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'Spick and Span' at New Place

Visit Shakespeare's New Place to see what the Conservation Team are getting up to with their projects, and how certain conservation practices can enable you to better interact with precious objects than ever before.

Katie Morrison

‘Spick and Span’ is back at New Place!

Come and see the Conservation Team at work, and get a behind-the-scenes look at how SBT takes care of the many objects on display, as well as the houses themselves.

What is ‘Spick and Span’?

'Spick and Span' gives visitors the chance to see the Conservation Team at New Place in action, undertaking some of the work that for many heritage sites only takes place behind-the-scenes, after hours, or out of public view. Every month there will be a live demonstration, the opportunity to have your burning conservation questions answered, or to just have a bit of a chat with the Team.

Spick and Spade
Keep a look out for our Spick and Span sign.

This month we asked: Can I Sit On That? 

Ever wondered why some objects are only viewable through glass, whilst others sit out in the open? What 'deaccessioned' means? Why an object would become deaccessioned? What use are replicas; why not just have the real thing?

These are the questions we hoped to answer at the first Spick and Span of the year.

On the 15th of March, the Team undertook a deep clean of a 17th century chair, one that usually stands in the upper room of the New Place exhibition centre, next to the dressing up area. This particular chair, unlike many of the items you might see around the Shakespeare Houses, does not have a ‘please do not touch’ sign, and it doesn’t have a prickly teasel on top. In fact, it is topped with a cushion, to encourage visitors to take the weight off their feet, and sit down for a photo.

Conservation Chair New Place
The chair in the New Place Exhibition Centre.

The chair is ‘deaccessioned’, meaning that it has been removed from the SBT collection to serve a different purpose. In this case, so that people can get a little closer to a 400 year old piece of furniture than they usually can, to greater immerse themselves in the world Shakespeare would have known. An item might become deaccessioned for many reasons, and sometimes a deaccessioned item from one museum collection will become an accessioned part of another museum’s collection. 

Deaccessioned items are often found in handling and educational collections alongside replicas; modern copies of objects within a museum collection.

But why have replicas when we have the real thing?

Historic objects can sometimes be far too fragile to sit out in the air, and instead have to be kept in carefully climate controlled storage or display cases, that regulate humidity, temperature, and light levels. The collections items you see around the Shakespeare houses are carefully monitored for their exposure to these things, and are often rotated out of display to give them a rest from the atmosphere. Replica items both fill the gaps in collections when objects are resting, but also allow you to interact more directly with the past.

So how do we take care of the chair?

The Team used a mixture of denatured alcohol (methylated spirits), and white vinegar to remove built up dust and dirt from the surface of the chair. The alcohol evaporates in the air, meaning that no damaging moisture is added to the wood, and the vinegar is just harsh enough to melt through the grime. As you can see below, the mixture worked very well!

team setting up
The Team setting up.
grubby swabs
The grubby swabs at the end of the session.

Once the chair was cleaned, it was then covered with a layer of Renaissance Wax. This micro-crystalline wax will protect the chair for another year, and mean that visitors to New Place can continue to take the weight off their feet!

chair details
A closer look at the intricate details of the chair.

Next Month: April 12th 2-4pm, "What’s That Bug?"

Join the Conservation Team at Shakespeare's New Place as we talk about all things creepy-crawly, and discover what kinds of bugs can be found in both historic houses and in your own!