A truly fascinating and very significant object has returned to our studio for conservation work, and I have been the lucky conservator to work on it, on behalf of the Novium Museum.
The Bersted sword is over 2000 years old, discovered during excavations for a new housing estate in Bersted, West Sussex. It was found with the remains of a man, since dubbed the ‘mystery warrior’, alongside his helmet and a very elaborate and unusual headdress. Archaeologists believe he was a refugee French Gallic fighter who fled Julius Caesar's Roman Army in Europe around 50BC.
The sword itself is bent into a v-shape, understood to be a ritual ‘killing’ of the weapon at the time of burial with its deceased owner.
X-rays and investigative cleaning were undertaken by CMAS in 2010, which were able to expose parts of the sword beneath the thick corrosion products, revealing that it is fused to a ribbed iron scabbard, complete with intact suspension loop and two copper alloy rings for attaching the scabbard to a belt. Remarkably, remains of horn, which is a material frequently lost due to decomposition on burial, are still present on the hilt. The tip of the sword was missing, but discovered separately during the excavation.
Hello! I have just joined the team at CMAS as an object conservator, having spent the last four years working on the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.
In my first three weeks I have had some lovely objects to get stuck into; one of which is a cream painted plaster model horse with a leather and textile collar from the Mere Museum.
We think this was a display model for a saddlery, although the records are a bit thin on the ground. It was brought in for conservation with fractures across all four lower legs and pieces of plaster had come away from the hind right leg exposing the iron armature inside. On top of this, the paint surface was flaking in places and is rather uneven, having been touched up and repainted several times.
Both the body of the horse and the base show signs of previous damage and repair, and indeed there are records of the horse having already been conserved twice by CMAS in the last 20 years.
Hiya! I’m Sejal and I’m a trainee conservator doing my placement with the Wiltshire Conservation and Museum Advisory Service. I’m excited to start my professional work here and I am looking forward to some amazing projects.
My placement is part of my master’s degree in object conservation at Durham University. My background is primarily based in archaeology and I’ve been on several excavations, but I’ve always gravitated more towards lab work than field work. For my undergraduate dissertation, I spent a month in Portugal, helping sort through discarded ceramics from a seventeenth century kiln. It was like trying to put 100 jigsaw puzzles together at once, but you only have about 75% of the pieces.
I’m originally from the United States and have spent the last four years up north for my studies, so I haven’t spent much time in the southwest of the UK. So, I’m very excited to explore the region and the rich prehistory and history it holds. I also hope to visit a lot of local museums and work with a variety of institutions whilst I’m here.
The Conservation and Museums Advisory Service (CMAS) is based at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham. We preserve the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives and provide support to museums, heritage organisations and individuals to care for and conserve historic collections and meet professional standards.
According to the UK’s professional conservation body the Institute of Conservation:
‘The purpose of all conservation is to facilitate the public’s access to and enjoyment of our cultural heritage. It helps us understand ourselves and our future by preserving our past.’
So, when a marching band drum from Radstock Museum recently came into the object conservation studio at CMAS, we had to think about how to preserve the history of the object in the best way.
The drum was from the Radstock Jubilee and much of the original paint had cracked and lifted from the surface. There were already large areas of loss, but the main text on the drum remained. It was not the intention for the drum to be used again, instead the Museum planned to place it on display. In discuss with the Museum it was decided that it would be most ethically appropriate to preserve the remaining paint to show the history and use of the object.
We’ve recently reviewed the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programme that we have in place at the history centre so that we can effectively protect the archives from the possibility of any damaging insect pests.
IPM is a multi-faceted approach to pest management and our program is used alongside a number of other preventative measures such as good cleaning and housekeeping routines, thoroughly checking new accessions for any hitchhiking pests before they are put into the strong rooms and maintaining a stable environment within the strong rooms so that pests do not feel at home. This way we can continue to protect our archives into the future.
Insects can cause a real problem for historic collections, which can be tasty treats for them to feast on, causing irreversible damage and loss of information.
It is really important to protect the archives against possible pest infestations. A small number can quickly increase to become a big problem if left unchecked and cause substantial damage to a collection.
During the pandemic some collections such as The National Trust have reported increased pest activity due to the reduction in footfall and reduced monitoring and cleaning of spaces, leaving areas undisturbed for pests to thrive. With such large numbers of documents held in repositories such as WSHC it is impossible to frequently check all items individually, so programmes to monitor and reduce numbers are put in place.
We have set up ‘blunder traps’ in the History Centre, strategically located around the strong rooms and other areas of the building, and by frequently monitoring them we are able to get a picture of any pests present and which areas they are visiting.
The traps we use do not control pest infestations they simply allow us to monitor levels of pests. If we find a pattern of large numbers of any particular archive pest, we can then look into dealing with any problems and target them specifically.
An intriguing project that came across my work-bench for conservation, was a lovely green album with old photographs and postcards, dating back to late 1800s and early 1900s, from Bath Record Office. The album is personalised with annotations, and has some damage from wear and tear over the years.
Turning the pages of the album was quite fascinating, and amongst the many photographs were a portrait of a dog, and a postcard of a soldier with a sweet message saying ‘To The Lass that Loves a Soldier.. From The Soldier (?) .. (at least he hopes so)’.
Upon assessing the album, it was clear that the album required conservation work, which was divided into two stages; the repair of tears, and securing pages that had become loose.
Pages throughout the album were in need of repair , with tears and areas of loss around the photo corners, and damage around the edge of pages.
The pages in the album were gathered into six sections – one section had become detached from the album and others were held in place with staples. The whole text block had become detached from the binding.
Many albums tell a narrative through the photographs selected, the order in which they are placed, and in the personal touches such as handwritten annotations. We did not want the conservation treatment to affect the story told by the original layout, intention or handwritten notes. Before starting any work, we created a detailed record of the layout to check that the original format had been maintained.
Several treatment options were considered for the album, and it was decided that we would clean and rebind the original pages to re-create the photograph album, preserving the original format and annotations in situ.
This meant that the tears around the photographs would be repaired and conserved, and that the pages would be sewn together and attached to the cover, giving life to the album once again so it could be used by researchers.