News News Getting to Know Our Team. . . Robin James Robin has a Masters in Principles of Conservation from UCL and was formerly Historic Property Steward at Apsley House and Collections Care Assistant at Kenwood House in London. Robin has brought real passion for our heritage and has already made progress at the House in terms of the ongoing sensitive and careful management and conservation of its contents and historic assets. We caught up with Robin to get to know him better. Q- What made you want to join the WHP team? A- I decided to study and work in preventive conservation because I strongly believe in the importance of heritage. It has always been my professional goal at the historic sites I have worked at to make a difference by contributing towards the preservation of historic collections. Joining the team at West Horsley Place has already proved itself to be a really exciting opportunity as there is so much fascinating material that the trust is tasked with caring for. It is such a unique site with heaps of character and a collection that provides an incredible insight into the lives of generations of owners. I have been thoroughly drawn in by its layers of history, and exploring the house creates a powerful feeling of connection with its past. Historic objects and building fabric will inevitably deteriorate without proper care so I feel very proud to be part of the team that will work to protect this very special site and allow future generations to benefit from the trust’s objectives. The relative youth of the Trust was also exciting for me. There are numerous ways that we can start working to better protect the objects on display here and I’m very excited to be part of guiding that process. English Heritage are national leaders in conservation practices, with very high standards and a conservation team that excels at protecting the nation’s history. I’m confident that my background will greatly benefit West Horsley Place and help to ensure that there is a dedicated focus on conservation. Q- What was your first visit here like? A- I was very lucky with the weather on my first visit to the site! It was a really warm day in June, and the house looked marvellous with the sun shining on the façade. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the exterior, which despite its grand scale is very welcoming. Of the several historic houses I have worked in, West Horsley Place feels the most like a home. Something I love about West Horsley Place is the fact that the signs of age that can be seen all over the property have been preserved. I think that it is very important to protect these features as historical value often comes from our ability to perceive the years that have passed around an object or place. I was both awed by the scale of the restoration necessary to protect the historic fabric of the house, and impressed by the work that the Trust had already carried out. The approach so far has been very sympathetic to the original material. Visitors can see this in the new public toilet corridor at the back of the house and I’m very much in favour of such a consolidatory approach. Allowing the historic fabric to be appreciated without excessive modification, whilst providing stabilisation to material that is weakened by age is very faithful to what we’re trying to protect. Q- It's a very different property from Kenwood- what new challenges are you anticipating? A- Working for a national organisation like English Heritage was a fantastic experience, and I was able to learn a huge amount from highly experienced colleagues. Working within a wider collections conservation team provided significant support for larger projects, and whilst the smaller team at West Horsley Place will bring challenges in this regard I’m excited to guide the Trust’s approach to preserving its historic collections. I’m sure that I will have to call upon the help of our excellent team of volunteers on many occasions. I’ve already had very positive experiences with West Horsley Place’s volunteers whilst moving objects for the Christmas Craft Fair. It was a daunting task to safely decant and store several rooms’ worth of often large and bulky items, however the volunteers that came to help really made it possible. The building fabric at West Horsley Place also presents many challenges that have had greater attention over the years at a site like Kenwood. Despite this, I know that we are all up to the challenge and are driven to help this site reach its full potential. Q- What are you looking forward to most? A- I have a particular interest in insect pests in historic collections. I have assisted with the implementation of English Heritage’s integrated pest management programme across several sites, and for years have been fascinated by the species that have adapted to exploit human-made environments and resources. A historic house such as West Horsley Place is at great risk of damage from such pests. Voids in walls, undisturbed attic spaces and objects that have spent many years without targeted cleaning or attention provide insect pest species with ideal habitats in which to establish strong populations. I’m really excited to implement strategies to manage these pests and in turn protect West Horsley Place’s historic collections. I’m also keen to learn about the composition of the house’s populations. My MA dissertation focused on the topic of insect pests in historic houses and their responses to climate change. Having started my new role outside of London, I’ll be very interested to analyse the kinds of insect species that we have resident in the house and how the challenges of managing them may differ. Q- What is your favourite room/space at WHP and why? A- Since my first visit to the house I’ve been particularly drawn to the Tudor Stairs as this space really feels connected to all the people who have lived here. The stairs have obviously been shaped by so many years of use, and the banisters look polished from many hands running over them. It also has a secret feeling about it. Perhaps because it isn’t attached to the Stone Hall or the other grander parts of the house it has a peaceful secluded feel, which makes the presence of so many books here appropriate. Q- What makes you most excited in WHPT's vision for the future? A- West Horsley Place is a new Trust with so much potential and I’m really excited to see it grow. During the house Open Days I have worked at so far I’ve really noticed how connected and engaged visitors feel with the house and the objects on display. I think that the decision to manage our collection in a novel way and make it ‘heritage without barriers’ is a very interesting one. Whilst from a conservation perspective handling can be damaging for delicate objects, visitors’ ability to appreciate the history, use and significance of an object within a space is really heightened by being able to physically interact with it. In some contexts, display in a museum setting has been described as ‘the death of the object’ but in my opinion West Horsley Place has really succeeded in keeping history alive. Proper management and care of the objects in our care will ensure that this practice can be continued sustainably as the trust grows. There is certainly no feeling of sterility within the house, and it lacks the false immaculate impression that can come through large-scale restoration. Historic objects are an extremely valuable tool for learning and engagement, and this was a strong motivating factor for me when I chose to work closely with them as a conservator. With the expertise of my colleagues in heritage, arts and learning, we have such an exciting opportunity to benefit people through our collection. West Horsley Place has already charmed many through its appearances in television and cinema, and I’m confident that as our organisation grows that same unique charm will be extended to more and more people when they come to see us.