In the Billiard House on the grounds of Highwic in Newmarket, a group of female volunteers sit in focussed attention to an item that they’ve selected from around 8,000 objects. This could be anything from; glass to ceramics, basketry, leather, mechanical objects, cloth and furniture, depending on whether the material aligns with the training that they’ve been undergoing at any given time. Learning to care for and clean such precious objects requires close attention to detail and a lot of care. The volunteers are dedicating four hours once a week, over a two-year period just to do the training. For each of them the common desire to engage with the history and get up close and personal with the array of items.
The volunteers are under the guidance of a preservation specialist and although their trusty guide is away on leave, they’re now trusted to sit and get on with the job.
Cleaning has to start routinely with recording data on the appearance of the item, listing the makers marks and looking for imperfections, cracks and signs of wear and tear. The one thing they don’t do is ‘repairs.’ Their role is simply to inspect and clean with care, using almost surgical-like tools and brushes.
In 1850 Alfred Buckland along with his wife Eliza (both 25 years old), arrived in New Zealand and built Highwic twelve years later – Alfred having made his fortune in New Zealand via property and live stock trading. Together the couple had 10 children, though not long after moving into their new home Eliza passed away with pneumonia. One year on, Alfred married Matilda – a companion helper already living in the house and together they had a subsequent 11 children, making Highwic an incredibly busy family household of 17 rooms, including separate wings for boys and girls, servants quarters, a ballroom, large kitchen and service area and a separate billiards room.