The problems around preserving the past

The letter written by Grace Darling.
The letter written by Grace Darling.

A new exhibition at a north Northumberland museum will feature a number of rarely-seen objects, including a thank-you letter written by a famous sea-rescue heroine.

The exhibition, called Caring For Grace, at the RNLI Grace Darling Museum in Bamburgh focuses on how museums look after their collections and demonstrates some of the problems involved in preservation and conservation, known as ‘agents of decay’.

Included in the exhibition will be the thank-you letter from Grace Darling to a group of Edinburgh ladies who had donated almost £75 to her trust fund, set up following her part in the dramatic rescue of 13 people from the wreck of the SS Forfarshire in 1838 off the Farne Islands.

The letter was recently bought at auction by the RNLI Heritage Trust – a subsidiary charity of the RNLI – thanks to a legacy and donation to the museum.

The letter was stuck on blue paper and colour from the backing has leached through onto the letter.

Specialist conservators will need to examine the letter to see if it can be detached from the paper without damaging it and whether the blue pigmentation can be removed.

Museum manager Virginia Mayes-Wright said: “The letter is a great example for the exhibition, partly because it is an exciting new acquisition, but also because it demonstrates some of the difficulties encountered by museums around preservation and conservation.”

Also on display will be items which have been damaged by ‘agents of decay’ like damp and light.

These include a lock of Grace Darling’s hair which has faded from its natural dark brown to blond and a photo of Grace’s brother and sister-in-law in which their faces are no longer visible.

Virginia added: “We wouldn’t normally display these items but looking at them helps explain how poor conditions can cause irreparable damage and why museums have to have controlled environments.”

Caring For Grace will be open until August 27 and entry is free.

For more information about the RNLI Grace Darling Museum, log on to or call 01668 214910.