By Martin Michette and Alexandra Bridarolli
This year’s UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage field trip took place during National Science Week. As in previous years, it involved a week of investigation and discovery for the current cohort of MRes students at the historic house of Hellens. Located in the Herefordshire countryside, Hellens is rich in a history weaved along the borderlands of Wales and England. The oldest parts of the building date back to the 12th Century, and through times of growth and decline the house has amassed a vast collection of valuable heritage objects. Today it is kept as a living house by the Pennington-Mellor-Munthe Charity Trust, used as both a family home and a historic show-piece. In the hands of eager students the incredible range of equipment delivered by the SEAHA Mobile Heritage Lab revealed hidden secrets of armour, swords, oil paintings, crowns, crumbling bricks and mortar.
Based in the 14th Century Stone Hall, the Iron Group used portable X-Ray Fluorescence to detect corrosion products and alloys as part of an extensive survey of metal objects. Along the corridor in the 17th Century Manor, the Imaging Group used Hyperspectral Imaging to detect the distribution of specific pigments, and thereby assist in dating a painting of the 18th Century. Crawling through sheets of data and behind damp walls, the Environmental Team monitored a variety of differently regulated environments within the house and assessed their ambient conditions, observing particular risks in a display case containing some precious objects. Following presentations of the projects on Thursday morning, the owner and the committed team living and working on site were impressed by the findings and keen to implement some of the recommendations. Despite the high-tech equipment, the group was unable to prove the existence of the infamous Hetty’s Ghost or other supernatural phenomena.