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Maritime Media Volunteer, Aaron Baldwin shares his account of the removal of maritime paintings from the Hull Maritime Museum.

Thursday, January 14 2021. It’s just started raining outside the Maritime Museum. The few people in Victoria Square hurriedly quicken their pace to try and get to their destination a little quicker. In the Museum the symphony of the outside world is masked by the sound of progress. Volunteering Manager Tom Goulder welcomes me and my fellow volunteers back to the Museum.

We are the first volunteers back on site since November 2020. After a brief welcome back talk and some information on how we will be working, we are once again ready to document the refurbishment efforts happening behind the Museum’s closed doors.

A team of workmen are putting the finishing touches on a small metal scaffold. Built halfway up the right wing of the former Dock Office building’s grand staircase, the scaffold stands firmly in front of Henry Redmore’s large painting, ‘Calm on the Humber’. Today’s goal is to remove a dozen of the Museum’s paintings and ready them for transportation to Lincoln University where conservator Rhiannon Clarricoates and her team will ensure they are as beautiful as when they were first created, and that the stories they tell are preserved for future generations.

Preparing To Take Down Calm On The Humber Resized
The completed scaffold in front of 'Calm on the Humber'.

Redmore’s artwork is one of the two largest paintings that are to be moved today. The other stands opposite, on the staircase’s left wing. ‘HMS Britannia’ by John Ward is older than Redmore’s piece by approximately two decades, but both will be given equal care and respect by the moving team and conservators.

With the scaffold in place, the crew begin to lower Redmore’s work. One man on the scaffold removes the painting from its upper supports, while three more support its weight below. Other than the crew communicating between themselves, the Museum is silent. The few other members of staff and volunteers watch in silence. The tension is palpable as the iconic piece is removed from its fastenings.

The crew manage to remove the piece from the wall completely and carry it up the few steps to the mezzanine. Resting the artwork on two blocks, the team discuss their plan. The painting is too large to carry past the scaffold, forcing them to instead carry it down the opposite wing of the stairs. Suspended between the four crewmembers on padded straps, the artwork is carried down the stairs at a slight angle; its face gazing up at HMS Britannia as it passes its long-time neighbour.

Hms Britannia Looms Over The Crew As Calm On The Humber Is Carried Downstairs 210121 092319
'HMS Britannia' looms over the crew as 'Calm on the Humber' is carried downstairs.

At the bottom of the stairs the frame of Redmore’s work is given a quick clean before it is sealed within layers of plastic sheeting and lifted into a large, padded wooden crate. With that, a mutual decision is reached that a tea break is needed.

The process for moving HMS Britannia is much the same, with the scaffold disassembled and rebuilt on the left wing of the stairs. Britannia’s move poses a slightly greater challenge, however. On either side of John Ward’s artwork stands a flagpole, forcing the removal crew to begin to turn the painting as it is lowered so it can be safely carried to the mezzanine. Though the situation remains tense, it is significantly less so on this second artwork. It is not long before Britannia too has been carried down the stairs and crated up for transportation.

Hms Britannia On The Last Step Before Her Transportation In More Ways Than One 210121 092322
'HMS Britannia' on the last step before her transportation, in more ways than one!

I then find myself being asked to help document the removal of the last couple of paintings by Stathis Tsolis, Conservation and Engagement Officer of the Project.

These last two paintings are much smaller and are easily removed by Stathis and Rhiannon. Using the Museum’s DSLR Camera, I snap some photos of the final two being moved to the Court Room.

Here, with the exception of the two crated giants from the stairway, the other paintings from the move stand on tables and easels, ready to be protected and boxed up for moving.

We have been committed to maintaining social distancing and our bubbles, so after a brief wander through the Court Room and some more photos taken, I leave so the crew can continue their work. I return the camera to Stathis, who quickly shows me how the Museum has been setting up the time-lapse photography used on the website and social media. With the camera operating on it’s own in the corner of the room and the Conservator and her crew hard at work once again, I return to Tom and prepare to leave the museum.

Court Room
The Court Room served as a place for Conservator Rhiannon Clarricoates and her crew to keep the paintings and check their condition before they were boxed up for transport.

It was once again a brilliant experience to help document the Museum’s refurbishment. The immense task of moving the two giant paintings from the stairs was a nail-biting watch from start to finish, though seeing the team work so well together to succeed I knew that the Museum’s exhibits were in good hands.

It has been an absolute joy being able to return to the Maritime Museum. Though initially closed just for the refurbishment, sadly Covid-19 has made it even more difficult to get volunteers, staff and crew in to ensure the refurb goes smoothly. Being one of the few invited to come into the museum and help document these momentous events has been nothing short of an honour, and I hope that I can continue to contribute to the Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime Project in future.