I have been working in the new museum recently and it is looking fantastic – and it will get even better when the objects for display start appearing in the cases!

Some of these will be recognised from previous displays in Hitchin Museum and Letchworth Museum and others will be on view for the first time.

There will also be many objects in store but we can look forward to seeing some of these in special exhibitions and displays.

From time to time I reflect on some of the items I have worked with(cleaning/photographing/packing) and which I hope to see amongst the wonderful displays we will be treated to!

shepherds smock

This smock was worn by a shepherd in Wallington (Hertfordshire) and each side (front and back) is the same.

Smocks were worn as protective outer garments and were made from rectangles and squares of fabric. Some of these pieces were smocked to give the garment its shape but the smocking was also decorative.

I can imagine the shepherd out in the fields, wearing this comfortable smock, which as well as covering his clothes also hopefully gave him some protection from the elements.


We often use specialist equipment in museums when caring for our collections, however, sometimes we find that everyday items can be put to use. Last week we were taught how a make-up sponge can be used to clean our feathered and furry collections.

Nicola Crompton, who trained in conservation at Lincoln University, came to show us how to smarten up our Natural History collection ready for display in the new museum.

nicola showing gill how to clean a dormouse

Nicola showing Gill how to clean a dormouse

We began by wiping down the feathers (or fur) of our chosen specimen with either a cosmetic sponge or a special piece of cloth called a ‘Dust Bunny’. These create static which causes the dust and dirt to stick to them. It was amazing how effective they were and lovely to see the bright colours on the birds reappear.

cleaning the feathers of a blackbird with a dust bunny

Cleaning the feathers of a blackbird with a Dust Bunny

Gill also tackled a hedgehog, its very sharp quills meant that a different technique had to be used. She used a small brush to brush the dust off and into a vacuum cleaner.  The end of the vacuum cleaner’s pipe is covered with a gauze (the gauze lets the small dust particles through but if any small piece of the object comes away during cleaning it is collected on the gauze and can then be kept and possibly reattached).

We then moved on to the eyes, beaks, feet and claws. We used a sticky substance called ‘Groomstick’ which is rolled into a small ball and stuck on the end of a cocktail stick. This can then be dabbed on to the eyes etc. and the dirt sticks to it. For eyes that were really dull we used a damp cotton wool swab and the eyes of all the animals were soon sparkling again.

using a damp cotton wool swab to clean the eyes of a tawny owl

Using a damp cotton wool swab to clean the eyes of a Tawny Owl

Finally, tweezers, pins and cotton wool swabs were used to very carefully tease feathers back into place where they had got twisted or misshapen and by the end of the day we had a table full of animals looking ready for their brand new display next year!

Many thanks to Nicola and our Natural History volunteer Bob Press for spending the day with us and sharing their expertise.

We have a huge variety of objects in our collection and I am constantly reminded of this as they come through for cleaning, photographing and packing.

This large Amphora, c 100BC and the earliest known found in Britain, was cleaned by brushing and vacuuming and then gently scrubbing with plain water and a toothbrush.amphora

The outside of the pot is smooth but the inside has lovely rings on it, which made me wonder whether it may have been made as a coil pot. On the outside there are some green patches where it would have been in contact with copper.inside neck of amphora

As I cleaned the Amphora I was struck by the smell of dust and soil – it was an old and earthy smell!

At the same time, in the gallery, we had this beautifully shaped 4th-1st century BC miniature flagon which was cleaned in the same way as for the Amphora and it struck me what a variety we have in the collection – this time in scale!

hellenistic pot

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