A Day in the Life of a Conservation Assistant - Bethan Partridge
Conservation assistant, Felbrigg Hall, Gardens and Estate
From routine cleaning and checks to undertaking newly uncovered urgent conservation work, we follow one of our conservation assistants, Bethan, to find out what a day in the life of a conservation assistant can involve.
Daily clean + winding clocks
During the open season, I start the day by dusting and hoovering the show rooms with my partner in crime Susan, another Conservation Assistant. The dusting gives us the chance to condition check the items, meaning I know the collection like the back of my hand. However, you never know what you might find - such as bats in the West Corridor bathroom - often we call on a Ranger after a tiny ball of fluff and wings falls out of the blinds and onto the historic lino! We also work on specific parts of the collection, such as winding the clocks each week. Susan, who has worked at Felbrigg for 30 years, has been passing her knowledge onto me about how to look after the historic clocks, something I find fascinating.
My favourite part of the day is opening up the front door to the Hall and looking out over the beautiful estate. It is often early enough in the morning for nobody to be around, and you can almost imagine you were a housemaid in the 1800’s or the lady of the house if you are feeling particularly grand that day!
Light/Humidity spot checks
Once the house is open, any conservation work that I do in front of our visitors is a good chance to engage them with the work that the National Trust does. I often do light and humidity spot checks in front of our visitors - it is important that light levels are kept down, so that none of our beautiful objects fade. I also check the relative humidity levels, as when it is too dry, objects may crack and warp or if it is too damp, mould can grow and pests thrive.
Sweeping in the clock tower
One of the least glamourous parts of the job is dealing with bugs and pests. But even the least glamorous jobs can be interesting. Going up to clean the clock tower is a great excuse to look at the beautiful old clock mechanisms. The bugs can also be very interesting, as identifying the pest and what might be causing the problem can become a bit like solving a puzzle, and is something I have come to really enjoy surprisingly!
Cleaning mouldy books
In the afternoons I often get a chance to get to some of the bigger jobs; for example, the volunteer book cleaning team I look after recently found mould on some of the books in the Library. This meant that the books needed to be cleaned one by one, using a soft pony hair brush and a conservation vacuum.
Checking the roof
Getting to go to parts of the Hall that our visitors wouldn’t ordinarily see is definitely a perk of the job, for example the day of writing this I had to go onto the roof to check for storm damage. The view is beautiful up there, and sometimes you can see a spike in the distance which is said to be Norwich cathedral.
Being a conservation assistant means no two days are ever the same, and the job will certainly keep you on your toes! I love being able to spend every day in a historic environment and being part of a team that is looking after a slice of Norfolk history.
Bethan has worked as a conservation assistant at Felbrigg for two years. Before working for the National Trust, Bethan completed a BA in History of Art with Museum and Gallery Studies and an MA in Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies at the University of East Anglia, and has completed placements within a number of historic buildings and museums. She has recently finished a 6 month secondment as a Project Conservation Assistant for Felbrigg’s Rewiring Project. She hopes to become a House Steward in the near future.
Update October 2017: Bethan is now a House Steward at Felbrigg.