There’s no job quite like a National Trust Conservator, helping property teams here in the Midlands look after our weird and wonderful collections and advising them how to protect items against damage. Where else would you be caring for everything from buttons to fire trucks?
I have worked as a regional Conservator for around 25 years. Starting off in East Anglia before moving to the South and then Midlands and have worked with over forty historic properties in my time. In addition I have a national role as Conservator (Wheeled Vehicles Specialist) – in particular looking at carriages, cars, carts, wagons, fire engines and related collections of harness, livery and the like.
What does a conservator do?
National Trust Conservators are involved with the care and repair of historic collections and interiors. These can include anything from works of art to fixtures and fittings such as decorative ceilings or gates and railings; can be found both inside and outside the mansion; and can range from the small such as buttons to the very large such as vehicles.
As one of three Regional Conservators in the Midlands I support a portfolio of National Trust properties, providing advice and training to staff on all aspects of looking after their collection and historic interiors as well as managing conservation work and planning. This includes housekeeping, exhibitions and displays, loans, emergency procedures, environmental control and monitoring, storage, planning and delivery of in situ protection and movement of collections for all sorts of projects from building works, events, functions, filming or photography.
Passionate about conservation
I have been interested in conservation since I was at school – the result of a chance visit to a paintings conservation exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The idea of being able to get below the surface of a work of art; to understand how it was made and interact with it is endlessly fascinating gives me new appreciation of the skills and techniques required to create it. So despite opposition from teachers and family, I studied Art History at the Courtauld before training as a Paintings Conservator at Northumbria University. After that, I worked on a variety of projects both in the UK and abroad gradually specialising in the conservation of interior decorative schemes and wall-paintings such as those at Cardiff Castle and Burghley House.
The best thing about the job
I love the breadth and variety of the job – the fact that one day I might be training property staff in an aspect of collections care or practical conservation and the next planning the packing and storage of a whole collection or visiting a conservator’s studio to discuss the work they are undertaking to a piece from one of the collections. I enjoy working with others who bring different perspectives to conservation issues from the staff and volunteers in the houses to consultants from other disciplines – in particular I enjoy working with large multidisciplinary groups to look at innovative and creative ways of interpreting our collections and making our historic interiors more interesting and accessible to all our visitors.
One of the more exciting things that I have done recently is to examine the turret clock bell in the cupola at Canons Ashby. The only way to access it is via cherry picker so few people have looked at it closely. It also enabled us to identify both the date and maker of the bell – 1736 by Edward Hemmings of Bicester.