Session 7 on Zoom 9th October ‘Virtual Tour of Archive and Memorable Objects’

Session 7 on Zoom 9th October ‘Virtual Tour of Archive and Memorable Objects’

2.30 to 3.30 – Zoom workshop, hosted by Restoration Trust (RT) and presented from London Metropolitan Archives (LMA)

Our second workshop started with a small technical difficulty as the Zoom invites glitched, but this was soon sorted out and everyone arrived on screen as expected. LMA staff had prepared a recorded tour of the archive, as our plan to carry it out a ‘live’ walk-around with a camera, streaming images directly into the session, proved to be too ambitious given the limitations of internet access in the depths of the archive storage spaces.

Sadly, the computer issues continued and while the tour started, it froze almost immediately and kicked everyone out of the session! We tried again with the same result, so instead the film was made available via a closed YouTube link for participants to view in their own time.

The session continued with tales of lockdown from Caroline. She told us how the archive managed the conservator’s time when the sudden change meant everyone had to start working from home. Conservators have to do treatments in the studio and as they could not carry on with their normal tasks they spent most of their time planning training sessions and on-line talks.

Prior to the workshop I had asked if everyone could bring an object to the session. The object could be something important to them or something that was broken; or both. My object was a wooden Russian doll that I have had since I was a child. The paint had become scratched and it was a bit dirty. We talked about how to clean it, if indeed I wanted to do that, with damp cotton buds, gently rolled over the surface so the paint was not scratched. I did not mind the lost paint on her eye because it reminded me of playing with the doll when I was young.

Russian doll with missing painted eye

Other objects included a china rabbit, which had been given as a present and was also a bit dirty. Another participant showed us a metal commemorative tankard, which had the date and name engraved on the side and had been given out to all children at a wedding. It had been dented here-and-there but was usable and stored pens. The next objects were two sets of tennis bats, one old and the other new. The older set of bats showed their history through wear of the surface and were no longer useful as they had lost their bounce. They continued to be precious objects without need of repair or cleaning, indeed I suggested they could go in a frame on the wall!

The session came to an end with a short introduction of the task for our next workshop in 2 weeks’ time and despite the technological challenges it was a friendly and relaxed event.

Helen Lindsay, RT Project Worker and Paper Conservator

Session 6 on Zoom 25th September ‘Sewing Pamphlets’

Session 6 on Zoom 25th September Sewing Pamphlets

2.30 to 3.30 – Zoom workshop, hosted by Restoration Trust (RT) and presented from London Metropolitan Archives (LMA)

We’re Back! After lockdown, which closed the archive and turned the world upside down for a while, we have, like so many others, re-surfaced to find that we must function differently. The Zoom meeting room is having its moment and we have joined the on-line community that is the ‘Zoom workshop’. Its not the same as our face-to-face sessions but our first meeting went well, with positive and encouraging feedback.

Following introductions and a summary of the session, Caroline, the LMA studio manager, took us on a tour of the conservation workshop. LMA is located in a re-purposed printing works so the rooms are large and airy with high ceilings and an open plan arrangement. Perfect set-up for a conservation studio.

Caroline used her laptop on a trolley to prevent any shaking and we got both an overview of the room and close-up views of the various types of equipment; sink, fume cupboard, presses etc.

Each participant had been posted a package with materials for the workshop and after the tour Caroline went through the contents and explained why a paper or book conservator would want to know how to sew a pamphlet.


The package contained thread, a needle (with a small piece of cork on its sharp point), cut sheets, written instructions and a template for the sewing stations.

The cover images are of the hospital building from the St Luke’s hospital collection we have been working with.


For more information on history of the hospital see LMA’s Principle Archivist Phillipa Smith’s blog about St Luke’s hospital on The Wellcome Trust website;

The demonstration of how to sew a 5 hole pamphlet worked well, and was straightforward to do, but there is no doubt that was down to the preparation in the packages plus the concentration and skills of the participants.

We were pleased by the good feeling and input from all, and with both new and existing participants it will be interesting to see how the Zoom meetings compare with our face-to-face sessions in January and February.



Certainly, there was less opportunity to chat in the virtual space, or follow-up on chance remarks but hope that as we get more used to this way of working, we can find more ways to foster interaction and discussion.

Helen Lindsay, RT Project Worker and Paper Conservator

More conservation fascinations

Here are a couple of interesting conservation links.

First, something from our partner organisation Icon’s website about the treatment of a collection of Dutch and Flemish drawings.  These are in the British Museum. This article give you a sense of the level of care taken over treatment, and the different skills that a conservator needs to apply – aesthetic, craft, technical, scientific.

An agarose gel strip is used to remove methyl cellulose poultice residues on the verso of J.A. Backer’s (attributed to) Head of an Old Woman, c.1623-1651, (P&D 1897,0813.9(95)). © 2020 The Trustees of The British Museum.

And second, on the theme of fire damaged documents, something from the British Library about the treatment of Charlotte Canning’s diaries. It is totally conservation centred, so it’s all about the material of the documents, not their content. Which is frustrating, but also illuminating.

The primary aim of treatment was to make the diaries available for consultation by curators and researchers. But because the fire which caused the damage is an integral part of the diaries’ histories, and because it sheds light on the wider context of the Cannings’ lives in India, it was desirable that the evidence of the burn damage also be preserved. The conservation treatment therefore had to offset the risks posed by the burn damage while making sure the damage itself remained intact – an intriguing challenge!

Before treatment
After treatment

Value and Meaning, Now and Then

Midpoint Focus Groups with Staff & Participants, London Metropolitan Archives and SMART, 6th & 13th March 2020.

In the few weeks leading up to the UK lockdown due to Covid-19, I met with participants and staff of the Conservation for Wellbeing project, to learn how they felt the project has gone so far.

Looking back, it was a strange time, in which many were feeling growing anxiety and anticipation of the measures to come. The focus groups, for myself at least, came as a welcome break from conversation about the corona virus, and yet it seems obvious now that even these conversations were impacted by the collective consciousness of the pandemic.

I had first met staff during week 5 of the project sessions at LMA. The following week, five days before UK schools closed, I had a session with participants. As the researcher on the C4W project I had not met all the participants before. We gathered in the meeting room at SMART with cups of tea and some participants still eating lunch, to talk for an hour and reflect on all aspects of the project.

The participants spoke openly, and shared some fascinating insights into what has been most important and resonant for them about the activities and the archives. Particular sessions stood out, such as making boxes to store the archives, and the week in which participants learnt about the tiny pests which pose a threat to documents. Several participants made connections to memories from their own lives, including occasions when they and their families have used more manual photography methods to record important occasions. Participants talked about how the quality of a photograph is affected by the process through which it is produced, and how replicas or well stored negatives might change the value of each image.

All participants made connections to their own memories, and thought together about value, significance and meaning, particularly as these are held within articles and objects they themselves have collected throughout their lives. They each talked about things that they protect and preserve due to their importance or relevance to them. The group explored what it is that can transcend time within archives, and how the records hold resonances which can be shared with people who never met the individuals whose lives they relate to.

They talked about how interesting and valuable it has been to learn about a field of work most people know little about. The project has given people an opportunity to enter a rarely seen world, in which every day involves taking care of snap shots and pieces of life stories. There have been lots of surprises, and elements of the work that the participants could not have imagined.

One participant explained;

“It was just really interesting how careful you have to be. You have to treat these things like you would treat a human being basically.”

A fire damaged document

Now is a time when we all may be thinking more about how we take care of each other and ourselves, and about what is most important to preserve or know and how those things can be kept safe. We are thinking more than usual about what matters most to us. This is a hugely significant point in history, which we are witnessing for ourselves as it emerges every day. I wonder how people may be recording this time for themselves, whether they will be keeping diaries more, or collecting things to keep when we re-emerge from lockdown, and life begins to resume. What will we want to remember or preserve for others to see, from this strange and poignant time?

Daisy Rubinstein, art therapist and C4W evaluation consultant

Conservation – our work

Here are more conservation fabulousnesses.

Sara Crofts, CEO of Icon, suggested these.

The National Trust’s conservation studio at Knole:

And some of their work:

The conservation dept at the Bodleian Library.  Lots of case studies – but this one is my favourite: More at:

This is a portion of the Seldon Map of China, photo credit Bodleian Library, and a link to the digital version here.


Lockdown resources

Some things going on in the meantime….

Conservation for wellbeing online

Thanks to emergency funding from City Bridge Trust, we are just about to get a programme of digital sessions underway. We will provide people with whatever they need to be able to access Zoom sessions at no cost to themselves – that means the hardware, software, training and support. Then we will start the sessions. We hope these will begin in May.

Ask a conservator

If you have any object that could do with a new lease of life, ask one of the conservators that are part of the Conservation for Wellbeing project. We can put you in touch with an expert based on whatever object you have that could do with restoration.

Send an email to either Tom Exley at SMART or Laura Drysdale at the Restoration Trust with your questions.

Art and design tutorials

Our mental health partners SMART are running weekly art and design tutorials on the website – here. The sessions include a conservation element.

London Metropolitan Archives

LMA have posted details of their online services on their website here. You can also look at the digitised archives of St Luke’s Hospital, which we are working on with the Conservation Team at LMA, here. 

Conservation resources online

Our conservation partner Icon is running a programme of Zoom webinars called Conservation Together at Home that you can sign up for. Interesting talks, including about paper and archives are featuring for the next few. Click here.

The Rothko Conservation Project has a wonderful video on line
There is also the conservation of the contents of Clandon House, a National Trust property that burned more or less to the ground. Here’s the State Bed being salvaged, photo credit National Trust

This oral history is by María Teresa Dávila Álvarez, who was a restorer at the Prado in Madrid and worked on Las Meninas when it was conserved in 1984. When she is going to restore a painting it says to her: ‘Dont touch me with despondency or brusqueness. I demand that you touch me with delicacy’.]

TV programmes

There are two unmissable conservation/restoration programmes on TV at the moment or on catch-up – The Repair Shop and Secrets of the Museum. You can apply to be on The Repair Shop here


Suspending sessions until October 2020

We have suspended sessions, and plan to re-start in October, if we can;  thanks to our partners and our funder City Bridge Trust, we feel confident that we will be able to complete the project.

Coordinator Helen Lindsay and SMART Art Lead Tom Exley at the Steering Group

Our Steering Group on Friday 13th March at SMART was timely, so we had plans in place ready for the wider shutdown on Monday 16th March.

So far we’ve held 5 sessions, so we are half way through the core programme – though we have post-project sessions for people to maintain contact with each other and London Metropolitan Archives. If we have to pause, this isn’t a bad time to do it.

Meanwhile we are getting on with looking at wellbeing research information. Daisy Rubinstein and Dr Linda Thomson are reviewing the data from questionnaires, feedback from staff at reflective practice sessions, and from a focus group with participants.

Boxes made by SMART members inspired by archival boxes at London Metropolitan Archives

We are keeping communications going with regular tweets, and we are looking at ways to keep in touch with people online. More to come…..


Session 5 at LMA 6th March 2020 ‘Historic Photographs’

Session 5 at LMA 6th March 2020. Historic Photographs

This week’s session began early for Caroline De Stefani and myself as we spoke to our researcher Daisy Rubinstein about our experience of the project. During this discussion a key reflection for me was how the physical characteristics of the collection items – the smell of old leather, texture of parchment and sounds of different papers – seem to be especially engaging for participants.

Everyone arrived in two taxis from SMART and we began lunch by washing our hands following guidance from our Covid-19 Virus risk assessment.

Once the workshop started our first task was to fold and wrap the boxes we had measured last week around the books. We were joined by LMA’s Learning and Engagement Manager Aimee Taylor, and, as we grappled with getting the labels stuck down in the correct place and the right way up, she remarked, “Conservation is so detailed…….”

Structure of a black & white photograph

We then discussed the materials that glass plate negatives and silver gelatine photographs are made from.

I mentioned that the era of the physical photograph is over, and we talked about how completely different digital data and prints are. We looked at some of the different supports used in photography (glass, paper, plastic), and at the image and emulsion layer – commonly silver particles that form an image in a gelatine layer.

“Gelatine, is that bones?” asked Julia (not her real name).

“Yes,” I answered, “that’s what the rag and bone man used to collect.”

“Photographs are made from bones? Human bones?”

After establishing that the bones were animal, probably horse, the conversation moved on, to grave robbing and autopsy, before we returned to historic photographs. The handout we provided also included a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ such as wearing vinyl gloves, keeping prints and negatives on the table, etc.

Looking at the prints and deciding which size polyester sleeve to use

Following tea, we were joined by Tom and Nana (a volunteer working with SMART) after they had been interviewed by Daisy. We spent the rest of the session re-housing black & white photographs of hospitals and asylums into polyester sleeves. The photographs varied in size and the correct polyester sleeve had to be chosen. This activity was quite hectic as everyone took part with enthusiasm and we re-housed four boxes in record speed!

Looking at photographs of a hospital sitting room for live-in nurses

Next Friday the Project Steering Group is meeting on the same day as the SMART art group, and will take place at SMART. The Steering Group is made up of the partners, staff, researchers and participants, and it is the main vehicle for managing the project . There will also be a focus group meeting for participants with Daisy.

 C4W team on the day

Caroline De Stefani – LMA Studio Manager and C4W conservation lead

Helen Lindsay – Collections Care Consultant and C4W project co-ordinator

Tom Exley – SMART Art & Design Tutor and C4W project co-ordinator

Aimée Taylor – LMA Learning and Engagement Officer

Session 4 at LMA 21st February 2020 ‘Lets talk about dirt’

FEBRUARY 28, 2020

Session 4 at LMA 21st February 2020. Conservation Cleaning

This week participants traveled from SMART to London Metropolitan Archives and back by taxi. This was easier than travelling by bus and everyone arrived in good spirits to have lunch with time to spare. Tom had made a huge number of sandwiches and after further biscuits and tea we moved into the Conservation Studio to start the workshop. As people headed towards the table around which we sit for the sessions it was clear that the studio is becoming a familiar space.

This session was called ‘Let Talk about Dirt’ and we did just that by discussing why dirt and dust is a problem and how it gets onto the registers.

Making trays of archival paper

Making trays out of archival paper

The most common way for dirt to get onto books and documents is by handling. When the asylum registers were consulted in the past by clinical and other staff, they will sometimes have turned the pages with greasy fingers, or left a book open so that dust fell onto it. Because of this we can look at a book now and see which pages were consulted most frequently – they are the ones with the most dirt or fingerprints on the corners of the page as it is turned.

Cutting and folding the paper for the trays

When stored on a book shelf, dust enters the volume from above, with dust falling deep within the book if the pages are loose. That is another reason why it’s good to put heritage volumes in a protective box.

And, in order to keep our work space clean, we made paper trays so that the dust and other particles that get moved by cleaning were contained and not spread over the table or floor.

Cleaning volumes using foam book wedges to support the bindings

People worked either in pairs or individually and, after a break and cup of tea, we started cleaning the registers using soft brushes and latex sponges. The covers, which are leather or parchment, were not cleaned, we just concentrated on the pages.

The books vary quite a lot, some are large while others are fairly small and slim but they all needed the support of a foam book wedge to ensure that the bindings were not squashed flat on the table. These wedges are particularly important during cleaning as pressure is put on the pages, but they would also be needed if the registers are consulted in the search room.

Some volumes needed quite a lot of cleaning

Once finished, each register was measured for a box. The boxes will be cut by Amy in the Boxing Room and by the next session they will be ready for folding and wrapping around their newly clean books.



Session 3 at LMA 7th February 2020. Protection and looking

The session start time has been moved to 12,30, so the first thing we did was have lunch in the Huntley Room. Then we visited the boxing machine, located in its room high up in the building and full of light. We met Amy, who operated the machine, and watched it robotically crease and cut out the flat box shape. ‘Why is it called a Wrap Lock box? – because it wraps round the book and then locks shut with its tab.

Archive boxes, presents from the Box Machine Room.

It was fantastic to see people become increasing interested in different box shapes, and to share the pleasure of receiving a small archive box as a present. A box you have seen being made is fundamentally different from one purchased from a newsagent.

Travelling through LMAs back regions, we found ourselves in the Conservation Studio. There was an air of anticipation as people wrapped the boxes they had measured last week round the St Luke’s Hospital volumes. Then satisfaction all round as the books fitted snuggly into their new homes. We discussed how the boxes protected the books from handling, dust and even flood water.

Checking to see if the measurements made in Session 2 are accurate, before wrapping the newly made boxes around the books.
Wrapping the books in their bespoke boxes. One of the St Lukes Hospital volumes has a diagram of the brain slipped into the pages.

We were having a tea break in the Huntley Room, when the fire alarm sounded. It was not a drill, so we congregated outside for 25 minutes while the Fire Brigade checked the building.

London Fire Brigade in action -they checked the building and we were soon back in the Conservation Studio.

Back in the Conservation Studio, we moved on to the agents of deterioration, re-written in less technical language than used by professional conservators. At first the group looked a bit bored, maybe tired, maybe thinking they were going to get a lecture.

Agents of Deterioration. The others are bugs and pests; handling and accidents; theft and vandals; fire; water.

However, once we started chatting about bugs, pests, handling and fire the discussion livened up. People sat up in their chairs and started talking and looking. One person said, “do you really spend a whole day at a conference talking about pests, a whole day?” Somewhere between aghast and fascinated.

Fire has changed the chemistry of these parchment pages. One of the Agents of Deterioration.

It’s easy for those of us who work in archives and museums to forget how unfamiliar it is to be behind the scenes for most people.

As a conservator and collections care manager this project is taking me out of my comfort zone, but I am enjoying it. The sessions tend not go to exactly to plan and we have to be flexible – rather like jazz; structured improvisation. And I hope that as the weeks go by the experiences and nascent research emerging from the project will be the beginning of many more C4W workshops.

Helen Lindsay, ACR

Helen is a Collections Care professional and Paper Conservator, who is coordinating Conservation For Wellbeing.