All in a Day's Work

By Sophie Harris

We were set a day task to assess both sets of arms and armour that are mounted on the back wall in the Oak Hall at West Dean; this was a taster of what it will be like to work on site.

Before carrying out this process a thorough risk assessment and COSHH report had to be done as safety with the public, objects and ourselves is essential. Trained technicians assembled the scaffolding, and then we were briefed for the day. We discussed a disassembling process, ensuring the objects would be taken down and put back up in the same order. Before treatment photographs were used to remember the positions and collection numbers, as well as our own.

The last time these objects were assessed was approximately twenty years ago. At that time mounts were made for their display, they were cleaned and a protective coating of microcrystalline wax was applied. No care has been carried out since.

Initially the first four weapons seemed to be in good condition. However, the first suit of two sets of armour had iron corrosion damage on the surface, which was caused by a leak in a bath in one of the above rooms three years ago.

The water had broken through the ceiling and landed on some of the pieces; a build-up of thick dust on the surface had absorbed the water, causing the moisture to be held in place long enough to flash corrode, until the warmth of the room dried out the surface. Unfortunately it had still managed to etch the surfaces, leaving visible evidence of the event.

Minor surface corrosion had begun to occur on the other object because of the thick layer of dust absorbing atmospheric moisture. To remove all corrosion we used fine wire wool, and stubborn dirt was cleaned with Zestâ„¢ white spirit, a user-friendly alternative to the traditional products. A conservation vacuum cleaner was used to remove all dirt to try to prevent dust from becoming airborne and landing on other surfaces. A final wipe-down with soft rags then a coating of microcrystalline wax completed the treatment before we put the objects back upon the mounts.

On the second display there were signs of woodworm. It is unknown whether this is old activity or recent; this will now be monitored over the next year to see if there is more development or signs of activity. It is relatively rare to have woodworm activity in such dry conditions, as woodworm tends to thrive in moist and warm temperatures.

Minor visible fixings were necessary.

It was a privilege to work on such beautiful objects and extremely beneficial