It’s fair to say that many of the visitors to Nostell Priory have a preconceived idea that when visiting National Trust properties, they might be confronted with signs like this:
and signs like this:
There are many good reasons for such labels being present in rooms inside Nostell. For example, if every one of our 120,000 visitors touch the eighteenth century wallpaper in a room, or sit on an antique chair, those objects will not be around much longer for visitors to see and admire in the future due to damage, wear and tear, or even possibly theft.
However, we know that being able to touch things and sit on furniture really brings the property to life for our visitors, and we are doing what we can to share our property in a tactile way with visitors We have a sofa and some armchairs in the North Bedrooms which visitors can sit on, visitors can play the piano in the Top Hall, and we have recently acquired three conservation frames which we can confidently say to our visitors…
These frames are handling frames which show the effect of touching different types of material. Each frame contains two pieces of the same material (we have gilt wood, oyster-coloured silk and crimson flock wallpaper). One piece is covered up with perspex and can’t be touched, and the other piece is exposed and visitors are invited to have a good feel and touch of the material. Over time, the silk will become tatters, the flock wallpaper will disintegrate and the gilt will wear off. The frames are really good at demonstrating the damaging effects associated with abrasion, dirt, acidic skin/moisture/grease, and general wear and tear. It will be interesting to see how long it will take for the condition of the exposed material on the conservation frames to become very poor – we have been told that it may happen alarmingly quickly!
The frames are in the Breakfast Room for visitors (and staff and volunteers!) to handle. As all of the frames are together on a table, the visual impact of wear and tear on different materials through handling is much greater than if the frames were placed here and there throughout the mansion. Similarly, because visitors are able to handle the conservation frames almost at the start of their route around the state rooms, they will appreciate what would happen to the rest of the objects in the collection if they were able to be touched freely.
Come along and a have a go and contributing to the wear and tear of the conservation frames yourself – this is one of the occasions where instead of saying ‘please do not touch’ we really can say ‘please touch!’