Time capsules, finding the unexpected in buildings and objects – Part 3


Sculpture Conservation
March 2, 2018

The secrets in the Cast Courts

One of the joys of working in the Cast Courts at the V&A, is the opportunity to examine the casts up-close. Surprisingly many of them conceal peculiar items which have been hidden inside them for a very long time.

A knife left by a craftsman, found inside the apprentice's pillar on the cast of Rosslyn Chapel (REPRO.1871-59). Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
A knife left by a craftsman, found inside the apprentice’s pillar on the cast of Rosslyn Chapel (REPRO.1871-59). Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The items we find consist of, fragments of cleaning materials, notes, bits of litter, signatures with dates, and were left behind by our predecessors, who looked after the casts, in the past. Some of the discoveries we find, date back as far as the 1870’s when the galleries were first built, and others go back to the 1980’s, when the last renovation was done.

Package of Hudson's extract of soap, found inside one of the monumental casts in gallery 46 A. Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Package of Hudson’s extract of soap, found inside one of the monumental casts in gallery 46 A. Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Hudson's Soap advert.
Hudson’s Soap advert.

Hundreds of craftsmen, have over the years, put their stamp on the galleries by either refurbishing their interior, setting up fixtures, installing and dismantling the casts or cleaning them, like we do now.

H. Pearson and B. Savage cleaned the plaster effigy of Walter de Grey, Archbishop of York (REPRO.1858-271) in 1976. Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
H. Pearson and B. Savage cleaned the plaster effigy of Walter de Grey, Archbishop of York (REPRO.1858-271) in 1976. Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The signatures and dates are hidden on a number of casts, as well as the fabric of the building, including some of the cornices just below the glass roof. The names and dates are highly significant, as they give us a time line of who worked in the galleries and when, and what was done to each object.

Names and dates on the cast of Rosslyn Chapel. Image, J.Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Names and dates on the cast of Rosslyn Chapel. Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

We also come across crumbled-up newspapers which our forerunners tucked behind or inside objects. The newspapers inform us when the objects were worked on, and they also give us a fascinating insight into what types of newspapers the workmen read.

Daily Mirror dated July 19, 1957, discovered at the back of a plaster cast of the minstrel gallery from Exeter Cathedral (REPRO.1865-39). Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Daily Mirror dated July 19, 1957, discovered at the back of a plaster cast of the minstrel gallery from Exeter Cathedral (REPRO.1865-39). Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The items  we discover are often covered in dust, dirt and cobwebs, and newspapers particularly, can be extremely fragile to handle. They can easily disintegrate at a slightest touch.

Dusting old newspapers and crumbled up biscuit bags, found behind a plaster cast of the minstrel gallery from Exeter Cathedral (REPRO.1865-39). Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Dusting old newspapers and crumbled up biscuit bags, found behind a plaster cast of the minstrel gallery from Exeter Cathedral (REPRO.1865-39). Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
A natural sponge with a speck of gold leaf found behind the cast of the minstrel gallery from Exeter Cathedral (REPRO.1865-39). Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
A natural sponge with a speck of gold leaf found behind the cast of the minstrel gallery from Exeter Cathedral (REPRO.1865-39). Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

We also stumble upon discarded sandwich bags, sweet wrappers, cigarette packages, and cigarette butts which give us an insight into our predecessors eating and smoking habits.

A discarded sandwich bag found inside the cast of Rosslyn Chapel (Mus. No. REPRO.1871-59). Images, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
A discarded sandwich bag found inside the cast of Rosslyn Chapel (Mus. No. REPRO.1871-59). Images, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
An empty package of cigarettes found inside the cast of Rosslyn Chapel (Mus. No. REPRO.1871-59). Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
An empty package of cigarettes found inside the cast of Rosslyn Chapel (Mus. No. REPRO.1871-59). Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Copy of a plan of the Rosslyn Chapel found inside the cast. Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Copy of a plan of the Rosslyn Chapel found inside the cast. Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Other things we have found include old coins, maps and bits of paper, which tell us interesting things about the museum’s past.

A list of evening lectures, held at the V&A in 1971, found behind a cast of a 13th century stone arch. Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
A list of evening lectures, held at the V&A in 1971, found behind a cast of a 13th century stone arch. Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
An invitation to a farewell party, found inside a plaster cast of a 12th century font (Mus, No. REPRO.1863-26). Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
An invitation to a farewell party, found inside a plaster cast of a 12th century font (Mus, No. REPRO.1863-26). Image, J. Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
An old ticket. Image. J.Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
An old ticket. Image. J.Puisto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Finding a newspaper dating back to the Second World War or an empty bag of biscuits tell us about life in the museum during hard times, and gives us an insight into what it was like to work in the galleries during the blitz.

If you are curious to find out what else we have discovered, then tune in to the earlier posts:

Time capsules, finding the unexpected in buildings and objects. Part 1

Time capsules, finding the unexpected in buildings and objects. Part 2

 

About the author

Sculpture Conservation
March 2, 2018

I am a sculpture conservator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. I publish blogs about the objects I work on and stories about the different reproductions of Michelangelo's...

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This is very interesting articles, In this post it’s amazing pictures and idea. Thanks for sharing valuable information.

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