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23 Feb 2023

Bringing Back the Binns: Meet the Collections Care team

Written by Kirsty Redmonds, Visitor Services Supervisor – Collections Care, for Forth Valley
Beautiful furniture, paintings and artefacts adorn the morning room in the House of the Binns
The morning room at House of the Binns
Over the past year, the Forth Valley Collections Care team has been preparing the Dalyell family collection for display, all while protecting it during the recent conservation works.

The House of the Binns has a wonderfully rich collection of Dalyell family artefacts and memorabilia which has been amassed over the last 400 years. With over 2,000 objects on show, the house is brimming with interesting history and fascinating stories that the collection helps bring to life. As Visitor Services Supervisor – Collections Care, it is my pleasure to be given the opportunity to work with such a notable collection.

In the first instalment of Bringing Back the Binns, Visitor Services Manager Helen Knox wrote about the roof and building works that have been happening over the past year and the contractual work that has been completed so the house can be opened to the public. While a lot of work has been carried out on the outside of the building, an equal amount of work has been undertaken inside whilst we have been closed. The Collections Care staff for Forth Valley and the Edinburgh & East Regional Conservator Lesley Scott ACR have been working with the collection to ensure its preservation during the contractual work, as well as preparing items for the re-opening.

More common in a museum setting, it is rare that we get an opportunity to remove an entire collection from principal rooms in a property such as this, but due to the roof works, both the morning room and dining room were completely emptied to protect the collection and allow the rooms to be redecorated.

In spring 2022, over the course of a month approximately 800 objects, portraits and items of furniture and upholstery were inspected, dusted, checked for pests and mould, and put into storage. This included over 120 pieces of historic China, 32 framed portraits, over 40 pieces of furniture, 3 clocks, a piano, and hundreds of small collectables, crockery and dinnerware items, almost all of which have significant importance to the family.

Since no collection items were to be taken off-site, to ensure they were kept in the same environmental conditions, rooms situated away from the roof works were turned into temporary storage areas to accommodate the vast removal. All items were either individually wrapped, packed into crates or covered with dust sheets to protect them from both everyday dust and the highly abrasive plaster dust which was created from the interior decorating works. Though the objects were stored in separate rooms to the decorating, it is surprising how far plaster dust can travel through a property even with all the protective measures in place.

While the physical aspect of moving and packing objects is labour intensive, the Trust adheres to collection management processes that ensure that when we move an object, we keep information up to date of its whereabouts. There is a fair amount of paperwork that must be completed in tandem with this work. We had the opportunity to check the condition of every object, record and photograph areas of damage or loss, and determine whether further imminent damage or deterioration is likely. We identified which objects needed conservation treatment as a matter of urgency and were able to arrange for remedial treatment using external accredited conservators to undertake the work.

Regional Conservator Lesley Scott ACR will be discussing some of the specific conservation work that has been completed on some of these priority objects in next month’s Bringing Back the Binns blog post.

Once packed away and put into storage, the location of every object is recorded so we know exactly where each individual item is: in which box; on which shelf; in which section of the storage area; in which room. This is important, so we can quickly and easily locate an object if we need to, without moving or unpacking potentially vulnerable items unnecessarily. We try to limit handling our collections as much as possible.

The most challenging part of the project was the removal and packing of the framed portraits. Specialist art handlers were brought in to guide the work and to ensure they were handled according to best heritage practice. The portraits are also some of the most vulnerable items in the collection due to their construction and the multiple materials present, most of which are organic and therefore highly susceptible to both physical movement and changes in environmental conditions. More will be written on how we achieved this and the conservation work that has been undertaken to preserve them, by Maravillas Sanchez-Morales, Visitor Services Assistant – Collections Care in a future blog post.

Specialist art handlers preparing a portrait for storage

While both the morning and dining room items are safely in storage, the collections care staff have been meticulously working their way through the historic interiors and other parts of the house, ensuring all spaces are deep cleaned and remaining collection pieces are dust, pest and mould free. This was of paramount importance, as during the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of organisational run country houses and museums up and down the country experienced unprecedented changes in their internal environments and vast growth in pests of concern, House of the Binns included.

Exacerbated by the need for a replacement roof, the interior collections have been subject to less than ideal conditions during the lockdowns. The static humid atmosphere unfortunately caused mould to grow in unventilated areas of the property, and without the Trust’s usual control measures being enacted the number of pests exponentially grew, with clothing moth and woodworm becoming a problem. The Collections Care staff have been working hard to mitigate these issues and we are now seeing positive changes occurring. A full deep clean of the house has led to pest numbers being significantly reduced, though we are still very much in the recovery phase and will continue to monitor the number of pests through our preventive regimes and integrated pest management system.

Dealing with mould takes a considered approach. Over the past year the house has also been kept at a low temperature to mitigate any further growth and bloom of mould until we had a chance to dry and eradicate it. This is a process that has taken months, and the internal environments will continue to be monitored and controlled to ensure the collection is kept in suitable conditions to minimise any future deterioration.

As decorating works are completed, we are now on the brink of reinstating the collection in the principal rooms and can begin to look forward to showing the public the family home once more in April. Due to the scale of the project, our conservation work will still be ongoing once the house is open. The majority of collections care work tends to happen out of sight of the public eye, so this will be a fantastic opportunity for visitors to see the Collections Care staff undertaking the Conservation In Action project work in an open, working property.

If you are interested in helping us prepare the house for opening, we are currently looking for volunteers to help in various roles across the property. Please click here and submit a note of interest

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