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Embargo: Contact: Fiona Cameron
020 7273 1459

Thatched Church, Thai Demons, Dust-busters and Digital Archives Win UK's Premier Conservation Prizes

Wednesday 23 June 2004

London, 22 June 2004 - Fascinating work to safeguard our rich cultural heritage has been showcased at the UK's premier conservation awards.  From dust-busters and demons to church altars and digital data, four very different prize-winners were announced at the British Library on last night (22 June).

The 15,000 Pilgrim Trust Award for Conservation - presented by Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport - was won by Cambridge conservators and the dedicated parishioners of a thatched church in rural Suffolk. They beat off a strong shortlist including the National Trust and English Heritage.

The small community of Thornham Parva, Suffolk were determined to keep their 14th-century painted and gilded altarpiece in St Mary's Church despite the environmental challenges of a thatched building.  The team from Hamilton Kerr Institute brought the painting back to its former glory and solved the church's challenges with an ingenious environmentally-controlled box.  Custom-built for the altar, this allows the exquisite artwork to remain in the church without risking future damage from heat, dust and changes in humidity.

Liz Forgan OBE, Chair of the Judges, said "This stunning mediaeval artwork has been returned to the church in all its former glory by a team whose scholarship and technical expertise are second to none. The environmental box is a brilliant concept, which we hope others will copy.  While unobtrusive, it has safeguarded the future of the altarpiece and enabled it to be reinstated in its rightful home.  All the judges were inspired by the passion and commitment of the parishioners who did so much to make this possible."

Other major awards went to:

  • 21st Century Conservation Challenges:  For the first time, an award was made for Digital Preservation - making sure conservation reflects 21st century concerns.  Loyd Grossman presented it to the National Archives - who beat off competition from around the world with the first all-purpose digital archive, designed to store Government records in many different formats.  As the Modernising Government Agenda aims to have all new records stored and retrieved electronically, it is crucially important that digital records will be preserved as effectively as paper ones.  The Digital Archive ( will store important Government records, from public enquiries such as the Hutton Inquiry, to e-mails, webpages and databases.


  • Thai Demons: The coveted 10,000 Student Conservator of the Year accolade went to Erica Kotze and Camberwell College of Arts for her work on a concertina-format medical folding book, the Samut Thai Khao, or white Thai manuscript.  A medical treatise written in Thai script, it is illuminated with demons whose body markings relate to medical conditions and possible remedies.  The book, folded into 57 pages of hand-made paper, measures over six metres when unfolded. Previously severely damaged and unusable, the book can now be read and put on display.


  • Dust-busters:  Dust-busting David Howell of Historic Royal Palaces was the winner of the Anna Plowden Award for furthering conservation research and innovation.  His automated dust slide analysis provides a fast, economical and accurate method for assessing dustiness in historic houses, museums and elsewhere.  Dust control is important in protecting heritage collections as dust can abrade delicate surfaces and encourage mould growth.

Presenting the awards, Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said:  "Without collections in good condition, museums, archives and other heritage sites lose their purpose and meaning. Conservators make sure not only that can we see these things, but that we can understand and enjoy them too.  DCMS is supporting their vital work, not least through investing some 7 million in the next two years in collections care in museums through the Renaissance in the Regions programme."

Sponsored by the Pilgrim Trust, the Digital Preservation Coalition and the Anna Plowden Trust, the Awards are also supported by key organisations in conservation - the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), English Heritage, the National Preservation Office, the Institute of Paper Conservation and the United Kingdom Institute for Conservation.

Full details are available from the Awards website:
Pictures are available from under English Heritage/Conservation Awards

# # #

Notes to Editors:

For further information on the Conservation Awards please visit the website at: or contact Fiona Cameron, Media and Events Manager at the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, on 020 7273 1459 or email 

Judging Panel members 
Award for Conservation and Student Conservator Award:
Chair: Liz Forgan OBE, Chair of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Scott Trust; Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent of The Times; Professor Jonathan Ashley-Smith, Senior Research Fellow in Conservation Studies at the V&A Museum; James Hervey-Bathurst, President of the Historic Houses Association and Rosalind Savill CBE, Director of the Wallace Collection. 

Digital Preservation Award:  Chair: Richard Boulderstone, (Chair) Director, e-strategy, The British Library; Sheila Anderson, Director, Arts and Humanities Data Service; Kevin Ashley, Head of Digital Archives, University of London Computer Centre; David Dawson, Senior ICT Adviser, MLA; Barry Fox, Independent journalist and broadcaster; Nick Higham, Presenter; Chris Rusbridge, Director of Information Services, University of Glasgow; David Saunders, Senior Scientist, The National Gallery.

Anna Plowden Trust Award for Research and Innovation in Conservation is judged by the Trustees. 

  • The Pilgrim Trust was founded in 1930 by Edward Stephen Harkness of New York to award grants for some of Great Britain's more urgent needs and to promote the country's future well-being. The Trustees make grants to projects involved in social welfare, art and learning, preservation, cataloguing and conservation of records and the repair of historic churches.
  • The Anna Plowden Trust was established by the friends and family of Anna Plowden CBE, following her death. As one of the first scientifically trained conservators to work in the private sector, Anna Plowden was committed to the promotion and development of the conservation profession through both training and education, which she believed should be of the highest possible standard. The Trust seeks to promote her ideals and interests. Further information is available from: The Anna Plowden Trust, 43 Lansdowne Gardens, London, SW8 2EL.
  • Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), launched in February 2002, is a cross-sectoral membership organisation of 27 major UK organisations which aims to ensure that  digital  preservation is kept on the policy agenda  and practical progress in preserving access to important digital resources is made. 
  • The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) is the national development agency working for and on behalf of museums, libraries and archives and advising government on policy and priorities for the sector.  MLA's roles are to provide strategic leadership, to act as a powerful advocate, to develop capacity and to promote innovation and change. Museums, libraries and archives connect people to knowledge and information, creativity and inspiration. MLA is leading the drive to unlock this wealth, for everyone.
  • English Heritage is the Government's lead body for the historic environment. Funded partly by the Government and in part from revenue earned from its historic properties and other services, English Heritage aims to increase the understanding of the past, conserve and enhance the historic environment and broaden access and appreciation of heritage.
  • The Institute of Paper Conservation is the leading organisation devoted solely to the conservation of paper and related materials. Paper conservation is sophisticated and diverse and one of IPC's main objectives is the advancement of the craft and science of paper conservation both within the profession and in terms of public awareness.
  • The National Preservation Office provides an independent focus for ensuring the preservation and continued accessibility of library and archive material held in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Based at the British Library, the NPO is supported by the Library, The National Archives, The National Library of Scotland, Trinity College Dublin, The Consortium of University Research Libraries, Cambridge University Library, The National Library of Wales and the Oxford University Library Services.
  • The United Kingdom Institute for Conservation (UKIC) is the professional body for those who care for the country's cultural objects and heritage collections. Its members are conservators working in public institutions such as museums and galleries, and conservators and restorers working in the private sector. The Institute exists to foster excellence in the provision of conservation services, to raise awareness of the importance of conservation skills, and to provide information and advice to those requiring conservation services. It operates the Conservation Register, a national database of conservation services.
  • The Hamilton Kerr Institute is a department of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. The Institute undertakes the conservation of easel paintings for public and publicly shown collections as well as the Museum, and offers courses in conservation. It aims to educate painting conservators to the highest standard and to contribute to scientific, technical and art historical research.  
  • The British Library - houses the world's knowledge, and with over 150 million separate items it is one of the top three libraries in the world. It is the UK's national library and the world's leading resource for scholarship, research and innovation. Its collection covers every age of written civilisation, every written language and every aspect of human thought. Material held by the Library ranges from ancient Chinese oracle bones to technical reports about the latest scientific discoveries and today's newspapers. Users including industrial companies and academic scholars, have access to the Library's collection in its Reading Rooms and via its global document supply services, which supply over 15,000 documents per day to 20,000 customers in 111 countries. Information on the Library's collection and services is available on the British Library website at 

Press Release No.:22/06/04

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