Sunday, 24 November 2013

Not all museums are from the same mould



The Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Image credit: Andreas Praefcke

Visiting one of our national institutions like the British Museum or the V&A brings home to you the big difference between them and little outfits like Fairlynch. It’s money of course. Volunteer-run museums such as Budleigh Salterton’s operate on a relative shoestring, frequently running at a loss because of the cost of maintenance both of the building and of the environmental conditions needed to conserve artefacts.



Amanita muscaria (fly agaric)   
Image credit: Michael Maggs 

Our damp English autumn is a time for fungi foragers, for mushrooms, for spectacular toadstools like this, and of course for mould. Yesterday I remembered too late that I’d left my smart new gardening gloves in the potting shed at the end of the summer. When I went to rescue  them they’d changed colour from yellow to soft powdery grey. It was a simple matter to brush off the mildew, taking care not to inhale the dust, for more than 100,000 types of mould exist and many of them are extremely harmful to humans.

Mould lives off any organic matter, including wood, leather, paper and textiles. It grows on organic materials when the relative humidity remains above 65% for any length of time. In a museum it’s particularly bad news because it can stain and disfigure artefacts and even penetrate the structure of an object.  The acceptable level of relative humidity varies between objects depending on the type of material. Ideally artefacts of the same group should be grouped together in the relative humidity band that best suits them, but this is not always possible.


Fairlynch is lucky enough to have its own expert in such matters in the person of volunteer Trevor Waddington OBE who joined the Museum as a Trustee earlier this year. A retired Royal Navy engineer officer, he ran an antique clocks conservation-restoration business in Wiltshire before moving to Budleigh Salterton in 2012. Conservation in museums is a complex issue, he says. “A satisfactory temperature for humans is not the same for exhibits.”

The newly installed dehumidifier in Fairlynch Museum's Exhibition Room is a Mitsubishi MJ E14EG E1. This particular model was chosen on the recommendation of  Helena Jaeschke, Conservation Development Officer at Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Above: The logo of the Skinners' Company Lady Neville Charity

Using dehumidifiers to prevent high relative humidity is one of the most important ways of preserving artefacts for future generations and Fairlynch now has three of these useful gadgets located in different parts of the Museum thanks to a grant of £950 from the Lady Neville Charity administered by the Skinners’ Company.

Based in the City of London, the Company is one of the ‘Great Twelve’ Livery Companies with a history going back some 700 years. It developed from the medieval trade guild of the furriers: members of the guild dressed and traded furs that were used for trimming and lining the garments of richer members of society. The Company has not been associated with the craft for many years and today administers its schools, almshouses, and charities that contribute mainly to educating the young and helping older people in need.  

The Skinners’ Company Lady Neville Charity was formally set up in 1978 following a bequest from Ralph Neville JP. Its aim is to provide grants that will make a clear and significant contribution to grassroots charitable organisations working in designated priority areas. These include Local Heritage projects which help local groups to conserve and restore their landmarks, landscape, traditions and culture.

So thanks to technology, to alert volunteers and to generous support from institutions like the Skinners’ Company Fairlynch Museum is making sure that its treasures will remain in good condition and be enjoyed by visitors for generations to come.

For more information about the Skinners' Company click on








1 comment:

  1. Thanks, very interesting. A problem we also have to cope with in a granite building a few streets from the ocean. Will share this with our board. Sarah from Sandy Bay Historical