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.

Hitchin archives

Hitchin archives

North Herts Museum Service has just been awarded £700 by the East of England Regional Archive Council (EERAC) to improve access and storage of our vast archive collection.

You may not know it, but Hitchin Museum has a store full to the rafters with documents, photographs and maps. These have been used by hundreds of researchers over the years, as well as museum staff when creating exhibitions.

The chairman for EERAC was very impressed by the quality of documents we hold when he visited recently. The archives contains a whole array of photographs and postcards from the whole district, as well as poems, personal accounts and diaries of people who have lived in North Herts over the years. Some of the manuscripts date back to the 17th century and contain wax seals and are pretty hard to decipher for the untrained eye.

The grant money EERAC have kindly awarded us will go towards funding new storage files for the documents, these will be archival quality and will help to protect the items for much longer. So we are now starting an archive project, where volunteers from the Hitchin Historical Society will assist staff in repacking the archives and making sure documentation is up to date, so everything will be much more readily available and accessible when they are moved to the new museum for 2015. Here, alongside digital records of the museum collections, they will form part of the new study area where visitors will be able to come and find out more about how people have lived in North Herts.


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