Looking after the house and its contents  

In a new project, Robin James held a conservation assessment workshop, as part of our continuing monitoring and conservation of the house’s art, furniture and other contents.

As House Officer, Robin is responsible for the management and conservation of West Horsley Place’s interiors, contents and historic assets. He outlined the purpose of this project. 

"Assessing the condition of the historic objects in our care informs numerous decisions about how conservation is managed at West Horsley Place." explained Robin. "It allows us to prioritise how we apply resources for conservation through identifying objects in need of urgent cleaning or other remedial work. It also provides an extremely valuable record that, over long-term observation, will help to identify any changes or deterioration."

"Historic objects are at risk from several factors, however through analysing these changes we are able to improve the level of preservation and address areas where deterioration has been recorded. This will form an important part of our wider conservation strategy."

Specialist handling

woman in blue gloves examining antique table with man

Robin explained the principles of the monitoring, and demonstrated how to handle historic objects both safely for the handlers and to avoid any possible damage to the objects themselves.

"When handling historic objects we will typically wear nitrile gloves as a barrier against the harmful moisture and chemicals on our skin. Many objects also require handling in specific ways, as their age and fragility will necessitate correct support. We will also ensure that objects are visually assessed before handling, to avoid any old repairs or particularly fragile areas."

Guided by Robin, the team of volunteers were able to assess and record the condition of a variety of items, illustrating the range we have in the house. 

Robin said, “ I chose these as examples, representing the range of objects we have, including an exquisite inlaid Dutch cube marquetry tall chest (early 19th century) and a Dutch marquetry writing table (late 18th century). We also looked at our drawing of the Duchess of Roxburghe as a girl, and more unusual items such as a framed fan, signed by famous guests, and the most unusual, a turtle preserved by taxidermy." 

two women making notes about picture

Robin was able to identify and demonstrate particular problems, such as damage by furniture beetles, and shrinkage and distortion caused by environmental change. The leather on the writing table had old damage to leather perhaps caused by moisture, mould and pests (in that order), and there was evident abrasion to the gilding on the frame of the Duchess of Roxburghe sketch.

A valuable task for volunteers

Robin was grateful for the support of our volunteers: 

"I was very pleased by the interest from our volunteers in attending this session and learning more about the process of preserving West Horsley Place’s cultural heritage. We have hundreds of objects in our care, and as we are a relatively new trust we have not yet accumulated data on their condition."

preserved turtle and women

"I plan to continue these sessions with our newly-trained volunteers to work through the rooms of the house, recording in close detail how the objects on display have aged. I find this to be a highly rewarding task and I hope that our volunteers will too; it is an excellent way to engage more closely with the history of the site. We are very fortunate to have such dedicated volunteers. This will be a painstaking task and I am very grateful that they would like to give up their time to help the organisation in this way."