Turn and Face the Change: Conservation in the 21st Century


Icon Conference 2016: Turn and Face the Change: Conservation in the 21st Century takes place from 15-17 June 2016 in Conference Aston, Birmingham.

Icon’s forthcoming third triennial conference will discuss challenges facing conservation and explore the ways in which the heritage sector is adapting to current and future trends. This high-profile event is the UK’s only conference that engages with the full spectrum of cultural heritage conservation for the next three years.

Icon16 will bring together attendees from across the industry to examine how conservation is placed in the 21st century in a series of plenary and specialist group sessions. The conference will showcase the very latest in international professional practice and approach. Join us to share the best practice and research that are essential to the future of the UK’s heritage.

If you are attending please come and say hello.

Armour Systems+Museum Workshop in Montreal

Canadian Association for Conservation


We are getting ready for our trip to Montreal, for Emergency! Preparing for Disasters and Confronting the Unexpected in Conservation. The meeting will be held from Friday, May 13 through Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at the Palais des Congrès in Montreal, Canada.

Conservation By Design, with Cheryl Porter, are presenting a poster ‘Response to the burning of the Scientific Library in Cairo, Egypt’, showing the use of vacuum drying in times of disaster.  Caroline Checkley-Scott, Business Development Director at Armour Systems+Museum Workshop will be at Poster Stand no.11. If you are at the conference please pop along and say hello. We will be there for a designated slot on Monday 16th from 3.30-4.00pm.

New showcases for Walsall Leather Museum, the last museum in the Borough

Armour cases 1

Catherine Lister, Collections Officer at Walsall Museum Service says

‘Walsall Leather Museum has been telling the story of the town’s historic leather trade for the past 30 years.   As the sole remaining museum in the Borough, the Leather Museum has never been more important to our local history and identity as it is right now.

Our visitors have always been incredibly supportive.  Donations from the public and support from the Worshipful Company of Saddlers all added up and we realised we had enough saved to make some improvements to the 30-year-old displays.  Cases that were cumbersome to operate, requiring two or more strong members of staff to open, were restricting our ability to put on new displays and weren’t secure enough to meet loan requirements for objects from other museums.  There was also the risk of injury each time we opened them.  We decided to invest in two new, large showcases.

Our requirements were that the cases must be freestanding and flexible, in a style that would blend in with the older furniture.   The cases were to be placed in our Trade Display gallery, in which the exhibits are constantly changing.  They had to fit into a specific space and be able to display items ranging in size from costume mannequins to purses.


We looked at five showcase providers and decided to work with Armour Systems because of the high quality of the product and the style options.  Another important factor was the cost – we had a specific budget, and Armour were able to work within this.

didn’t overwhelm us with details – they suggested that the best fit for our requirements was the Nova frameless system with suspended shelving, so that we could utilise the whole interior for mannequins or add in shelving as required for smaller objects.  The frameless style also meant that, although large, the cases wouldn’t dominate the small room, meaning the focus would be on the contents.  Top and bottom plinths, powder coated black, would tie them in with the existing furniture.  The design team dealt with a last minute size adjustment we threw at them without missing a beat, and the cases were delivered on schedule.

The technicians that came to fit the cases had to deal with working in a public space which was the only route for wheelchair users, and were perfectly flexible in working around this.  They also had to deal with the unfortunate breakage in transit of a glass panel from one of the cases.  They apologised, and had reordered the piece before they’d even finished unloading in order to rush the replacement along.  They continued with the installation of one case with the other following two weeks later.

The first exhibition to benefit from the new showcases is “Walsall at War”, commemorating the 100th anniversary of a devastating air raid on Walsall.  This will be followed by a short display of artworks from adult learners, before a large exhibition of costume in July.  Now that we have secure, LED-lit cases, we are already planning to request loans from other institutions in the future’

Thanks Catherine.

A less legal case for Middle Temple Library

technical drawing of the case

The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known simply as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers, the others being the Inner Temple, Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn.

the approach to Middle Temple Library
The approach to Middle Temple Library

It is located in the wider Temple area of London, near the Royal Courts of Justice, and within the City of London. In the 14th century, the Inns of Court originated for the accommodation and education of lawyers. The Middle Temple is the western part of “The Temple”, the headquarters of the Knights Templar until they were dissolved in 1312. The Temple Church still stands as a “peculiar” (extra-diocesan) church of the Inner and Middle Temples.

The Inns stopped being responsible for legal education in 1852, although they continue to provide training in areas such as advocacy and ethics for students, pupil barristers and newly qualified barristers. Most of the Inn is occupied by barristers’ offices, known as chambers. One of the Middle Temple’s main functions now is to provide education and support for students and new members to the profession.

technical drawing of the case
We were pleased to provide a plinth top conservation showcase for Siobhan and the team at Middle Temple Library. Siobhan wanted a case that could be as flexible as possible. Balancing security, flexibility, conservation and aesthetics is often at the heart of the discussion between Armour Systems and our clients. This case is available as a lift off, hinged canopy or can be provided on actuators. *An actuator is a type of motor that is responsible for moving or controlling a mechanism or system.
This one is hinged.
The standard features include polyester powder coated to any RAL colour reference. RAL is a colour matching system used in Europe. In colloquial speech RAL refers to the RAL Classic system, mainly used for varnish and powder coating but nowadays there are reference panels for plastics as well.
Laminated glass, abloy locks and interior dress panels, are included. The internals are covered to the clients specification in either paint or fabric. Optional extras include lighting in either LED or Fibre Optic.
We look forward to seeing what Siobhan puts in the case?


Shackleton and Hurley-a case in point

Giacomo Maracchioni/Sarner copyright

We are delighted to have worked with Giacomo Maracchioni, Designer at Sarner on an exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society in London-

Enduring Eye: The Antartic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley.

Our discussions began around a red, white and blue silk Union Flag, with rope attached at one side. King George V recorded in his diary that he presented this flag to Shackleton just before the departure of the Imperial Transantarctic Expedition: ’Recevd Sir Ernest Shackleton & took leave of him, he starts at once for his Antartic [sic] Expedition, I gave him a union jack’. It was flown at various important points during the Endurance expedition, as a spur to morale. It was given back to the King on Shackleton’s return from the south, 30 May 1917. An accompanying letter detailed the journeyings of the flag during the expedition and after its return to civilisation; it featured in many World War I recruitment rallies in Australia, before being returned to Britain.

during installation of the flag
During installation of the flag

The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) is the UK’s learned society and professional body for geography, founded 1830. World leaders in advancing geography and supporting its practioners in the UK and across the world. The exhibition aims to honour the achievements of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the men of the Endurance Expedition of 1914-1917, with newly digitised images will revealing previously unseen details of the crew’s epic struggle for survival both before and after their ship was destroyed.

As one of the first truly modern documentary photographers and film-makers, Australian born Hurley hoped to have his images seen at as large scale size as possible. 100 years later, this intention is honoured with giant dimension prints, some over 2 metres in width and height, at the heart of the exhibition.

In addition to the newly digitised images, and this is our work, the exhibition includes a number of ‘precious survivors’ – personal artefacts that were carried through every stage of the successive journeys for survival from the Weddell Sea to Elephant Island and onto South Georgia. These include the Bible from the Society’s collections, originally presented to Shackleton by Queen Alexandra on visiting the Endurance on 16 July 1914 and inscribed by her and the flag mentioned above.

The specialist case for this installation is a hinged NOVA case, i.e. with a hinged door. This allowed for full access during the installation of the large and fragile flag. 11.5mm glass and fibre optic lighting were provided to meet the requirements of the Royal Collection, lending the objects to this exhibition.

Giacomo Maracchioni/Sarner copyright
Giacomo Maracchioni/Sarner copyright

The Enduring Eye exhibition opened to the public on Saturday 21 November, exactly 100 years to the day that the crushed Endurance sank beneath the sea ice of the Weddell Sea, and run until 28 February 2016.


The Captain’s case

The Blue Room by Ray Whitehouse
The Blue Room by Ray Whitehouse
The Blue Room at Rainham Hall                   Rainham Hall NT/Ray Whitehouse 2015


Rainham Hall is a beautiful 18th-century house improbably set in three acres of orchard among the industrial estates and scrapyards of east London’s outer fringes. It opened to the public for the first time on 7 October 2015, almost 70 years after the National Trust acquired it. Before now, there were insufficient funds to open it fully to the public, so it was let for decades to a succession of tenants.

Rainham Hall
Rainham Hall

With no original contents, and a tangled ownership history, it could never have been pitched as a traditional cream tea summer outing spot. Instead, a more radical approach has been taken, restoring the building but keeping the interventions by generations of tenants – including a searingly blue rag-rolled bedroom from the 1980s, calamitously inspired by the Changing Rooms TV series.

We worked with Studio Weave to design a case to house collections that would be borrowed from the National Maritime Museum. The case had to meet very stringent security, environmental and ascetic standards.  Sally James Creative Programme Manager at Rainham Hall says ‘The display case is the centrepiece of the Blue Room, showcasing beautifully the type of objects that Captain John Harle (the builder of Rainham Hall) would have packed in a sea chest for long voyages’.

The Blue Room 2 by Ray Whitehouse
Rainham Hall NT/Ray Whitehouse 2015

The case is a auto VISON LIFT which means that the glass lid lifts automatically on actuators and allows for 100% access to the collections all around at the press of a button. *An actuator is a type of motor that is responsible for moving or controlling a mechanism or system.

The design of the cases externals were key to delivering the story of the exhibition, so that visitors could sit down at the case and fill in paperwork laid out as part of the exhibition. This external case work was also carried out by Armour Systems.

The case under construction in the factory at Milton Keynes
The case under construction in the factory at Milton Keynes

Rainham Hall is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays 10am-4.30pm until 20 December 2015, and the café and gardens are open Wednesdays to Sundays 10am-dusk.


Museum Ideas 2015

Showcase at St Pauls

I was in London at the Museum of London for the conference organised by Museum-iD. ‘Museum-ID is an independent think tank for museum and heritage professionals. Innovative ideas between professionals working in museums and heritage’

The Museum of London
The approach to the Museum of London

The Museum of London documents the history of London from prehistoric to modern times. The museum is located on London Wall, close to the Barbican Centre as part of the striking Barbican complex of buildings created in the 1960s and 1970s as an innovative approach to re-development within a bomb-damaged area of the City of London.

It is a few minutes’ walk north of St. Pauls Cathedral (another of our projects) overlooking the remains of the Roman city wall and on the edge of the oldest part of London, now its main financial district. It is primarily concerned with the social history of London and its inhabitants throughout time. The museum is jointly controlled and funded by the City of London Corporation and the Greater London Authority.

Showcase at St Pauls
Showcase at St Pauls

In March 2015, the Museum of London announced plans to move from its Barbican site to nearby Smithfield Market. The move, contingent upon raising an estimated £70 million, is planned to be complete by 2021.

The aim of the day was to look at some of the challenging issues facing the museum of today.

‘The good of being different in a time of sameness’-Mike Sarna, Director and Public Engagement, Royal Museums Greenwich had some interesting points which stuck with me. Can unique experiences be commercially viable? Are we lazy in falling into old ways?

Jean Franczyk, Deputy Director of the Science Museums ‘Cosmonauts: Birth of a Space Age’ talk highlighted the ‘can do’ attitude of her team in bringing in large scale, complex objects from Russia to put on display for the exhibition of the same name. The giant beach ball and the endless rolls of cling film proved interesting watching.

Having attended the V&A’s stunning Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition and met some of those involved in its execution at a meeting there, it was interesting to hear from Emmajane Avery, Director of Learning and Visitor experience on the needs of different audiences at different times of the day in big blockbusters like that. People turning up at 3.00pm when they had booked a 3.00am slot-never imagining that the museum would be open at that time, while others came from a night in a club! This is the world we live in today-the 24 hour museum. How does that affect how we display our objects? Their security?

I cannot remember who used this quote in their presentation but I wrote it down  ‘there is nothing so stable as change’ Bob Dylan

Here here!


In Dublin’s fair city…..

Kids at Sam Maguire trophy

Armour Systems are no strangers to the Emerald Isle. We were delighted to be chosen in 2010 to provide the display solution for The GAA Museum at Croke Park .

Fighting Irishmen - wallcases           Octagonal showcase June 10

Here you can see some children viewing ‘The Sam Maguire Cup’, often referred to as Sam or The Sam (Irish: Corn Sam Mhic Uidhir), is the name of the cup that is awarded to winners of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, the premier “knockout” competition in the game of Gaelic football played in Ireland. 

In the Gardens at The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland.
In the Gardens at The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland.

Being from Dublin myself I was delighted to present to a group of distinguished guests generously hosted by Jessica Baldwin, Head of Collections at the Chester Beatty Library on 28th September, including The Chester Beatty Library, National Library of Ireland, National Archives of Ireland and The National Gallery.

Alfred Chester Beatty was born in New York in 1875, the youngest of three sons. Although named Alfred after a distant relative, he disliked his forename and always signed his name A. Chester Beatty. Following his schooling in New York, Beatty graduated as a mining engineer from Columbia University and then he headed west, starting at the bottom shovelling rock in mines in Denver, Colorado. He worked hard and soon built up an international reputation as a mining engineer, establishing a highly successful mining consultancy in New York in 1908. A collector of minerals, Chinese snuff bottles and stamps since childhood, as an adult Beatty began to collect more widely, buying European and Persian manuscripts. His interests found a new direction when, in 1914, he and Edith visited Egypt and bought some decorated copies of the Qur’an in the bazaars. The dry climate suited Beatty and he bought a house near Cairo, where he was to spend many winters.A journey to Asia in 1917 added Japanese and Chinese paintings to his interests. His eye was drawn to richly illustrated material, fine bindings and beautiful calligraphy, but he was also deeply committed to preserving texts for their historic value. Chester Beatty made a significant contribution to supplies of strategic raw materials for the Allies during the Second World War, for which he was later knighted. In 1950, he decided to move to Ireland and built a library for his art collection on Shrewsbury Road which opened in 1954. In 1957 Chester Beatty became Ireland’s first honorary citizen. Upon Beatty’s death, the collection was bequeathed to a trust for the benefit of the public. His priceless collection lives on as a celebration of the spirit and generosity of Chester Beatty.

The aim of the session was to tell the audience about the recent goings on at Armour Systems + Museum Workshop. As a customer of showcases for over twenty years it was a pleasure for me to explain to the group what was possible in current case design along with some of our more innovative ideas.

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Our new ‘picture book’, along with the first outing of our new duel branding (as in the header of this blog) was hot off the printing press and our Dublin friends were the first to sample them. Following a useful question and answer session we headed to the delightful museum café for our lunch where we were also joined by Susie Biolotti from Trinity College Dublin.

Thanks for coming
Thanks for coming

A huge thanks to Jessica and the team for hosting the event. We hope to see you again soon.