Whilst all of our museum sites have now reopened to the public, over the last few months you would have been forgiven for thinking that we’d not been working on our collections during the closures. However, a dedicated number of small teams continued working to keep Leeds’s heritage safe and secure. At two of our country house sites, Temple Newsam and Lotherton, I helped out with the teams to keep their treasures safe. I carried out essential conservation work such as checking pest traps, deep cleaning, advising on best practice and generally being there to help and assist the site teams.
The Big Problem
Pests were our main concern. You may have noticed small golden moths, or small beetles in and around your home. Over the last few years I have had more and more enquiries from the public about these little insects. These are clothes moth and carpet beetles, and they are on the up due to central heating and greater use of natural fibres. They are originally found in bird nests but as we use material that is predominantly natural fibre based in our homes, and with the added benefit of heating, they have migrated inside. You will probably see signs of holes in your winter woollen jumpers or a bald patch on your carpet or – even more horrifying! – find the larvae happily munching away on your prized woollen.
These little pests love felt, wool, feathers and fur, and they love our sites too. So during lockdown we were going safely into sites to help eradicate these pests by deep cleaning and wrapping susceptible objects in plastic ready for a blast in our walk in freezer at Leeds Discovery Centre.
We have a large walk in freezer at Leeds Discovery Centre that goes down to -30°C that we can use to help eradicate pests in hard to reach places such as mattresses and taxidermy. This freezer goes down to temperatures lower than a conventional domestic freezer, so it gets pretty chilly in there, and after five days we can be rid of the pests that are eating our collections. By wrapping the objects in plastic we keep the pests inside and the objects protected from condensation when in the freezer.
Getting Ready For Opening
Before reopening our sites, we had to work hard behind the scenes. We had to make sure the collections were safe, the visitor experience was still safe and interesting, and that our staff could safely guide you round our sites.
This meant deep cleaning some rooms along your usual visitor route (so you may not see all the rooms you would normally do when you visit). We used museum vacs to clean textiles and soft natural fibre brushes to clean surfaces such as painting frames. Whilst doing this essential work, we assessed objects and made sure they were stable and ready to go on display. Every object, no matter how large or small, that you’ll see on your visit will have been assessed and cleaned by the team under conservation guidance.
We’re not neglecting the rooms that may be closed to you during your visit. Staff on site are still working hard behind the scenes to condition check all the objects. We’re carrying out deep cleans of these rooms and objects to keep them in good condition. Pest traps or ‘blunder traps’ are very sticky, and have been put down so we can monitor the background insect population and make sure we’re not getting any harmful pests in. By regular monitoring, we can check to see what they are up to and stave off any potential harmful infestations. Once the rooms are cleaned, we’ll be putting them to bed. We cover furniture and fragile objects with conservation grade dust sheets to protect them once the rooms are cleaned. Then, when we are ready to open these rooms, we simply remove the dust sheets and the space will be ready for visitors once again.
By Emma Bowron, Conservator