July 2017

Hello, my name is Mark and I'm a volunteer at the British Motor Museum. Having taken voluntary redundancy from the Controls division of Rolls-Royce Aero Engines in September 2015 after nearly 37 years as a Software Specialist, it wasn't many months before I felt at a bit of a loose end, both physically and mentally. I decided I needed to find something to inspire me where I could make a useful contribution.

After chance discussion with a friend and fellow Museum volunteer, I began to consider that the ideal place for a self-confessed classic car nut might be volunteering behind the scenes at a car museum and of course the British Motor Museum sprung to mind immediately.

 Fast forward a couple of months and a successful application later, in early 2016 I found myself standing in a room resembling a building site and being introduced to Curatorial Trainee Catherine. Cat explained that the two rooms were to be tidied and transformed into an “open store” for the visitors to examine items usually tucked away out of sight, and a “closed store” where artefacts which couldn't be displayed would be stored along with the paraphernalia required to look after the Museum's objects. At the time, the storage for all the items not on display was in the bowels of the Museum and some hadn't seen the light of day for twenty years or more and many had never been on public display at all.

I must admit that despite Cat’s natural enthusiasm it was difficult during those first few weeks at the Museum to imagine quite what the final result would be like but I needn't have worried; by the summer the open store had been transformed into 'Automobilia' which Stephen, the Curator, has described as “...a kind of cabinet (or cabinets) of curiosities, full of the huge variety of interesting motoring-related items that we can't display in the main part of the Museum.”

By all accounts between the four of us (we also had Steph - “Casual Assistant Curator” - in the team) we had moved over 3,000 objects - but for me it was the Lucas collection, items spanning the company's 100 plus years in business, originally lodged at the headquarters in Great King Street, that I found most fascinating. Before a variety of mergers, takeovers, a joint venture and eventual full purchase by Rolls-Royce, the Controls division I retired from had been Lucas Aerospace. I had been taken on as a student apprentice and sponsored through university to read electronic engineering, so you can imagine I felt a real affinity with the glittering arrays of brass lamps, brake calipers and even the Lucas ashtrays.

Whilst all this was going on, my two days per week at the Museum sometimes involved other projects and even some outings. One trip was to the RAF Cosford museum near Telford, for a training seminar ‘In amongst other things plastics and how to look after them in a museum setting’. It seemed to a curatorial layman like me that plastics pose one of the major problems in museums of more modern items since, not only do they degrade right from the point of manufacture but some decompose into either noxious or flammable substances – ancient history museums don't suffer from these annoyances.

A more recent project I have had a very small part to play in has been the 'Fifty Motoring Treasures' temporary exhibition on the mezzanine floor. This time to quote Catherine, “The exhibition, which opened in mid-May this year, highlights fifty interesting objects in the history of the motor car. Using lesser known objects and archival materials we are able to illustrate this from a new and different perspective – and not just rely on using vehicles.”

In the meantime work continues on sorting out the closed store and we're all glad to report that the physical shelf and cupboard building and the packing and moving of objects is all but over. All that's left now is to formally photograph and record in a database several thousand items – who says the job is nearly finished?

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