The Conservation Container

One of the ambitions for the Ipswich Maritime Trust is to expand our Window Museum. We are still growing and building our collection of important maritime artefacts from Ipswich and Suffolk’s rich and interesting history. There are various milestones we must pass to get more Windows and we welcome your support with this.

In order to do this, we needed somewhere where we could safely store the collection. As well as our exhibition material and space to conduct important conservation work. Without a physical location and with insufficient resources to acquire a suitable and secure work-space and storage on the waterfront. We thought out of the box, and came up with a great idea. Let’s use metal boxes!

Ben and Colin taking delivery of the new container in 2016

Using two large converted shipping containers for our artefacts and Window Museum fittings was a stroke of genius. We are lucky to have them. The first was kindly donated by Associated British Ports (ABP). In 2016 after the need for expansion we purchased a container from Adaptainer here in Ipswich. With the kind permission of ABP we installed it in Ipswich.

Our new container has proved very useful in giving a space for our amazing volunteers to work on various large-scale models, and projects that are central to several of our recent exhibitions. In 2017 we finished fitting out the new container in which we also created a more controlled atmosphere. Which has a higher level of insulation to give us more control of the humidity and temperature, to better protect our collection. We also installed a solar powered fan system to add a degree of air movement. Instead of having a completely airtight storage system, installed by one of our fantastic volunteers Colin.

One container contains the artefacts that have been accessioned into our collection. Whilst the other has our large mounted photos, exhibition kit and equipment that help us put on our various displays. By having these two containers it has made our work a lot easier.

Conservation, within a small volunteer run charity like the Ipswich Maritime Trust, is a lot different to larger organisations like the National Maritime Museum. But we still follow professional guidelines on looking after our collection. As with many maritime related collections we have a lot of old wooden items that have spent many years both in the water and subsequently out of it. As such there are specific techniques and conditions which we try and follow while our items are stored.

You may have read about our Window Museum volunteer team in our recent blog post, the Window Wizards. The team includes several former sailors and bargemen. That worked with similar artefacts that we have in our collection, during their working lives. This makes the job of conserving wooden barge items, metal items, and rope much easier. With the worked the Wizards using cost effective, simple solutions where possible. Our vast collection of models and dioramas also need to be looked after by the team in a similar way.

An example of some of our recent conservation include, a bilge pump and other barge ironwork (seen below). Which was donated by a local Essex boat builder. Many relics from old local barges come into our collection. Which help us share the stories and the importance barges had to the story of Ipswich and East Anglia. As part of the conservation of these metal items, to keep them from further deterioration from rust and the ravages of years submerged in water, our team decided to cover them in boiled linseed oil. This preserves the current metal in state and prevents further rust. It also makes them look better for when on display. This process and these items are monitored throughout the year. As most of the time these items are in storage or on a 6-month stint on display.

A selection of barge ironwork that was donated to our collection, prior to conservation by the Window Wizards.

The varied weather over the last few years has provided many challenges to the conservation of the collection, but our amazing volunteer team have been making continued improvements to the controlled atmosphere inside the container to protect the ever-growing collection. Which they can also monitor remotely and act when and if necessary.  

We are always so pleased to receive more donations of items that relate to Ipswich’s maritime heritage, as we now have space to care for them properly. So please get in contact with us if you have anything you think would be best cared for in our collection. Equally if you are interested in doing some of this conservation work and becoming a volunteer with the Wizards, please do get in contact with us.

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