Conversations with Conservators: Challenging Moves (Part 4)

In the fourth part of our conversation with Conservators, we start with a question from our CEO, Paul Sapwell.

ALEX: Let’s get started with this question from Paul. He asks: Have you ever met an object you have conserved, in your dreams or nightmares? What happened?

NIGEL: In short, no.

RUTH: Moths haunt my dreams! And asbestos!

NIGEL: Yes, they have given me many nightmares.

CLAIRE: The only one I can remember is the wedding cake, after that journey to London. [1]

ALEX: Was that for the One Show?

Head of Programming, Jaane Rowehl on The One Show (BBC) alongside comedians Jo Brand and Jon Richardson, in May 2018 with the wedding cake. Here they are trying to guess the age of the cake which is from the 1890s (Accession no: HMCMS:SH1995.612) When on display the cake is encased in a glass dome, but for the show Claire and Ruth were asked to remove the dome.

CLAIRE: Yes, I had dreams for the next three nights about it falling apart!

NIGEL: That was a scary undertaking.

RUTH: I don’t know if Claire remembers but we drove it from Basingstoke first and it moved in the car.

CLAIRE: I had to get my adhesive out in the back of the studio – it had crept across its base board with the vibration during travel. Hadn’t done that on the shorter trips so it was a shock!

ALEX: How do you prepare to move an object?

CLAIRE: For the cake, we built a bespoke box and packed inside its dome as well as out. We propped it up level in the seat, strapped it in and watched it like a hawk all the way there.

ALEX: Most of us wouldn’t think about what’s involved in transferring an object from your work spaces to the venues/locations they will be displayed in. Apart from the wedding cake, what’s been the most challenging object you’ve all had to prepare and then move?

NIGEL: I had to get the Challenger Tank ready to move [at Aldershot Military Museum]. I had to get it running so the army could drive it. A chap from REME[2]came with his huge transporter to try to tow it but we had little luck. So instead we had to get it running. I remember having to sort out a huge oil leak, also laying on top of the engine as he started her up so I could check it wasn’t leaking.

The Challenger Battle Tank at Aldershot Military Museum (Accession no: HMCMS:R2004.106). The challenger was built in 1981 as a prototype and was transferred the army’s fleet of training challengers in 1991. It was given to Aldershot Military Museum in 2004.

ALEX: Wow!

NIGEL: I also remember working underneath it. I could only just get under. Quite frightening when you think of the weight of it.

CLAIRE: I couldn’t do that.

NIGEL: The plan was to move it off site, so building work could be done. In the end we only moved it 100 yards I believe.

ALEX: What did it feel like to hear the engine come to life?

NIGEL: Very, very loud. Smoke everywhere. [I] sorted the oil leak. The only time I’ve ever really worked on a tank.

Nigel’s images of the challenger starting up with the smoke billowing out.

CLAIRE: For me, moving cased taxidermy is always scary.

ALEX: Why?

CLAIRE: I think it’s partly the old case glass, as it’s so thin. The specimens can’t really be packed out easily; they just bobble around on their perch. I had a sparrow hawk once that was on a log, but the log wasn’t fixed to the case base. I did have to pack around that.

The sparrow hawk conserved and moved by Claire in its glass dome (Accession no: HMCMS:Bi1977.691). This features in a 2016 exhibition in Winchester called Royal Blood.

RUTH: I worry about moving costume on mannequins, the textiles can be so fragile.

ALEX: Can you give examples?

RUTH: Some of the wedding dresses came back on mannequins. [3] You can’t control the movement of mannequins during transit so if the fabric is fragile, movement could put undue stress on it.

Wedding dresses from the historic dress and textiles collection on display in the exhibition I Do! in the Gallery, Winchester Discovery Centre which ran from October 2018 to January 2019.

ALEX: Were there any in particular that caused the most concern?

RUTH: The fragile ones would have been the older silk dresses.

ALEX: Silk is generally quite a fragile material isn’t it?

RUTH: Yes. Particularly old silk as it can shatter quite easily.

You can see some of the objects mentioned by Claire, Ruth and Nigel on our collections pages at

[1]Our 1890s wedding cake featured on the BBC’s The One Show on 21 May 2018.

[2]Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, a corps in the British Army, they are responsible for maintaining the equipment that the Army uses.

[3]From the exhibition I do! which ran from October 2018 to January 2019 in the Gallery, Winchester Discovery Centre.

This article was written by:
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Alex Walker

Alex is General Manager at Hampshire Wardrobe, Hampshire Cultural Trust's costume hire service consisting of over 10,000 costumes from ancient times to 1980s!
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