Diaries, Drawings and Dried Plants

Caring for a diverse collection

Rachel Arnold – Project Officer

 

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A snapshot of the variety of the Warner collection

The first time that I opened the box containing Stephen Warner’s First World War diaries I was amazed at the variety of material housed within.

This collection was compiled by Warner between 1914 and 1918, and added to by subsequent generations. It contains hand-written diaries with pressed flowers and plants, newspaper cuttings, photographs and medals. The contents are very well preserved, wrapped in layers of tissue paper inside an archival box but their storage could be vastly improved to stop conservation issues developing in the future.

Thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery we now have money needed to achieve these improvements.

Why do we want to keep them?

The varied war collection once belonged to Stephen Warner, whose relatives lived in Hoddesdon, and it documents his unique war experience.

A first glance at the diaries and their physical properties already tells us several things about Stephen’s experience. For example: pencil was used more often than ink, implying that ink was more difficult to come by. Flowers were pressed within the pages; showing us that, despite the ongoing war, men in service continued with their hobbies and interests. Especially in these centenary years of the commemoration of the First World War it is important to ensure that this collection survives well into the future for generations to learn from and enjoy.

What are the problems?

Historical objects react in different ways with their environment and with other materials that they come in contact with. This often makes it difficult to choose the correct environmental conditions to preserve collections in storage.

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One page of pressed plants in volume 2 of Stephen Warner’s diaries. Note the yellowing of the adjacent page.

The diaries, which also act as herbaria (pressed plant collection), consist of paper and organic materials and prefer a relatively high humidity level. This prevents drying out, shrinkage and cracking.

 

The plants in the diaries have caused yellowing of several neighbouring pages which is likely to have been caused by acid degradation on the paper from seepage of residual organic material from the flowers.

 

 

 

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An example of the negative corrosive affects that a poor environment can have on the surface of coins. This is the damage that could be done if Stephen’s war medals are mistreated.

Medals benefit from low humidity levels to prevent damp and subsequent corrosion or chemical reactions. The metal of medals can also react to their environment and even the oxygen in air can cause the surface of the medal to change and corrode.

 

 

 

 

Photographs also prefer lower humidity levels and can react with their environment – resulting in spotting, loss of colour or fading (depending on the production quality of the photograph).

 

Already, you can see that we have conflicting environmental needs in this small collection of objects. Although it is normal practise at museums to separate materials in storage we would like to keep all of this material together at least for the duration of the project and the exhibition. This will avoid disassociation of any items and make them easily accessible.

The solution

Each diary’s pages will be interspersed with the finest grade Japanese paper (very thin and chemically stable) beside each pressed plant to prevent further acid degradation on neighbouring pages and subsequent yellowing. They will be placed in specially made conservation grade archival boxes that open to allow easy access to the diaries.

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Upgraded storage of some of the photographs in the Warner collection. They are now inside their own plastic sleeve allowing easy visual access, increased structural stability and protection from fingerprints.

Photographs will be placed in specially made chemically inert plastic sleeves that prevent them from touching other objects and make sure they are still visible. This has the added benefit of making them structurally stronger with a robust casing.

Medals will be put in conservation grade plastic boxes which are airtight. This keeps their environment chemically stable from the other pollutants in the box that might come from the organic material. We can also put silica gel packets in the boxes which absorb moisture and help to reduce the humidity.

 

The above is a simplified description of the environmental and conservation problems encountered. For more information on the topic, please consult the following online resources:

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The British Library

The British Museum

Preservation Equipment Ltd.

 

 

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“I have had a proud day…I have been awarded the Military Cross!”

On February 28, 100 years ago, Stephen Warner was decorated for his brave actions on the Front Line.

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For the centenary of the First World War Lowewood Museum is celebrating the life of Stephen Warner. Stephen was one of many unsung heroes of the war. Before fighting on the front line he spent over a year with the Royal Army Medical Corps and attended surgical operations as a theatre orderly, saving the lives of hundreds of men. He was an inspirational leader and much loved Second Lieutenant of A company, 9th Battalion, Essex Regiment, based I Arras, France. He won the Military Cross for organising successful raids on enemy trenches, taking prisoners and capturing a machine gun. This February it will be one hundred years since he won this prestigious award.

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Handwritten note from the Adjutant awarding Stephen Warner the Military Cross. The note dates from 18/2/1918.

 

 

 

Tuesday 5 February 1918 – “The raid is done! The raid is a huge success! Thanks be!… Congratulations have been showered upon me and the Brigadier has interviewed me…and expressed his satisfaction.”

 

 

 

 

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The Military Cross awarded to Stephen Warner. The reverse of this medal has Stephen’s name and regiment number inscribed

 

 

The Military Cross (MC) is a British military decoration that, at the time, was only bettered by the Victoria Cross and the Conspicuous Service Cross. It was introduced during the First World War and awarded to officers for “gallantry in the field.” Thousands of them were given out during the First World War and it, along with the standard issue service medals, was essential in recognising the immense efforts of British soldiers and volunteers in the war.

Stephen Warner assisted with a raid in January 1918 and led some of his own in February 1918 while based in Arras. Looking at the surviving documentation Stephen was given orders relating to the time, date and location of the task but it was up to him, as a patrol leader to decide who to take and how to carry out the task. On the 5th February Stephen and his patrol of 3 men crawled across ‘No-Man’s-Land’ in the dead of night. The conditions were muddy and treacherous while the men had to cut defensive barbed wire but they succeeded and leapt into the German Trench. Remarkably they managed to take two German soldiers as prisoners, capture a machine gun and get back behind their own lines with no casualties – except for ‘a couple of scratches’. For this effort and other successes he was awarded the MC.

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German soldier’s cutting wire in unknown location on ‘No-Man’s-Land’. Stephen and his patrol would have had a similar, uncomfortable experience while cutting the enemy wire. Source: The Daily Herald.

February 28 1918 “I have had a proud day. A letter has just come from the adjutant telling me that I have been awarded the military cross! I do not feel that I did anything very wonderful, but I suppose the standard to gain the award is lower than it used to be.”

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Mud-filled shell holes across ‘No-Man’s-Land’. This section of the battlefield is in Verdun, 1917 after the major battle there. Looking at this image it is possible to imagine the horrible conditions faced while crawling across the fields at night-time to attack the enemy trenches. Source: The Daily Herald.

It is testament to Stephen’s character that he is so modest when he receives the award, commenting that he thinks the ‘standard to gain the award is lower than it used to be’. He also talks in diary entries about how satisfying it is to finally do something he feels contributes to the war effort in an immediately gratifying way.

 

 

At Lowewood Museum we are delighted to have Stephen’s diaries, letters and other documents that record his unique experience. We are using these to create an exhibition which is due to open on 19 May 2018.

Would you like to help shape the future work of Lowewood Museum?

 

As part of the ground-breaking ‘No Borders’ museum resilience project, Lowewood Museum is looking for local residents to take part in two museum focus groups this summer. The aim of these groups is to involve the community in ensuring the work of the museum is accessible and relevant to all, and to help us engage with audiences who are currently under-represented at the museum.

The No Borders project

‘No Borders’ is a partnership project between Lowewood Museum and two Essex museums – Epping Forest District Museum and Chelmsford Museum. Supported by funding from Arts Council England, this project aims to support the three museums to develop sustainable, inspiring services for the future. Attracting new and more diverse audiences and increasing accessibility for all is an important part of this work. Improvements will be made to various visitor services including a redesign of the gift shop, the introduction of a pop-up café and better accessibility for disabled visitors. It is also planned for the museums to establish new, charitable Development Foundations to undertake fundraising in support of the work of the museums.

The Focus Groups

 

Access focus group: This focus group will look at issues surrounding access to the museum’s services, including physical, sensory and intellectual access. Please get in touch if you are a resident of Broxbourne living with health or impairment related issues or represent or work with residents with additional access needs and would like to help us improve access for all.

BAME focus group: The second focus group is looking to bring together Broxbourne residents who define themselves as being of Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic in background. This focus group will help the museum ensure its future exhibition and events programming and its collection of objects reflects the diversity of local residents.

Both focus groups will take place at Lowewood Museum and will each last two hours. Each focus group will be limited to 10 people. Before the meeting, participants will be sent the current museum events programme and pre-visit information to review. This should not take more than 30 minutes. All participants will receive a £15 ‘Love2Shop’ voucher, which can be spent in thousands of high street stores, to thank them for their time.

To find out more or to register your interest in taking part in the focus groups please contact the museum by email on museum.leisure@broxbourne.gov.uk or call 01992 445596.

Please let us know whether you would like to attend the Access focus group, the BAME focus group or both, your preferred contact method and usual availability.