Salisbury museum decants ahead of lottery funded restoration project

By Katrina Ffiske

The Salisbury Museum is undergoing a big change, Project Forward is a £5 million National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project which is updating and restoring the museum.

Lucy Bridal, chief operating officer, said: “This project is restoring the Grade I listed building, updating and improving the accessibility of our displays of Ceramics, the History of Salisbury and Natural History.”

Before the building could begin, all items in the galleries needed to be packed away, which is quite an undertaking – it has taken 20 volunteers and two members of staff six months.

To find out more I chatted with volunteer Ian Dixon: “Moving and packing away items in a museum is called Decant. All interested volunteers were offered Decant training during which we learnt how to take artefacts from displays and carefully pack them away for storage and how to record them for future use.

“About 20 volunteers were trained – I saw it as an exciting opportunity to be involved in and support a once in a generation project.

“Handling precious items was nerve wracking to begin with, it felt like a huge responsibility as some of them are unique. Decanting with John, my regular ‘buddy’ volunteer, was very helpful because we developed a careful routine and would check with each other that we were happy with the packaging and had completed all the records/labels appropriately.”

Once packed the boxes of artefacts are stored elsewhere on site for re-display, or transferred to the museum’s off-site storage facility. Other volunteers are trained to enter each artefact’s details onto a museum database for future reference. The whole system is meticulously designed to facilitate future access.

“It is quite nerve wracking dealing with rare items,” said Ian. “We were advised that breakages would happen and not to worry about it.

“Some artefacts are already incomplete or damaged and need special care. An example of that would be a medieval spur found in the original Salisbury drainage system which, although it appeared to be whole, comprised two pieces.

“The Decant was an exciting project to be involved in a unique and memorable opportunity for all those who were involved.”
Museum Decant
Not all of the objects will be redisplayed in the new galleries. “It will be an opportunity to showcase more of the museum’s collections that have not been seen before,” Lucy said. “Museums are very much icebergs when it comes to the vastness of our collections, only the tips are on display. Certain types of objects also need a ‘rest’ from display from a conservation point of view.”

Megan Berrisford and Elizabeth Turner oversaw the packing and were very pleased to complete the process before the deadline to hand over the emptied galleries to contractors.

“The Salisbury Museum volunteers have certainly been invaluable during this time,” Lucy said. “As a charity, we rely on support from all areas and the benefit we receive from those willing to give up their time and skills is one we could not do without.”

The renovation work has started at the museum, and the Wessex and temporary exhibition galleries remain open to visitors. The museum is aiming to be open fully by late spring 2024.

If you would like to volunteer at the museum, contact: Kate Stubbings:
01722 332 151

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