Visit to Chilcomb House

Wednesday 1 May 2019

The head office and storage facilities for the Hampshire Cultural Trust, which has the responsibility for the conservation of many collections of historical artifacts in Hampshire is at Chilcomb House on the outskirts of Winchester, originally a farm but now full of the physical reminders of Hampshire’s rich and colourful past.

10 of us started with tea and coffee in the boardroom where our guide – Ross Turle, gave us a brief talk on the origins of the Cultural Trust, describing its aims and work with museums and exhibitions across the County and its role in the preservation and conservation of the many articles donated to the Trust, both in the past and as an ongoing exercise. These cover the whole spectrum of life from tractors to parasols to collections of insects and taxidermy.

Ross firstly took us to a storage shed full of the results of the archaeological excavations that have taken place across the county with flint tools from the stone age to roman pottery, all meticulously boxed and labelled; then onto the collection of animal and bird taxidermy, most of which we found quite repellent, but of course very popular in Victorian times and now much used by  students, both to draw and to study, which is not possible in the wild.  There are also many collections of birds eggs, butterflies and all kinds of insects, housed in beautiful cases, now an unacceptable practise but admired in Victorian times and invaluable for study. Then to apparel ranging from the most exquisite silk ball gowns to a shepherd’s smock, which is just as important, and all the accessories, who knew there were so many variations in parasol and umbrella handles or walking canes?

By now we were overloaded with the scale and range of the collections, so Ross took us into the first of the conservation rooms where a conservator, aided by two students, were cleaning  tiles and pots, possibly medieval and into the next room where the conservator was about to start making repairs on a 2nd.ww flying suit complete with the trousers, which apparently is very unusual.  She explained how conservation has to draw a fine line between preserving an object so as to store and display it, and altering it by, perhaps, cleaning so that its age and provenance is compromised.  For me, the highlight of this area was a perfect child’s Silver Cross twin pram from the 1950’s, memories of my childhood and how desperately I wanted one! Then to social history, and there, perhaps more than any of the other areas were the cries of ‘I remember that’ or ‘We had one of those’ as we looked at the televisions, radios, vacuum cleaners, toasters etc. from our youth and beyond!

The afternoon was completed by a visit to the barn where the tractors, delivery lorries, milk floats, fire engines and cars are stored.  Here, volunteers keep motors running and bodywork from deteriorating so that they can be used at historical weekend rallies or most particularly at the Milestones Museum, where large scale displays of life in different eras of the rich history of Hampshire’s past are displayed.

The afternoon ended with refreshments in the boardroom again and although we were small in number, we felt this had been advantageous because of the narrow corridors and small spaces available to view this vast and fascinating collection.