May 2016

Hello, I am Steph and my role as casual assistant curator (that’s casual in terms of employment status not attitude) has been working with the curatorial team Stephen and Catherine to provide some extra support during this very busy time for the Museum and its collections. Whilst Catherine is at the beginning of her museum career I am definitely much nearer the other end in mine, though retirement seems to be eluding me for the time being! Not that all my working life has been in museums, I have spent a big part of it in the youth and community sectors. Following a postgraduate course part-time at the Ironbridge Institute, it allowed me to change careers and move into heritage management, including a short spell with the Science Museum before going freelance. My most recent project was the redevelopment of West Berkshire Museum in Newbury. After many years of policy and strategy work it’s good to be working at a practical level with objects again.

emptying display cases
display case

My first task at the BMM was working alongside Catherine to remove and pack the smaller artefacts on display ready for the museum refurbishment, which she described in her April blog. There was a quite a lot of crawling inside display cases and even more heaving boxes of objects around. I was especially pleased with the results of our efforts to move the 1930s garage representation from one side of the Museum to a new location nearer the entrance. We spent a lot of time carefully positioning items to give the impression of a small working garage. With Stephen’s guidance we were able to eliminate some ‘non-period’ items that had found their way onto the work bench or shelves. We hope visitors enjoy the results, complete with artificial engine oil aroma.

new garage

Now that the Museum has re-opened our current big project is to re-locate the collection store which houses smaller items not displayed in the Museum. These range in size from company seals to large car styling models. The present store of some 80 square metres is located in an area that will become kitchens when the café moves downstairs next to the museum gallery. Our challenge is to find space for everything in two rooms that between them total over 90 square metres but are a different shape. This would work very easily if we didn’t have to allow space for access doors to electrical services and a water supply inspection cover in the middle of one room. We made much use of tape measures, rough sketches and graph paper (and for the more computer literate Catherine a software package) to plan the best use of available space and where appropriate existing equipment. We are now very familiar with the range of storage cabinets and racking on the market.

The larger of the two rooms will be open to visitors to browse and have a glimpse behind the scenes of some of the stored collections. This space will be fitted out with glazed racking. Dense rows of vehicle components may not appeal to everyone, but many people do like to feel they have been invited into what is normally seen as the curator’s territory. Many of the objects though do have interest for the car enthusiast and some have an intrinsic beauty, such as the century-old brass headlamps. Although there won’t be details of everything in the store we will be interpreting a selection of objects so that visitors won’t be left guessing at the purpose of them.

The stores of course also have to work as just that, a facility to store reserve and research collections in a secure and appropriate environment. Curatorial staff also need to be able to get to objects safely which means careful planning of access routes not just for people but for the larger items in the artefacts collection and the equipment needed to move them.

We are making a start on packing the hundreds of objects ready to move from the old store to the new once the new facilities are in place. Although time consuming it is an opportunity to check the condition of the artefacts, inspect for any deterioration or insect pests, and review the material for any items that have been acquired in the past that do not come within the collecting policy. 


Once objects are in their new homes the Museum’s collection management system will be updated so that items can be found easily in the future, whether for use in displays, research or possible loan to other institutions.


It is a time consuming and in some ways disruptive exercise, but it does give us a chance to carry out a thorough audit of the smaller objects and review what we have in the collections. It’s also fascinating to have hands-on access to a wide range of British motoring heritage over a relatively short period of time.

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