Museum Unearths Hidden Gems During Inventory & Care Project

The River & Rowing Museum’s curatorial team has unearthed hidden gems as part of ongoing projects aimed at documenting and maintaining its impressive Collection.

The Audit & Inventory and Care Projects began last May, with new members of the curatorial team stepping into their roles as the museum regained its pace as pandemic restrictions were eased. In that time, the projects – led by Collections Registrar Cat Neale, Curator Cate Tren and Curatorial Technicians Jessica Romano and Colette Bodde – have processed over 20,000 individual items as well as condition-checking and cleaning over 400 objects.

Cat Neale explains: “Our new curatorial team has been busy settling into their roles since the end of last year, picking up the pace of normality after two years of Covid lockdowns and restrictions. We have embarked on several key projects including a complete update of our Collections Management System – the all-important database of artefacts – picking up conservation tasks, preparing our new website, and building our volunteering team.

“We have also progressed our Audit & Inventory and Care Projects, which has allowed us to gain essential knowledge and visibility of the museum’s items, as well as discovering many hidden gems that we hope to display, both online throughout our coming closure period, and physically in due course.”

The museum has processed 20,590 items so far with projections suggesting at least double that number once the project is completed. All of the Collection’s 2D items have been administered, including over 1,500 programmes, 3,410 photographs, 43 boxes of reference materials, and 115 archive boxes.

Through the Care Project, the museum resumed a curatorial presence at its off-site store, with support of a volunteer team and a 25-person strong inventory team.

Cat Neale adds: “This work would not have been possible without funding nor without the support of our incredible volunteers, who have painstakingly condition-checked and cleaned over 400 objects. Looking ahead, we are aiming to make the most of our closure period to progress these projects, as well as reassigning the front of house team to sort and record other donations. This includes an array of VHS video cassettes and our Film and Negative collection which we hope to digitise in the future. We are also looking forward to telling some of our Collection’s exciting stories online to reach new audiences – and ensuring the River & Rowing Museum – and Henley-on-Thames – remains a talking point in and out of the town.”

Among the unearthed treasures was the Fawley Court Estate Map from 1786. A reproduction hangs in the Henley Gallery, but through the Audit & Inventory Project, the curatorial team were able to get a much closer look at the original map which hadn’t been looked at for at least a decade, and were reminded of the incredible tiny details found in such a huge map.

Another hidden gem was a pocket map of London from 1760 (below), with ‘the new buildings to the year… not extant in any other map.’ It’s amazingly detailed, meticulously drawn and coloured Georgian pocket map of London, detailing the City of London, Westminster and Southwark at the time, including Hackney cab and Waterman’s rates, and a table of city wards.