Collections Trust Award: Arm’s length collections management

This year’s Collections Trust Award was won by Kiplin Hall and Gardens. Project Officer Alice Rose explains what they did and how they did it – despite being in the midst of lockdown.

The aim of the Annie Marchant Kitchen and Dairy Collection Project was to acquire objects that fill a gap in our collection; objects that can help tell the histories of workers on the Kiplin Hall estate and the activities that supported its owners’ way of life, as outlined in our collections development policy. However, securing a significant bequest during a pandemic was very tricky, particularly as our historic house site is in North Yorkshire and the Annie Marchant Kitchen and Dairy Collection, amassed by antiques dealer Annie Marchant and consisting of around 300 objects, was in Kent.

The aim of the first phase of the project was to ensure the conservation and preservation of the collection, but first we had to bridge the geographical gap. Working with Museum Development South East, in May 2020 we engaged a freelance curator to inventory the collection in Kent and, in discussion with her and the executor of the collection, selected objects that fitted with our collections development policy. Due to travel restrictions, we did this via email, telephone and video calls, and we worked remotely with a packing firm to arrange transport.

In August 2020, once the objects were on site at Kiplin Hall and checked against the inventory, organic materials were separated out. These objects, 150 or so of them, were repacked, transported to Leeds and frozen to reduce the risk of incoming pests. Meanwhile, we created a new object store for the collection. We laid vinyl flooring and built galvanised shelving, ensuring interventions were reversible due to the historic building, and a COSSH cabinet was installed to house chemicals for cleaning and marking the objects. An inventory of collections care and marking equipment was also taken, and, where applicable, equipment and materials that conformed to current best practice were purchased to replace older or outdated tools, including photographic equipment to improve the standard of object images.

Covid-safe volunteering
Depicts a volunteer writing a condition report, as described in the blog
Volunteer Mary Bell fills in a condition report for an object at Kiplin Hall

Volunteers were recruited to support us with tasks such as cleaning, packing, photographing and research. To reduce the risk of the spread of Covid-19, training occurred remotely wherever possible, and we used video conferencing and digital documents to suit different learning styles. The project also implemented condition report writing, and a template was created and used by project volunteers.

Obviously, it was vital that all on-site tasks were conducted in a Covid-secure manner, so volunteer numbers were reduced to enable social distancing, and we purchased materials and equipment so that volunteers did not have to share. After each session we cleaned thoroughly using anti-viral spray and where cleaning was not possible equipment was quarantined for 72 hours between users. This included the camera, which did slow the pace of object photography, but even so 32 objects were photographed, and during November and December 2020 volunteers cleaned, labelled, packed and wrote condition reports for over 120 objects.

Research volunteers, working off site, viewed the images taken by the other volunteers via the cloud and then researched the objects. This information will be incorporated into the collections database when objects are documented onto the collections management system, which is the focus for this year.

Launching an exhibition in lockdown

In March 2021 an exhibition about the collection, its journey to Kiplin Hall and our collections care was launched remotely by our local MP, Rishi Sunak (there is a short film on YouTube). When the hall opens again, which will hopefully be in May, in line with government guidelines (the gardens are already open) the public will be able to come and see it, and this will increase their understanding not just of the objects themselves, but of collections management and care. We will be able to use the collection to present untold stories from behind the scenes of a country estate, and this exhibition is just the first part of a major plan to expand the visitor experience at Kiplin Hall and Gardens in the next five to ten years.

In addition to the object collection, Annie Marchant’s bequest included a significant financial package that will not only enable us to secure the future of her collection, but also improve the care and interpretation of our permanent collection. We now have seven volunteers trained in photography, collections care and collections management, which significantly increases our capacity. They have the skills to work on the original collection and train other volunteers too, and the condition report forms we developed are already also being used to monitor the condition of the original collection. This improves the care of our collection across the site and helps us address an area for improvement identified in our last Accreditation report.

Image courtesy of Alice Rose and Kiplin Hall and Gardens

Published 15 April 2021