A couple of weeks ago, Historical Honey were lucky enough to attend the press review of the #FashionRules Exhibition at Kensington Palace. I couldn’t wait to hear what they thought, as several years ago, I was given the chance to work with some of the Royal Dress Collection during my time as a volunteer there.
I decided to try my hand at volunteering whilst studying for a BA in Modern History. I love history, and was keen to learn more as well as give back to the heritage sector. So, I logged on to the Historic Royal Palaces website, emailed over a copy of my C.V, and explained that I would love to gain experience in heritage. As it goes, they contacted me swiftly and once all the necessary security checks were complete, I was ready to go.
Volunteering at Historic Royal Palaces…log on and see what’s going on!
I worked within the Curatorial Department, as well as assisting with visitor participation. Day-to-day tasks were varied. Jobs included updating the collections database and booking loans in and out. Quite excitingly, I helped to measure Princess Margaret’s former wardrobe room, in anticipation of its conversion into exhibition space. It was great to be surrounded by so much history that still exists to teach people about the past.
I was lucky enough to lead a team that sought visitors to gild metal flowers. These flowers were to be added to ‘Dandelion Clocks’ to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Diana had lived at Kensington Palace after her marriage to Prince Charles and subsequently, lived there after her divorce. This was a fantastic job – I was able to speak to members of the public about their experiences of the palace, and its history. It was wonderful to see children developing their interest in history; for example, wanting to hear the stories about the kings and queens who had lived there.
Diana’s Dandelion Clock.
As a volunteer, you are granted access to areas usually out of bounds for the visitors. One of the rooms, which we used to prepare materials for the Dandelion Clock project, was nicknamed ‘Beatrice’s Bunker’. It was built for Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, who was a resident of the Palace during the Second World War. However, the reinforced room was never used as Beatrice retired to Ravenswood in Sharpthorne, Sussex, due to ill health.
My most favourite job, however, was helping with the preparations of items from the Royal Dress Collection. Some of these objects now feature in the #FashionRules exhibition. This job entailed wearing a pair of white gloves (as the dresses are very delicate) and working with the curators to move objects to new locations. Depending on the weight of the objects, they were either hung in Tyvek garment bags or laid within layers of tissue paper in large chests of drawers. These items were moved carefully within their protective layers to a new location and were then laid out to be photographed or sketched.
Looking after historic clothing at Historic Royal Palaces.
Being granted this access to such exquisite pieces worn by members of our Royal Family was amazing. It also gave me some indispensible skills, crucial in a heritage setting, such as object handling, cataloguing and visitor support. It also sparked my interest in fashion history in the context of the public image of the royal family, which later became the theme of my Masters dissertation.
If you have a passion for history and/or museums, I cannot more strongly recommend volunteering for a museum or organisation. Not only does it allow you to gain skills in the museum workplace that can be added to your C.V, it allows you to meet people with similar interests and is also great fun! It might spark ideas about research you want to do, or simply allow you to give something back. So give it a go, you never know what you’ll end up doing!
Have you volunteered at Historic Royal Palaces? Or any heritage business for that matter? Let us know about your experiences in the comments box below!