Packing up the Geology Room
Over the last few months I have been volunteering at Chelmsford Museum as part of their lottery funded redevelopment, which will result in a host of modern interactive displays celebrating the history of Chelmsford and a new café. Having completed my degree at the University of East Anglia in 2016, I found myself between jobs this January and heard that the Museum was looking for volunteers. With a keen interest in both history and natural science, I naturally wanted to be part of the exciting new project.
Due to the interior renovation work which is being carried out to house the new displays and café, most of the rooms in the old Victorian building needed packing up and placing safely into storage. I have been helping to prepare the museum ready for the renovation, boxing up all of the contents of the Geology Room which is set to become the kitchen for the new café. The Geology Room itself opened in the 1970’s and housed an array of rocks and fossils, many of which found locally, explaining the geological history of Essex over the last ~500 million years.
More rock than Reading Festival! The Geology Room had to be packed up and carefully stored in the correct conditions for preservation. (Photo taken July 2016).
It is important that all of the fossils are packed up to a required standard and it was my job to ensure that this was the case. Each item had to be recorded on the museum’s database and wrapped up in either bubble wrap or tissue paper to stop them from being damaged. In order to preserve the collection for as long as possible, everything the fossils are packed in, has to be certified as low acidity, including the boxes; the humidity is also controlled to create the perfect environment. The Museum’s geological collection is really diverse and it has been fascinating handling and learning about some really quite rare specimens, such as a selection of uncoiled ammonites (which I never even knew existed) and a series of locally found fossils brought down by glaciation during the last Ice Age. From my point of view, it’ll be sad to see many of these specimens going into storage and making way for newer displays, as I think many of them tell us so much about the history of Chelmsford before the first humans settled here.
I was also packing up the contents of the drawers underneath the displays where additional collections were kept, many of them contained more fossils, however, some contained an assortment of modern exotic sea shells which I have been told have a rather fascinating story behind them. In the 1930’s, shortly after the museum’s collections were relocated to Oaklands House, it is said that the curator of the museum disappeared for an extended period and that very few people knew of his whereabouts. During this mysterious disappearance, he partook in a voyage across the globe and brought back a vast assortment of tropical seashells which are now part of the natural science collection.
Shell shocked! It was quite a surprise to find so many modern exotic shells also stashed inside the large Victorian drawers in the Geology Room. (Photo taken March 2018).
Overall, I have had a really positive experience volunteering here at Chelmsford museum, the staff have been really friendly as well as incredibly helpful. I am now part of the Museum run group ‘Chelmsford Creatives’ where I am working with likeminded young people to shape the future of the Museum and its collections.
- David 03/05/2018