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Pilgrim Trust Collections Care Audit – Herchel Museum of Astronomy
The Herschel Museum of Astronomy opened in 1981 and was taken over by Bath Preservation Trust in 2017. There is an administrator for the property and curatorial staff from Bath Preservation Trust are working on the redevelopment project. The museum is volunteer run in terms of visitor services and daily presence.
The museum has a varied collection on display including scientific equipment, musical instruments, furniture, notebooks, works of art on paper and costume. Much of the current display is composed of items on loan, but the aim in the future is to reduce the precarious nature of this situation through agreement of long-term loans and new acquisitions to replace loans. We wish to improve display conditions reaching GIS levels, already attained for Science Museum and National Maritime Museum loans, in additional areas allowing more flexibility in display.
The Collections Care Audit was envisaged as the first stage in a larger project to re-present the museum. We already had concerns with the environmental conditions, in particular light and relative humidity. A review of the display conditions was required to facilitate a refresh of the displays and greater flexibility in the use of the space. There were concerns about the condition of the items on display and with some of the support materials previously utilised.
The audit has confirmed our original needs, as well as alerting us to other issues e.g. hazards in the collection and has identified specific priority projects for:
- Improving environmental conditions e.g. light conditions, and display and storage methods
- Implementing interventive conservation treatment
- Carrying out certain documentation procedures
- And, improving emergency procedures
The findings of this audit have allowed us to establish a sustainable 3-year conservation plan (2020-2023) to be used as part of our Conservation Management Framework and alongside the Herschel Museum Forward Plan (2020-2023). The above needs have been prioritised from high to low and funding allocated accordingly from our core budget to cover costs of work, or sought through external funding, Several of the areas for improvement will form part of a larger long-term desire to re-present the museum and exploring the feasibility of these areas has been added to the 3 year plan.
We particularly wish to prioritise one key area of need, that has concerned us the most since taking over the museum and highlighted in the audit – environmental conditions (light / UV levels). But given the anticipated scale of the project needed to address these conditions, including the need to commission and install bespoke equipment, implement new procedures and a training programme, this will require external funding. We’ll be applying for an AIM Collections Care Grant Scheme for this work.
The audit achieved our expectations by highlighting our existing areas of concern, and the audit’s recommendations provided us with a clear action plan and the confidence to progress forward. The audit also revealed previously unknown areas of risk, namely the existence of mercury in areas of our collection, e.g. a barometer, and recommended we acquire a spill kit following a risk assessment. This is something that is in immediate action in our Conservation Plan and will be covered by our core budget.
Amy Frost, Senior Curator
Herschel Museum of Astronomy