From The Vaults

17 June 2022
Behind the Scenes at the World Rugby Museum: Collections Care

It's Museum Week and we're giving you behind-the-scenes insight into how we care for our historic collection.

As Collections Officer, I am responsible for the care and documentation of our objects - both those on display and those in storage. With over 40,000 objects, collections work is never done - there is always something that needs checking, cataloguing, relocating or researching - but the variety of our collection ensures that no two days are the same. We look after jerseys, boots, caps, photographs, artworks, books, trophies, tickets, match programmes and dinner menus; we have gifts presented by teams visiting Twickenham and souvenirs brought back by England teams touring abroad. We look after many interesting and unusual items and we enjoy sharing them with you through our From The Vaults blog.

Whenever the museum acquires a new object, it gets added to our collection database. The record will contain all the information we have about it, including its date, dimensions, provenance, condition notes, a description, and its new storage location. Whether it is a nineteenth-century photograph, a modern World Cup jersey or a letter written by a rugby player fighting in the First World War, all items are catalogued in as much detail as possible before being safely stored. This ensures that the collection is easily searchable when museum staff are researching for an exhibition or helping a researcher with an enquiry.

To keep exhibits looking their best, I regularly check the environmental conditions in the museum and storage areas. We monitor the temperature and humidity to make sure our objects are safe and stable - high humidity makes mould a risk; low humidity could leave objects dry and brittle. I also keep an eye on our pest traps as it is vital to make sure that insects are not damaging the collection. The natural fibres in early jerseys and blazers would be particularly attractive to hungry moth larvae!

The museum also plays a small part in making sure that Twickenham is ready for match days. In advance of each game, I install some objects relating to the history of the fixture in a display case near the Royal Box. In this arrangement (below) for England v Wales, there is a jersey worn by Welsh forward Ben Gronow, who kicked off the first international match played at Twickenham in 1910. It is fitting that from this vantage point there is a fantastic view of the pitch where the story of these objects was written.

My role also involves keeping track of loan items as they leave or arrive at the museum for exhibitions and events. During the international rugby season, this includes the trophies in our care, which come and go as fixtures are won or lost. Ever wondered who cleans all that champagne and beer off the trophies following the players' post-match celebrations at Twickenham?! Wonder no more! When trophies are returned to us after a game, we check their condition, give them a clean and display them in the museum for visitors to see.

Whilst it might seem strange that we wear white gloves to handle trophies, and that we take such care with jerseys that have been torn and dirtied on the field of play, it is our role to look after these objects as best we can, so that future generations continue to enjoy the stories of matches and players from days gone by.

Niamh has worked as the Collections Officer at the World Rugby Museum since January 2020. She has BA and MA degrees in History of Art from The Courtauld Institute of Art (University of London).