Cataloguing Mrs Greville’s Collection

Hi, my name’s Sarah and I’m a Conservation Assistant intern here at Polesden Lacey. Living locally to the area I’ve visited Polesden more times than I can remember, but being part of the house team has really made me appreciate the hard work that goes in to looking after this historic property and its collections. Alongside my general housekeeping duties (hoovering and a lot of dusting), my main task as an intern is an inventory marking project. Inventory may sound like quite a dull word but this project has allowed me to handle and examine some fascinating objects and made me really appreciate the beauty of Mrs Greville’s vast and varied collection. I find a new favourite object every week! I personally loved opening the cabinets and display cases in the Saloon as I got to hold all the wonderful objects I had admired for many years at a distance. Seeing them from behind glass really doesn’t do them justice!

A close-up of a collection of boxes in a display case in the Drawing Room at Polesden Lacey, nr Dorking, Surrey, from the Country House Album

A close-up of a collection of boxes in a display case in the Saloon. The boxes would have held a variety of things including patches, pills and snuff.

Inventory marking involves giving each and every object in the property (for which there are thousands) a number by which to identify it. Even curtain rails and sealing wax are given their own number! This creates a record of every object in a collection, which is important for property conservation and security records and allows the National Trust to know what they own and where it is. Keeping a physical record of a collection is not a new idea. Mrs Greville herself wrote down a list of the pictures she owned at both her houses in Charles Street, London and at Polesden Lacey. Today, instead of just writing down what objects are in a collection their individual inventory number is also physically applied to them. This is done in a concealed area and means that wherever the object goes, for example, if it gets loaned to another property or jets across the world, it will have an identity tag on it labelling where it belongs and who it belongs to.

'My Pictures'

A record book entitled ‘My Pictures’. The book gives details, in Mrs. Greville’s hand, of her pictures in the Charles Street and Polesden Lacey houses. Photo credit: Andrew Fetherston (2009).

Many objects in the house do have an inventory number on them. Years ago the collection at Polesden was identified by a number beginning with the letters ‘POL’. However, the National Trust introduced a new numbered system to apply to all their collections nationwide, so all objects located at Polesden Lacey are now identified by a number beginning with ‘124….’


Example of an old inventory number. This was painted onto the bottom of one of a pair of Kangxi vases in the Saloon.



Example of a new inventory number. This was sewn into the corner on the bottom of the rug in Portico Bedroom.

Some visitors and volunteers may have seen me in the last month or so when the house was open crawling around on the floor under tables and chairs or picking up items off desks and pictures off the walls. This wasn’t just for fun or part of a some treasure hunt (I wish!), but my job at the moment is to go around five rooms in the house and record what type of inventory mark is on each object. The rooms I have chosen to audit are the Portico Bedroom, Tea Room, Study, Saloon and Billiard Room. So altogether I have handled a lot of objects – especially in the Saloon which is simply bursting with items! I have found a lot of objects missed the first wave of markings and have nothing to identify them at all – an issue which I have to rectify. In a little bit I will be moving on to applying the new inventory marks to the collection. My aim by the end of my internship is to have marked up to 50 objects. I will concentrate on those objects which have no markings in order to make sure every item has at least some sort of identity label on it, old or new. Each type of object requires a different method of inventory marking, for example, ceramics are marked with paint or ink or sometimes a sticky label, while textiles have sewn on cotton labels. I’m looking forward to learning how to mark different objects in a safe way – hopefully with a steady hand! Throughout my time here I will also be uploading and updating object inventories on the online Collections Management System (CMS). This system contains all of the hundreds and thousands of objects in the National Trust’s collection and is used to locate or search for an object, so it is important that each item’s record is kept up to date. It’s been a busy time but I love getting to handle so many different items in the house and look forward to making my mark on them!


One thought on “Cataloguing Mrs Greville’s Collection

  1. Pingback: Become a Conservation Intern at Polesden Lacey | Polesden Lacey House Blog

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