Crypt to Laboratory

By other museum staff on 13 Jun 2012

Following on from last week’s Conservation Introduction blog, Intern Jill Saunders explains how the iron coffin was transported from the crypt at St Bride’s to the laboratory here at the Museum. Find out more below…

Once our treatment proposal had been approved, the next task of the Conservation Department was to work out how to safely transport the coffin and its lid from the crypt at St Bride’s, Fleet Street to the laboratory at the Museum of London, London Wall. Due to the size and weight of the object, we also had to make sure that we could accommodate it, and think about the logistics of working on it over the coming weeks. The simplest strategy was to acquire boards which the two pieces of the object could be lifted onto. The object could be both transported upon and rest on these boards during conservation. As well as providing support, this would minimise movement, and hence risk to the object. We ordered a Cellite 2020 honeycomb board from an industrial supplier. Our Technicians cut the board in half so that we had a light but supportive surface for the coffin and for the lid. We chose the aluminium, not the epoxy coating, to ensure that the material would not interact with any solvents which might be used in our future treatments.
Fig. 1 Jon Readman and Jill Barnard prepare to carry the boards to St Bride’s.

Fig. 1 Jon Readman and Jill Barnard prepare to carry the boards to St Bride’s.

Fig. 2 A board is carefully navigated down the stairs into the crypt.

Fig. 2 A board is carefully navigated down the stairs into the crypt.

Street space around the church is limited and heavily restricted, meaning that the Museum’s transport van would not be able to hang around. We took the boards and other packing materials to the crypt the day before the planned pick-up to prepare the coffin and lid in advance. Manoeuvring the empty boards into the crypt allowed us to assess the dimensions of the building in relation to the object and plan our exit strategy.
Fig. 3 David Ramage and Julie Hawkes carefully manoeuvre the coffin.

Fig. 3 David Ramage and Julie Hawkes carefully manoeuvre the coffin.

Fig. 4 The loss to the internal base becomes clear and debris is collected.

Fig. 4 The loss to the internal base becomes clear and debris is collected.

Conservation Object Handlers, David (Ramage) and Julie (Hawkes), wore protective gloves to carefully lift the coffin onto the board, covered in plastic sheeting ready to wrap around the object. Once on the board, the extent of loss to the coffin base was revealed and we bagged and labelled the debris left behind. It was important to collect this material for a number of reasons:
• The loose material can still be considered ‘part of the object’ so preserving its association to the main body can be seen as protecting the object’s integrity.
• The material may contain valuable information about past environments of the object which may help explain the current condition and predict future changes; both crucial factors in deciding conservation treatment approaches.
• Fragments may provide information about what the coffin and its decorative areas are made from, again helping to guide conservation decisions.
• If the loose material can provide samples for different investigations e.g. materials science analyses, this would save the object from being directly sampled, which could be destructive.
• The material may contain human remains which would have to be properly recorded and stored, and could help identify the original owner
We protected the delicate edges of the coffin with Plastazote (a conservation grade foam) padding before wrapping up the plastic sheeting, holding it in place with tape. The coffin and lid were then ready for pick-up the following day.
Fig. 5 David Ramage carrying the wrapped coffin out through the chapel door.

Fig. 5 David Ramage carrying the wrapped coffin out through the chapel door.

Fig. 6 Julie Hawkes and David Ramage lifting the coffin into the van.

Fig. 6 Julie Hawkes and David Ramage lifting the coffin into the van.

Fig. 7 The coffin is safely secured within the vehicle.

Fig. 7 The coffin is safely secured within the vehicle.

The next morning the coffin and lid were carried out through an adjoining chapel room to reach a back door leading on the street before being carefully secured within the van using straps and special packing blankets. It was important to avoid movement during the journey, as this could damage the objects and dislodge delicate features. Once at the Museum the coffin was moved (on its board) onto a specially acquired load bearing trolley, which Jon and I would be able to raise and lower to provide optimum access to the object during treatment.
Fig. 8 The wrapped coffin is wheeled to the laboratory.

Fig. 8 The wrapped coffin is wheeled to the laboratory.

Fig. 9 Unwrapped for initial observations.

Fig. 9 Unwrapped for initial observations.

Watch this space for the next entry covering the investigation of loose bagged material and initial coffin assessment: Initial Investigations.

2 thoughts on “Crypt to Laboratory

  1. Charlotte Cobb says:

    Hi, how old is this coffin?

    1. Bilkis Mosoddik says:

      Hi Charlotte, the iron coffin dates back to the early nineteenth century. We know that the burial took place in February 1819.

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