remove particulate (termed ‘particulate’ because it is carried as tiny particles in the atmosphere) dirt from museum objects before it becomes bonded – sometimes chemically – with the surfaces or past restorations/adhesives of an object. It will then be much harder to remove and may result in more invasive methods of cleaning such as wet or solvent cleaning, and as with all conservation, the less you have to do to the object the better!

Good object housekeeping is important. Dirt can attract and hold moisture, creating a harbour and a food source for pests, in turn attracting further dirt or causing damage to the object. Before any dirt is removed though, a conservator must examine it and identify whether it consists of loose or bonded particulates, whether is actually a coating, or perhaps a historic surface. Sometimes the dirt is an important part of the object – traces of food inside a vessel for instance. This is why conservation cleaning is carried out by trained staff and professional conservators, using appropriate analytical equipment to determine what, if anything, is to be removed.

Conserving the Iron Backplate

This iron backplate is one of the many objects that came into the lab for routine surface cleaning before redisplay. It had been on display at Basing Lodge Museum for a number of years, and a substantial amount of particulate and bonded dust and dirt had built up on the surface.

Backplate before treatment.

Backplate before treatment.

Initially, loose particulate dirt was removed from using a soft brush and a museum vacuum cleaner. Bonded dirt was then removed using a specially modified rubber ‘molecular trap’ – a sticky substance which will lift dirt without leaving any residue. It takes a long time to roll a small ball of the trap over just a small part of the surface, but it can be a very effective method of dry cleaning.

Cleaning with modified rubber molecular trap.

Cleaning with modified rubber molecular trap.

It became more evident during this stage that in fact the old protective coating beneath the dirt – apparently a type of resinous material – had become aged and yellowed. It was also cracking in places where thickly applied, and was scratched through in others. Aged and deteriorated adhesives, resins and coatings carry their own problems – they also attract dirt and pests, and as they deteriorate they too can become difficult to remove. It was decided to remove this particular coating since it was so damaged, and thought not to be of antiquity. This was achieved with wet solvent cleaning, using cotton swabs. Where thick, the softened coating was removed mechanically with a very sharp scalpel.

Solvent removal of coating from backplate.

Solvent removal of coating from backplate.

The coating was particularly crusty around areas where there are actually little fragments of original leather strap remaining – since leather dries out rapidly in the presence of certain solvents, care had to be taken to use one that would not shrink and crack these fragile remnants.

Particulate dirt around leather strap on backplate.

Particulate dirt around leather strap on backplate.

Remnants of leather strap after cleaning.

Remnants of leather strap after cleaning.

With the old coating removed, the appearance of the armour was much improved. A new coating of conservation grade microcrystalline wax was applied to the outer surface, replacing the protection afforded by the old coating, as well as enhancing the patina. To further reduce the risk of future damage, our new showcases have compartments for silica gel desiccant – giving us the option to lower the relative humidity of cases containing ironwork and slow the corrosion rate. We will also be keeping a close eye on objects to make sure the dust doesn’t build up again!

Backplate after cleaning - view 1.

Backplate after cleaning - view 1.

Backplate after cleaning - view 2.

Backplate after cleaning - view 2.

The armour will be returned to the Museum at Basing House displays when they re-open later this year.

Thank-you to Claire Chope, Conservator (Archaeology), for this post!

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So what’s next at Basing House?

With less than a year to go before we open next summer the team are already feeling the pressure and are busy working on a number of things that need sorting out soon.

For example interior designs, catering, events planning, finalising the scripts for information panels and audio guides, designing the new museum, tourist road signs, teaching resources, recruiting new staff and volunteers, and yet more fundraising.

Watch out for our next update!

Just for fun:

In the meantime, here are some images of just a few of the fascinating objects found at Basing House:

Charles I Sixpence

Charles I Sixpence

Tudor Rose Floor Tile

Tudor Rose Floor Tile

Stoneware Bottle

Stoneware Bottle

Carved Stone Head

Carved Stone Head

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A new chapter begins at Basing House

It sometimes feels like it has taken for ever to get the project off the ground.

There were, inevitably, a number of hoops to jump through – feasibility studies, surveys, consultation, planning permission and scheduled monument consent, fundraising, commissioning special skills, and more.

Path laying outside the Great Barn

Path laying outside the Great Barn

The numbers of specialists involved has grown too. They include architects, exhibition designers, project managers, quantity surveyors, engineers, ecologists, archaeologists, archivists and marketing experts.

It was with some relief then, and a real sense of achievement that after about three years of  hard work, with funding and all the necessary permissions in place, the contractors at last began work on site on 1st September!

Groundworks

Happily we have so far been blessed with good weather too, so progress on groundworks (paths, drains, conserving brick remains, etc.) has been good.

Barns and Stables

Work on converting barns and stables is scheduled to take place in the spring to so avoid disturbing the many bats hibernating in them over the winter.

Museum Refit

Staff and volunteers have also been busy stripping out the old museum exhibition:

Work begins on stripping out the museum
Work begins on stripping out the museum.

 

 

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Hello and welcome to the new Basing House project blog!

In future posts we will bring you news of the project as it develops between now and the big relaunch next summer – plus some stuff we hope you will find interesting about this fascinating historic site, and some of the challenges we’ve faced and how we’ve decided to tackle them.

Elizabeth I visiting Basing House in 1601

A bit of background…

Recognising the great importance of Basing House and the vulnerability of some of its remains Hampshire County Council bought the site in the 1980’s to preserve it and to allow it to be enjoyed and studied by all.

Although parts of the site have been open to the public for many years (during the summer months only) we have lacked resources to provide the first class facilities that Basing House and its visitors deserve,  from basics like on-site refreshments and good toilets to a range of aids that will help schoolchildren and families – indeed people of all ages and backgrounds – to learn about the tremendous history of the site.

Achieving these long-held ambitions has now been made possible by generous grants from the County Council itself, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Basingtoke & Deane Borough Council, Renaissance South East and the Friends of Basing House.

Our Ambition

We feel sure that anyone who is already familiar with Basing House and its stories will, like us, love its natural beauty, treasure its historic remains and be enthralled by its great stories. Our aim is to share this gem with more people – encouraging them to visit, helping them to learn in new ways about the people who lived there and the dramatic events that happened, and providing them with the facilities and services that will make them want to come again  – and tell their families and friends and about it too!

For more information about the history of Basing House and future plans visit our website: www.basinghouse.org.uk.

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