Open Season

Well the house is open to visitors until November now, so most of the conservation work is just daily cleaning, checking and monitoring of the objects in the collection, as well as the odd “Conservation in Action” events, which will be going on from time to time throughout the year. I have a few ideas for these events, such as textiles, insect pests, metals and ceramics. If anyone has anything they would like to know more about, let us know and we will put on a talk, presentation or event for that eg furniture or paintings. We also have a coster cart in our stable, which I will be wheeling out on a sunny day to dust down and spruce up!

Don’t forget we will also be doing regular costume tours, so that visitors can see what the conservation staff and volunteers have been up to all winter.



Finally we have completed the project! After what must be hundreds of hours of unpacking, packing for the freezer, plastic wrapping, sticky taping, freezing, thawing, unpacking, vacuuming, repacking and putting back in boxes, we are done! It’s such a nice feeling, knowing that we have preserved these costumes just in the nick of time, and saved them for years to come, for everyone to enjoy.

 Hopefully now that they are done, we can show them off! We are hoping to display some, and give guided tours of the costume store, where visitors will be able to look inside some of the boxes and see the fabulous costumes we have been working on. We will show visitors exactly what we have been doing, and they will be able to ask our conservation staff any questions they may have.

 Costume store tours will run every week, dependant on weather and visitor numbers and will be free to both National Trust members and non-members.

A Work in Progress…

We’re getting there slowly! It’s only this past week we have been able to walk into the costume store and think: ‘Yes! We’re finally getting somewhere!’ The empty shelves give us hope when things are going slowly. We still need to clean the store of course, and ‘Shellac’ all the shelves so that there is no acid transfer between the wooden shelves and the acid-free cardboard boxes (it’s all very scientific, you know). We’ve had to work through numb fingers, toes and noses to get our beautiful costumes cleaned and ready and stay on target. We don’t think we’ll get it all done before we open in March, so if you’re lucky, you might see us working away on the costumes in the barn theatre. We’ll be happy to show you what we have been doing, and you’ll be able to see costumes that aren’t usually on display. We are also hoping to put together some small exhibitions about the project. So if you are interested in textiles, fashion or Ellen Terry and theatre, come and see us in next season. We open on 2nd March.

Happy New Year!

Blog Entry 6 Jan 2013

 Well today is my first full day back on-site after an extended holiday and I’m really eager to get stuck back into the project.  We spent many months researching and planning everything and it seems to be going fantastically well thanks to my super-capable colleagues! 

 I am pleased to report that the Dining Room is well-equipped with supplies for packing and sealing the costumes that need to be treated, previously frozen objects are slowly returning to a suitable temperature and relative humidity before they are unwrapped and carefully cleaned of all (hopefully) dead pests, and the records and labels that are so important to keep up-to-date are being meticulously filled out as the work moves along.  We have a well-trained group of volunteers assisting with the project and so far everything is going swimmingly.  What a great start to the New Year!

~Natalya, Conservation Assistant

First batch

Hello readers!

An exciting breakthrough: the first batch of costumes has been packed and is in the freezer! Following our fantastic training day with our textile advisor, we packaged everything very carefully in polythene bags, sealed it with parcel tape, and sucked most of the air out with our museum vac. After checking inventories, placing labels on the costumes and in the folder (so that we know what’s where), the first lot are finally being frozen.

Today we opened the dreaded box of lace, which we believe introduced the bugs in the first place. It had been sealed in plastic, taped up and hidden in the property office, far away from any costumes. There were a LOT of dead bugs in there! We’re pretty sure now that this box was the reason for the bugs suddenly turning up.

We’ll update you with the results on Monday. Wish us luck!

The story so far…

It all started way back in May 2012…

When cleaning out the costume store in the spring, my colleague and I couldn’t resist being nosy and peeking inside the boxes to see the gorgeous costumes. Being new to the job, we hadn’t had many chances to see the costumes up close, so we gorged ourselves, looking in nearly every box we could lay our hands on.

It was then that we noticed something small and round wandering around quite merrily on one of the costumes. Realising something was wrong we reported it and kept an eye on the store. One of our lovely researchers confirmed that we had carpet beetle and we started getting to work planning the eradication of the little critters.

After lots of phone calls, emails, reading of books, manuals and files, we worked out what we needed to do, and with the help of our regional conservator and textile consultant we have put together a plan of action.

Carpet beetles are small insects that look a bit like small brown ladybirds, with zigzags on their backs. It’s not the actual beetles that do the damage, it’s their larva and pupae, affectionately known as ‘Woolly Bears’. The eggs are too small to be seen by the naked eye and lie dormant all winter. But come the spring, the woolly bears eat their way through any Keratin-based material and hatch into adults.

Silks, wool, fur, leather and some other materials mean lunch to these little critters, and they leave nasty holes in whatever they can get their teeth into. Normally things with this problem are sent off to a special chamber, where the item is frozen and treated to get rid of any insect intruders. However, because we have over 200 pieces, we would not be able to afford this option.

So, we have come up with our own solution! We have ordered a freezer and other materials, and we are doing the project on our own, doing the best to combine all of our conservation skills and knowledge to save these wonderful costumes. With the help of our staff, volunteers and consultants, we WILL get these bugs gone!

Textile Project 2012

This new blog will track the Smallhythe Conservation team’s progress through an exciting new conservation project.

The ‘Olivia’ dress

Due to a (mild) infestation of the dreaded Varied Carpet Beetle, we have decided to freeze and painstakingly clean all of the textiles in our collection to remove the infestation. This is a massive task, as we have a mammoth 200+ pieces!

And they aren’t just any old bits and bobs; they happen to be exquisitely detailed Victorian theatre costumes for the most famous leading lady of Victorian theatre: Ellen Terry. She was well-known for her elaborate and beautiful costumes, and we want them to stay elaborate and beautiful! We also have pieces belonging to her stage partner, Henry Irving, her brother and fellow actor Fred Terry, and her children, Edith Craig and Edward Gordon Craig.

Follow the blog to see photos of the costumes which aren’t usually on display and get an insight into the fascinating world of conservation.