SEAHA Mobile Heritage Lab – Public Engagement at Hellens Manor

As part of British Science Week 2017 the National Heritage Science Forum is once again featuring blog posts from heritage scientists from across its member organisations. This year’s theme is ‘sharing heritage science’ – the blogs over the rest of the week will give an insight into the many different forms that heritage science can takes, as well as some of the different ways of getting involved.

Following on from yesterday’s post about events at the British Museum, Josep Grau-Bové blogs about a recent event at Hellens Manor…

State of the art scientific research met one of the oldest houses in the country on Saturday 11th March. The foundations of Hellens Manor in Herefordshire date from the 11th century, and it is often said to be one of the oldest dwellings in England. Its collections of paintings, textiles, furniture, armoury and household objects tell the story of the last five centuries.

Every year, SEAHA students spend a week in the house, using scientific research to support the conservation of the building and its collection. To celebrate the Science Week, which this year coincided with the annual field trip, SEAHA students displayed their research in action in the house, and visitors had the opportunity to see first-hand how science can be used in historic buildings.

The purpose of the activity was to demonstrate how scientific research can have very practical outcomes that support conservation. SEAHA students demonstrated three interactive experiments:

  • Firstly, visitors used thermal imaging to locate moisture on the walls of the building.
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Thermal imaging was used to analyse indoor microenvironments, but visitors also enjoyed taking some thermal portraits.
  • Secondly, they analysed insects and pests under the microscope, and learned about the basics of pest management.
  • Finally, they had the opportunity of using imaging techniques to explore underdrawings in a painting.
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A SEAHA student uses a modified camera to capture reflected IR from a mock-Fayum painting during one of the demonstrations.

Visitors also got a chance to see the SEAHA Mobile Lab, where students offered a general introduction to the main themes of Heritage Science.

The manor is well known in the county as the host of a diverse cultural programme. Through this activity, the usual visitors to Hellens Manor – local communities of Much Marcle, the surrounding area – could see a familiar collection under a totally different light. The familiarity of the visitors with the site led to very interesting conversations with students, which often helped them see their research from a different perspective.

SEAHA organises frequent Public Engagement activities on historic sites. For more information, follow us on Twitter @seahacdt and through our website.

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