M + H Awards 2014 – Restoration and Conservation Award sponsored by Fairhurst Ward Abbotts

Our shortlisted projects today are all contenders in the Restoration and Conservation category which has been sponsored by Fairhurst Ward Abbotts. This award highlights the quality of work undertaken on restoration and conservation projects within the UK. How projects have been managed and implemented from conception to completion and demonstration of rigorous project and conservation planning and processes are all considered. The category is open to the restoration and conservation of single objects through to entire buildings. Particular attention is given to how the project has enhanced public access whilst ensuring important historical artefacts and buildings have been safeguarded for the future.

The George Elmy Heritage Project by the East Durham Heritage Group, is the story of lifeboat rescue – with the boat being the subject of the rescue. Half a century after a town was devastated by a lifeboat disaster, the boat involved was found on Ebay, restored to full glory and returned to its original home.

In 2009 group of enthusiastic individuals with a passion for local history discovered that the old George Elmy lifeboat was at Holyhead and being sold on Ebay. Donations were raised and the group of volunteers became the East Durham Heritage Group. HLF Funding was applied for and secured and the task of restoring the boat to its former glory began. A local boat builder who prides himself on being the “last wooden boat builder on the Tyne”, used ships’ drawings from the 1950’s, to restore the boat.

Volunteers managed to take on the old lifeboat house at Seaham Marina – a dilapidated building full of history – but now full of rubbish and cans. A separate HLF grant was secured as well as other donations and the lifeboat house was not only restored but now also includes a heritage centre and viewing platform.

The project’s main aim was to preserve the memory of those who lost their lives in 1962, through the restored lifeboat, lifeboat house and heritage centre. The heritage centre is also a sign of the revival for the town and a fantastic asset to the area. With over 10,000 visitors since May when the Heritage Centre opened its doors, EDHG have now been rewarded with “Volunteer of the Year Awards 2013”. This remarkable lifeboat restoration shows how a passion for preserving heritage and local pride has restored a piece of history for future generations.

Martin Ashley Architects and Historic Royal Palaces, The Royal Kitchens at Kew
Martin Ashley Architects and Historic Royal Palaces, The Royal Kitchens at Kew

The Royal Kitchens at Kew represents a unique survival of Georgian royal domestic quarters and culinary life. The kitchens are all that remain of the White House, a long since demolished mansion built beside Kew Palace in 1730. They were in full use until 1818 but were abandoned soon afterwards and remained in parts almost untouched for nearly 200 years. The project aimed to bring the building back to use as a visitor attraction and to ensure that the significance of this neglected time capsule was appropriately recognised and conserved.

The project’s main achievements are most evident inside where an understanding of the subtleties of the surfaces – floors, walls and plasterwork etc. – was central to the project. Layers of later additions were peeled back to reveal the surviving 18th century textures and surfaces. White emulsion on the vaulted ceilings has been carefully removed to reveal the original limewashed surface. Many surviving fittings have been conserved, and forensic examinsation of smoke stains and ash residue indicated the position of lost ovens which were faithfully reproduced.

Since opening in May 2012, the kitchens have proved extremely popular, with over 100,000 visitors in 2013, 92% of whom said their visit was excellent or good.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Once in a Whale
Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Once in a Whale

The ‘Once in a Whale’ at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History was a project focused on the conservation of 7 articulated cetacean skeletal mounts. 5 of these specimens have been suspended from the museum roof for the last 150 years. With constant UV radiation through the glass roof and temperature and humidity fluctuations, they were in great need to conservation treatment. The project aimed to preserve the longevity of these display specimens but also to make them a more prominent feature of the museum by improving their visual aesthetics and scientific accuracy.

Work was planned to be carried out in the 6 month window when the Museum was closed for the restoration of its glass roof. With a tight time frame, research was undertaken into existing methods of cleaning bone and removing hardened natural oils. Dust was removed with a soft brush and then methods developed to clean the bone using diluted ammonia were applied. The skeletons were re-articulated and then rehung in new positions so that the whales are visible from all levels of the museum and draw the visitors’ eye up into the newly conserved roof space.

The project has positively impacted the museum in many ways not least by raising the profile of conservation both internally and externally. The use of social media helped to publicise the work and the museum. The size of the specimens meant that conservation had to be taken out of the laboratory and into the museum gallery – all of which meant that the work became a behind the scenes tour for everybody.

Birmingham Museums Trust, The Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Outreach Programme
Birmingham Museums Trust, The Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Outreach Programme

The Staffordshire Hoard Outreach Project is a collaborative project which aims to conserve the objects which make up the collection. Found in a farmer’s field in 2009 by a metal detectorist, the hoard is made up of 3,500 gold and silver objects decorated with fine gold filigree, niello and cloisonné garnets.

The Hoard created a unique opportunity for conservation and curation and provided a unique chance to promote conservation in the public domain. The project has taken an innovative, open and collegiate approach to conservation. The materials have been conserved to a professionally high standard but the project has also engaged both conservation professionals and public audiences.

Engagement activities with the conservation profession take the form of professional placements for experienced conservators, placements for conservation students and the inclusion of non-conservation placements. A programme of open lectures, talks, studio tours, family days and blogs was launched by the conservation team to create a supportive public community of interest that felt engaged and involved with the project and the team.

The enthusiasm of the public for this find was demonstrated by 42,000 people visiting in just 19 days. Although conservation in public is not new, the Hoard programme has differed in the unique intensity and regularity of its outreach. The programme has benefited from keeping the Hoard on display whilst making the conservation programme flexible enough to accommodate this.

The Mary Rose Trust, The Mary Rose Museum
The Mary Rose Trust, The Mary Rose Museum

The conservation of the recovered section of the Mary Rose and the 19,000 complete artefacts discovered around her wrecksite is the final entry in this category. The team has developed the technology to stabilize the extraordinary range of materials and the starboard section of the ship in order to display the Mary Rose for the education and benefit of the nation.

The Mary Rose project has been in progress for over thirty years. The Mary Rose Trust has created the world’s first large scale conservation treatment facility for objects recovered from the wrecksite. This facility has also conserved many other large archaeological objects from the UK and abroad. Public access to the conservation facilities means that the conservation can been seen in action.

The range of materials needing conservation was huge, including wood, textiles, leather, ceramics, glass, stone, rope and many hundreds of animal and human bones. The hull itself required a conservation treatment which best suited the condition of the hull timbers, and the Trust has recently developed a new treatment for the stabilisation of waterlogged archaeological wood.

Winners will be announced on on Thursday 15th May. You can follow the action live on the night on Twitter using #MandHAwards.