The Dovecote key

Key in dovecote door

A recently unearthed key needs to be cleaned up before we can put it to any use, a great example of how we care for metal pieces in the collection.

The Dovecote keys
The Dovecote keys

The Dovecote

Recently, a member of the garden team unearthed a rather rusty key in the forecourt garden, which we almost instantly identified as a copy of the Dovecote key, thought to have been lost forever some time ago.

The Dovecote was designed and built during the 1920s remodelling of the house. Initially used for housing tumbler pigeons during Leonard and Maud’s time, it went on to house the more common white pigeon and then become a base for Victoria Messel’s art studio on the first floor.

Victoria, the niece of the Countess of Rosse, is a member of the Nymans Florilegium, a group of botanical artists who paint the most special plants at Nymans. Their work is currently on display in the gallery until June 18.

Autosol and cloths for conservation cleaning
Autosol and cloths laid out ready to use

Polishing the metal

The key is steel: a ferrous metal which has rusted with a red powdery effect. Prior to removing the rust, the key needs to be dusted with a hogs hair brush to remove of any loose surface dirt that could get trapped by the substances we use later.

We then used a small amount of a grainy polish, known as Autosol, applied with cotton wool to the surface of the key in small sections. The polish will either dissolve or dislodge any rust or hardened dirt off of the surface of the key. This is then removed using a muslin cloth. A cocktail stick was then used to push the materials and polish into the smaller areas.

Conserved key
Conserved key

The finished product

Once the key has been cleared of as much dirt as we can we need to seal the clean metal. This is done with renaissance wax, applied and then buffed off with a muslin cloth, leaving behind a layer of protective sealant to prevent more rust in the future.

The copy key is not as ornate as the original, as it only needed to be functional when it was copied – it’s the mechanism that’s the important part.  It might take us a little while to make the key a perfect fit, but with it cleaned we can at least now see what else might need to be done.

Metal cleaning of the collection is primarily done during our closed winter season. If you would like to know more about how we care for the collection join us for a Paper Hats and Polish tour from November to February.