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An Aladdin’s cave in Store at Wrest Park

Visitors to Wrest Park in Bedfordshire are soon to get the opportunity to go beyond the grounds and discover an Aladdin's cave of wonder, as a warehouse containing over 153,000 historical artefacts, spanning over 2,000 years of England's history is opening its doors to the public from next month with special tours. 

Visitors will now have the opportunity to journey through history in one location discovering collections as varied as pre-historic antlers and Roman bridges to Victorian banisters and roof beams, as guided tours will take place on the first Monday of every month. English Heritage care for these unique finds - great and small - so that future generations can appreciate them. The tours will demonstrate how English Heritage meet the challenges of caring for these precious objects and how they tell us more about the amazing properties in our care.

The new English Heritage archaeological collections store contains a vast array of items ranging from the small; buckles, brooches and coins, to fireplaces, doors and even an enormous crane used for changing street light bulbs in Covent Garden.

Tour highlights you may see include a collection from Kirby Hall in Corby, containing items such as fragments of 17th-century painted window glass, which Sir Christopher Hatton designed to impress Queen Elizabeth I; glass seals from wine bottles; clay pipes with intriguing designs, and ornate clips and buckles that used to be sewn into garments. Larger objects such as bell jacks from the roof of Colombia Market based on 16th century tradesmen towering at almost 8 feet, can be seen lining up amongst the enormous shelves of architectural history as guides and volunteers lead visitors around the store.

This treasure trove - which adds up to a third of English Heritage's total stored collection - contains archaeological pieces unearthed at sites around the country, including Wroxeter Roman Site or Haughmond Abbey in Shropshire and Elizabethan Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire. The store is also now home to more than 6,000 objects from London houses, which map the capital's architecture from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Part of this collection includes nearly 1,000 wallpapers. The wallpapers, in particular, have found their ideal home, for Wrest Park boasts its own rare wall coverings in the De Grey family mansion and this great wealth of material is now much easier for researchers to access.

The entire collection has been checked, updated and recorded onto a database to track the objects using a new bar-code system, meaning that even the smallest box, containing the tiniest copper pins, can be located with ease.

Re-purposed from floor to ceiling, the archaeological collections store at Wrest Park houses the artefacts in improved conditions and brings them into one central location having released five previously leased buildings. In an almost military-style operation over the past two-and-a-half years, a team of documentation officers, curators, museum technicians and archaeologists all led by English Heritage's conservation team checked, documented, repacked and managed the movement of over 80 lorry loads of wooden pallets of crates, boxes or more challenging architectural items, such as an 8.5m cast-iron beam from St George's Hospital, Hyde Park Corner, London.

A team of volunteers are now also playing a vital role, leading tours, helping with documentation and assisting with essential tasks such as monitoring bug traps, surface-cleaning of objects or repacking new finds as the collection continues to grow with objects from excavations at English Heritage sites.

Charlotte Newman, English Heritage Curator said "we are really excited to show visitors behind the scenes in the store and give them a chance to see our collections not normally on display." Bethan Stanley Senior Collections Conservator added "we are incredibly proud that our hard work over the last few years has resulted in our collections being much easier to care for as well as looking great!"

Book a Tour

On the first Monday of every month from Monday 2 June 2014, visitors can combine a day out at Wrest Park with a visit to the store for just an extra £3 per person.

A tour can be booked on the day on a first-come, first-served basis or can be pre-booked by calling reception on 01525 860000.

Channel website: https://www.icaew.com

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