Behind the Scenes

31st July 2015

Eloïse Lovejoy spent four weeks at the National Horseracing Museum and soon found out just how much there is ........

For the last four weeks I have been working behind the scenes at the National Horseracing Museum. I’m a conservation student from Cardiff University going into my third and final year and to be honest, at the beginning of this placement I was questioning whether becoming a Conservator was something I wanted to do. For those who are unaware, a Conservator is someone responsible for the ‘care, repair, and protection of cultural and heritage artefacts’. Well, in four short weeks, (and believe me, they have flown by) working at the National Horseracing Museum has reawakened my enjoyment of the subject and I’ve loved every second of it. I’ve had a chance to work in a real museum environment with some very interesting objects and some really great people.

So first up, the objects. During my time here I’ve managed to build on my skills as a conservator and work with a variety of new materials and techniques. My first project involved 16 model lead horses and jockeys that needed a good surface clean and some inpainting. While the colour matching was a little stressful at times (who knew there were so many shades of brown?), I felt this was a great place to start. Not knowing much about horseracing before arriving in Newmarket, I found it really interesting that the amount of detail on the models made it possible to identify the owners’ colours and work out who the jockeys would have been riding for.

Now my second project is perhaps the one I’m most proud of. I was tasked with conserving an 18-piece ‘Racing Game’. While the majority of the pieces just needed a surface clean, it was the box that held the playing pieces for the game that needed the most work. It was a well-used wooden box, covered in textile with the lid being held on by only two small sections of fabric. To support the hinge, I colour matched, painted and adhered a heavy grade tissue paper with starch paste before re-adhering any loose textile. With the lid firmly attached it was safe to say there was more than a little happy dancing done, and I may have annoyed my family with the amount of photos sent to them.

I couldn’t work at the National Horseracing Museum without working on a horse hoof that had been artistically turned into an inkwell. The novelty of working on this object soon wore off, and I can safely say that I am not a fan of silver dip. I have no idea how the NADFAS (National Association for the Decorative and Fine Arts Society) ladies manage to work with it every week. Hats off to them – they are far better than I could ever be.

Lastly, I worked on a Racing Plate from 1907. I actually had a bit of a ‘moment’ when working on this. I was sitting there examining it when I caught myself thinking ‘Oh, 1907, that’s not really that long ago’, when it hit me, actually – yes it is! That really brought it home for me how privileged I am to be working on objects that make up our history, something I could have only dreamed of when I was younger.

So what else have I done over the last four weeks? Well, I got a chance to meet the kids from the museum club (something I wish I could have done when I was at school) and see what they were up to. Their exhibition is now on display at the Museum – be sure to check it out next time you’re there! I also got the opportunity to create a display for the items found during renovation work at the Palace House site, another thing I am rather proud of. I have also worked with some of the volunteers at the museum on both the veterinary collection and care of collections. They are all really nice people and so much fun to work with, especially hearing all the interesting tales they have to tell – you learn new stuff every day! While I have been here, I also got a chance to go on a ‘Discover Newmarket’ tour of Clive Brittain’s stables and National Stud, which was an amazing experience. I’m going to have to work out how to fit my numerous photos of horses into my report for University. On Thursday 23rd July, I was lucky enough to attend a SHARE Spirits training day at the University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge. It was a brilliant day filled with starfish, squids, lizards and all sorts of weird and wacky things preserved in jars, and the conservation of specimens in spirits is definitely an avenue I’m now thinking of exploring further. Rounding off my time here, I got to help out at the Craft and Conservation workshop. Well, when I say ‘help out’, what I really mean is getting stuck in with clay frame making and practice colour matching and painting with the other kids. It was lots of fun and a great way to start off my last day.

Finally, I just want to take a moment to say thanks to everyone at the National Horseracing Museum who made my placement so special. All the people here are lovely, and they made me feel welcome immediately. Particular thanks to Juliane, who I’ve been following around like the stable hand to her trainer for the last month. It’s been brilliant getting to see how a proper conservator works and I have a much better idea what to expect (even if there does seem to be a lot of paperwork). Now I’m nearing the end of my four weeks I can honestly say, I don’t want to go.