Back to News button arrow icon

Behind the scenes: collection conservation in action

By collection care volunteers Kinga and Lucy.

As collection care volunteers, recently we have been busy cleaning some of the objects in Fulham Palace’s collection! Whilst completing the museum store inventory, we came across various objects that needed extra conservation care. The most common hazards that we came across in our museum collection included pest activity and mould. After isolating and quarantining all hazardous objects (and freezing some!) we were finally able to clean and help restore these items.

We began with the objects that had mould growth on them. To quarantine the items, we had previously wrapped them in polythene sheeting (a heavy weight plastic material) and taped them shut to prevent mould growth and pest activity from spreading in the museum stores. After putting on our protective gear (masks and overalls to keep us safe from mould spores) we were able to open the poly sheeting that our first item was wrapped in and begin the cleaning process! We had a selection of ‘mould-use only’ tools at our disposal, such as goat-hair brushes, tweezers, smoke sponges and most excitingly a special HEPA filtered vacuum designed specifically for cleaning museum objects.

Hat in isolation

We decided to tackle the dirtiest item in our collection first, a black hat from the 1920s. This particular hat needed our attention the most because of the delicate folds in the fabric, in which dirt had accumulated over the years. After taking the hat out of the poly sheeting, we placed it down on the acid free paper that we had covered our table in. Acid free paper is used in conservation to help preserve objects because it is a neutral material. We used it as a barrier between the museum objects and the table to prevent the transfer of dirt, any leftover residue and to protect our items.

Dirt and mould spores on the beaded detail

To begin our cleaning, we attached a very small nozzle to the hoover and gently gave the hat a basic clean. The delicate details on the front of the hat were tackled next. We got our goat-hair brush and began working in and around the beaded decoration, which required much more attention to detail because of the fragility of the decoration. Once happy with our work on the front of the hat, we hoovered up the dirt on the inside and cleaned the folds on the outside of the hat thoroughly. One final brush and the hat was transformed, almost as good as new!

After cleaning with brush and vacuum!

Other items that we cleaned included a gentleman’s top hat, Victorian mourning jewellery, a 1970s tote bag, some books and garden tools. A similar method to the hat was used for the rest of the mouldy objects. In some cases, a smoke sponge (made of vulcanised natural rubber) was used for some extra cleaning to remove engrained dirt. By far our favourite method of cleaning was using the vacuum cleaner, it was very very satisfying to suck up the mould and dust!

Using the HEPA filtered vacuum to clean iron elements on gardening tools in the collection

As part of conservation, conditions in Fulham Palace Museum and the museum stores are monitored and regularly checked. Conditions such as humidity and temperature must be kept ideal to prevent the growth of mould. Dotted around the museum are also various pest monitors, some of them are pheromone traps attracting insects like clothes moths, to prevent them from eating our collection! As satisfying as it was to clean the objects, preventing these hazards from developing in the first place is important in keeping the museum collection safe.