Conservation IntroductionJune 8, 2012 About my museum job, Archaeology, Blogs, Dissection and Resurrection Men, MOLA Osteology
Following on from our recent blog Protecting the bodies of the dead, Jill Saunders, Museum of London Conservation Intern and UCL MSc student, gives an update on the conservation work on the iron coffin from St Bride’s.
As Interns, working at the Museum of London from October 2011 – Jun 2012, both Jon (Readman) and I have worked on a tremendous range and quantity of incredible artefacts. However nothing has quite come close to the iron coffin from St Bride’s and we were very excited to have the challenge of such a large and demanding object. Before even seeing the coffin we had quite a lot of information to work with regarding the purpose of conservation work and we conducted literary research and held professional dialogues to begin to understand the object’s historical and material significances. It was important to start thinking about all of these points:
• The object had to be prepared for open display in the Museum of London’s Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition (opening on 19 October 2012) and would be likely to remain on permanent open display at in the St Bride’s crypt. Without the environmental control and physical barrier provided by a case we knew that the iron and any delicate features would need special protection, and because the object was always going to be displayed and not hidden away in storage, we knew that it would be important to make aesthetic features, such as decoration, as clear as possible for the public to see and enjoy.
• We were soon aware of the unique status of the object which simultaneously increased the importance of preservation and potential benefit of investigations.
• Though the coffin was now empty, we had to be prepared for possible traces of human remains and show due respect considering the past use of the object.
We made an initial visit to the crypt at St Bride’s church, Fleet Street, to view the coffin and, taking plenty of photographs, we carried out a preliminary assessment of key features and began thinking about potential conservation issues…
…noting slots where possible slats were once present, now lost:
…considering locations of possible decoration and handles as indicated by corrosion and other deterioration products:
…locating key decorative features needing protection:
….and assessing general condition:
From the information gained on this first visit, and in consideration of key object contexts and significances, we put together a preliminary ‘Treatment Proposal’ for St Bride’s to gain their official approval before the coffin was removed to the lab and treatment could begin. This document is a way of compiling and presenting all sorts of information about an object from past socio-historical significances to current material condition to ensure proposed treatment actions are balanced and well considered. At this stage we suggested action under four headings: ‘Cleaning and Excavation’; ‘Consolidation’; ‘Repair and Support’; and ‘Corrosion Inhibition’ and St Bride’s were satisfied to give us the go ahead.
Watch this space for the next entry covering the transportation of the coffin and lid from St Bride’s to the Museum of London: Crypt to Laboratory.