LAS Visit to Lancashire Conservation Centre 23 Sept 2017

We were greeted by Heather Davies who gave us a short introductory talk. Lancashire Conservation Centre is located in the redundant St.Mary’s church in Preston next door to the prison. The Lancashire County Museum Service was set up in 1973 at the time of local authority reorganisation to keep local collections safe. Prior to this time most of the history of Lancashire was kept in the metropolitan areas but now the emphasis was on preserving the history and objects from the current county of Lancashire. The first object acquired was a hayrake representative of the fact that 70% of Lancashire is agricultural.Most of the first objects collected were agriculturally related but subsequently they had buildings donated to them such as the Helmshore Textile mill. By 2000 there were 1.3 million objects in the museum service’s collection. In the late 1970s a first conservator was appointed and the second one was not appointed until the late 1990s. In 2000 Lancashire was divided into 5 regions and had their own conservators but then all staff were made redundant and  it was decided to to save specialist skills and employ them at a central location which was then located in the recently  redundant church St. Mary’s in Preston.IMG_20170923_121458.jpg

St. Mary’s was purchased by L.C.C. because it was only Grade 2 listed and it was stipulated by the Church of England that any future use had to have an educational purpose. It was therefore decided that it be turned into a conservation centre. It was planned that it would be so constructed that the public would have access and that it would be possible for them to view something of the work carried out.

Heather then gave us a short history of the church. It was designed by John Lathom and built  in 1836 who had originally been employed to do design work on the roof which is currently the mothballed Museum of Lancashire. It was a church commissioners’ church – for the improving of the moral wellbeing  of the local populace and was to serve over a 1000 people. When it was converted to the present use as many features as possible were retained and even highlighted e.g. stained glass windows. It is also a beautiful Italianate church which is unfortunately overlooked by many large utilitarian buildings thus encroaching on the vista. There were problems with the edifice and a few years after it’s erection it had to be buttressed to stop it’s possible collapse.

After this talk we were treated to a guided tour of the conservation centre and the work it does. The building itself as a sophisticated air filtration system to deal with the chemicals that are used and we were also shown the emergency shower in case of a chemical accident. The whole building is temperature controlled to preserve the objects being conserved. We were shown  how paintings are conserved and were talked through the procedures. We then went to the textile room which has Hylda Baker’s costume collection and also the Bourne sewing box which dates from the mid- 17thc., whose embroidery is extraordinarily bright and which also contains an acorn wrapped in silver thread which came from the Royal Oak at Boscobel where Charles II hid after the Battle of Worcester. We then moved on to the design room which contains a dress made in 1910 out of cigar papers and worn for roller skating which was a craze at the time. We were also shown how they decide how an exhibition should look. After this we went to the natural history section which is a growth area in conservation; being conserved was a marmoset , a chimpanzee and a koala. The last area we saw was the statuary and large objects conservation area which can be treated with lasers that sensitively clean these grimy objects and we saw a bust that was partially cleaned so we could see the difference.

The last object we saw had been created by one of the next door neighbours – artwork created by a prisoner. It was entitled The Magic Roundabout; emblematic of his journey in life from prison and eventually back to prison again.

Heather and Philip{the paintings conservator} who acted as the expert guides were always ready to answer any questions that we had and it was a most interesting , informative and enlightening morning.

Text by Jeanette Dobson

Photos by Bill Shannon

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