A curator's day
From 'Inside Story' magazine, 2007
I'm very lucky to have such a lovely job, and while I don't like getting up on a Monday morning the rest of the week is great! People often ask me how I spend my time, so here goes.
Most days I catch the train down to Hampton Court, walk across the bridge, and into the palace. This is always like leaving the real world behind, and entering Never Never land. I climb up the 51 steps of a spiral staircase off Chapel Court to reach the curators' apartment.
I'm lucky enough to share my office with 'Black Jack', a stuffed raven from the Tower of London, who was killed by the sound of the cannon being fired for the Duke of Wellington's funeral in 1852. At least, that's what it says on his case - whether it's true or not is anyone's guess. When I first came to work at Historic Royal Palaces four years ago I found Jack's gaze rather baleful and disconcerting: now I'm quite used to it. He is also in much better health these days as he recently took a trip to the freezer to get rid of a slight bug infestation that was causing his feathers to moult.
Once in my office I start working on our different projects, which vary enormously. This year everyone at Hampton Court is busy with Henry VIII, and at the Tower it's Prisoners and Escapees. At the moment I'm working on a Heritage Lottery Fund application for a re-display of Kensington Palace, and we're trying to decide which stories we want to tell in the State Apartments. This means that the Tower and Kensington are also frequent destinations in my working day.
We have 14 curators at Historic Royal Palaces. Some of us are collections curators, who are more like the curators you'd find in a museum, and others are buildings curators, who are more like archaeologists. But all curators like doing the same things, which are are follows. Firstly, shopping. We love finding and buying new things for our collection. Secondly, finding things out. Whether it's looking at the accounts of the Georgian court in the National Archives, or exploring attics to find out what timbers were used in the 17th century, we never feel that we know enough about our palaces. And thirdly, we like showing off about what we've discovered, and we do this through talks, or TV, or exhibitions, or books, or just rabbiting on endlessly in our team meetings.
So the day whistles past, and the palace quietens down, the visitors leave, the warders lock up, and our homeward bound footsteps echo loudly down the corridors and cloisters. This is often the best time of day to rootle in our library for something, or to take a tour of the gardens. When I first worked here I was lucky enough to live in the Barrack Block at Hampton Court (great views, no privacy) and felt it was really my own kingdom; I think everyone who works here feels that to some extent.
But to the curators at least our five palaces will always remain as friendly strangers. Although we try as hard as we can to understand everything about them, their deepest secrets always remain elusive from us!
© 2013 Lucy Worsley