Vicky Kerrigan – Large Objects Conservation Care

What I do
I work with the technical team to help deliver the conservation priorities of the large objects collection. My basic duties include essential, preventive conservation tasks such as cleaning the objects to an agreed maintenance schedule, corrosion remediation and condition reporting, all of which present an unparalleled opportunity to engage with the objects at close range. In addition to this, I regularly get the opportunity to be involved in a wide range of more technical projects. In the last year I have, among many other things, dismantled and reassembled the wing panels of a Supermarine Spitfire as part of the museum’s ongoing internal audit programme, conserved Princess Diana’s seat in the Westland Wessex HCC4 and examined our ‘preserved as found’ Handley Page Halifax W1048 TL-S from the inside out. I have also reorganised storage spaces, identified dissociated components for accession and helped to move the aircraft and vehicles around in order to facilitate exhibitions and events. We never know quite what will be on the agenda for each shift but it is always something interesting.

What I love
The large objects volunteers are usually on duty during opening hours and in full view of the public. Seeing the team in action tends to cause quite a lot of excitement among the visitors and it is always a pleasure to share details of the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of our work. Very often the conversations end up adding to our knowledge too. One of the things I most love is having the opportunity to talk to people who have a personal connection to the aircraft that I am working on. Their stories are both an education and an inspiration and their obvious delight in seeing the aircraft well cared for is very rewarding. It is a genuine joy to feel part of such a passionate community of people.

What I get

First and foremost, I get the opportunity to work alongside wonderful people. I came to the museum as a student of conservation, fascinated with the preservation of transport and engineering objects and keen to get my hands dirty but with very little specific familiarity with aircraft. I was nervous to begin with and, during my time at the museum, there have been plenty of times when I have needed to ask for help. I am lucky that the patience and generosity of the team seems to have no limits and I feel privileged to be part of such a welcoming and supportive group.

Secondly, I get a whole new perspective. It is surprising how different an object can look from the end of a dusting pole! Whilst working at height, from a ladder or wing walkway, it is not unusual to see tangible evidence of the people who stood in those places before us in the form of ‘on the fly’ modifications, wartime repairs or traces of former liveries. Witnessing these details, which are only visible at close quarters, feels like a very real, personal connection to the people who operated these remarkable aircraft and vehicles during their working lives. Documenting them is a unique opportunity to add to the official record.