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Natalie Conboy

How did you become a Collections Manager?

Duration: 00.32


So, throughout my childhood I was always very interested in history but didn’t really know as I was getting older what I could do with that. When I was growing up, national museums you still had to pay entry for and so I didn’t have a lot of experience of actually visiting museums themselves and it was only as I was a young adult that I was able to explore what options were out there in terms of using that interest in history for a career path. Up until that point I had just assumed that you would become a history teacher if you studied history and that was the extent of it.  

I was very lucky to get on a traineeship program at the V&A and there I was exposed to not only archival collections but also the permanent physical collections as well, and that really was the first time that I was able to see the different options that there were for me to follow in terms of being a curator or a conservator or an art handler or a technician.  

What’s great about the current job that I do here is that it’s a kind of a combination of all those different roles of collections management, of registrarial duties, of curatorial duties and even some conservation work on a basic level, so it kind of brings together all those strands into one place. From day to day, my role is very different, and it makes it much more interesting to be able to apply those skills and knowledge across all those different areas and different strands of work. 

What does your job consist of?

Duration: 01.19


The role of Collections Manager is quite varied, because it consists of hands-on work, but then also a lot of paperwork.

So, there’s two main sides to it, one of which is the Collections Management, which focuses more on the paperwork and the documentation and things like cataloguing the individual items. And it also involves conducting research, so that you can find out not just the function of the object, but also the significance of it and what it represents. And that helps us to then be able to make use of it in various ways across the site.

The other major strand of the work I do is focused on collections care. The majority of that is preventative conservation. So, we try to ensure that the environment that the objects are in, whether they’re on display or in storage, is specific to their needs, so that we slow down deterioration as much as possible. And one of the ways we do this is to do regular condition assessments, but also we’re currently going for a rehousing project to improve the physical environment of the stored collection, so that it’s preserved for longer for the future.

What sort of objects does the Greenwich Foundation own?

Duration: 01.05


Well, the objects relate to the various phases of the history of our site, and we’ve got quite a strong collection of material related to the Royal Naval College time, but the range of material is from photographs to textiles and ceramics, decorative artwork and paintings and printed material.  

They range from very small items which are more day-to-day objects to more sort of rare one-of -a-kind objects. For example we’ve got an object that’s a papier-mâché smoking model from the 1800s which features a Greenwich Pensioner that is a kind of a rare survival and then on the opposite end we’ve got a rum flagon that was found on site, under one of the floorboards in the King William building dating from the 1860s which would have been a very kind of day-to-day object but really kind of gives you more of an insight into the lives of the pensioners that lived here. 

What project are you currently working on?

Duration: 00.44


Recently, we have been going through condition assessing a small collection of uniforms that we have which will feature in a forthcoming display within the Painting Hall on ‘Wrens’.

During the preparations for these, we found some torn ticket stubs for dances that the ‘Wrens’ would have attended and that was a really exciting find to get a bit more insight into the downtime that the ‘Wrens’ would have looked forward to, and get more of an insight into the personal experiences of those people.  

The majority of the material related to ‘Wrens’ were donated by former ‘Wrens’ themselves who would have trained on our site during the 50s onwards. 

Is there a favourite object of yours in the collection? Which one and why?

Duration: 01.53


So, my favourite object within the collection changes depending upon how much time and work I’ve been giving to that particular object.   

But currently, we have a 17th century witch bottle, which is usually on display within the Visitor Centre. It was found within the local area and it’s quite an interesting item because it provides an insight into the superstitions of the time. The bottle itself is not unique, but the contents inside were, and that’s what makes it quite rare.  

We were able to do some analysis on the contents and discovered that it consisted of human hair, fingernail clippings and urine, as well as bent iron nails. And what’s particularly interesting about this is at the time it was believed that when a witch cursed you, they transferred a part of themselves to you. And so to counteract the curse, you could use parts of yourself to throw the curse back at the witch. And the nails that the witch bottle contained would have caused the witch pain, and therefore that would have been enough to make the witch want to break the curse. It’s quite an interesting item in itself. Whether this practice was widespread at the time is something that we are looking forward to exploring in a bit more detail. But it was quite useful to find out a little bit more about the woman involved because through the analysis we were able to find out that she was a smoker and that she had head lice.  

The object is currently on loan at the ‘Magic: Forcing Fate’ exhibition in the State Museum for Pre-History in Halle. And we’re looking forward to finding out more about the context of the bottle and exploring this more in the future.