Melangell Penrhys

Conservator, Midlands

Profile
Melangell Penrhys - Conservator

A childhood surrounded by fabric and history led eventually to a dream job as a conservator with the National Trust.

Conservator stitching into the silk of the Ann Bangham dress

I was brought up in mid Wales and my mother owned a small business making all things patchwork. The hills were my playground and used to wander around with my dog picking up stones and interesting finds and imagining I was an archaeologist. I had a double life though as my father lived in London and we used to visit the museums and he also took me to National Trust houses where I loved to time travel and imagine what it would have been like to be a lady or perhaps  a scullery maid in such places.

It's hard work to maintain the condition of historic fabrics
A volunteer inspects historic fabric during winter clean at Croft Castle in Herefordshire
It's hard work to maintain the condition of historic fabrics

Fast forward some years and after a History of Art and Anthroplogy degree followed by a variety of jobs, I had a period of soul searching and an epiphany. I enrolled on a Masters in Textile Conservation and haven’t looked back since. My career in conservation has encompassed working in regional UK museums, the National Museum of New Zealand and teaching on the Masters programme I studied on.

I have worked on all sorts of textile objects including Egyptian mummies, Henry VII’s hearse cloth, a string bag from Papua New Guinea and a beautiful 18thC silk court mantua  (to be seen at Berrington Hall in Herefordshire). 

Mela at work on a replica dress at Berrington
Conservator working on the bodices of an original and replica dress
Mela at work on a replica dress at Berrington

Since 2011 I have worked as a freelance textiles conservator in combination with short and part time contracts for the National Trust allowing me to develop my skills and knowledge in preventive conservation for collections in historic house. In my job as a Midlands Conservator I offer professional advice and support, mentor and train house staff  and input into short and long term conservation planning for a portfolio of properties in Herefordshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire.

Important work to protect the collections
Two Conservation Assistants working in the Dining Room at Attingham Park
Important work to protect the collections

I am constantly full of admiration for the teams within the houses who work tirelessly to monitor and maintain the best environment for the collections, manage their conservation budgets and priorities all year round and usually while open to visitors.  Running alongside this core work may be projects such as building restorations, services upgrades and events, all of which present short term threats to the wellbeing of the collections.  

Conservation work is a constant feature at the places in our care
A Conservator at work on a chair
Conservation work is a constant feature at the places in our care

The challenges to the condition of our buildings and collections are ever growing through the increase in visitor numbers and changing expectations.  I love any opportunity to communicate what we do to care for our places and why it is important.  I am one of a team of three conservators in the Midlands and more nationally. Working for the National Trust offers me the chance to work with others with the same passions and to draw on the knowledge and skills of National Conservation Advisers in different specialisms and to develop my own research and skills as a heritage conservator.

It is a privilege  to be able to work amongst the beautiful interiors and collections in the Trust, no two days are ever the same and there is rarely a day when I don’t arrive at a property and look around at the landscape or historic buildings and feel very lucky.