“Hello. What’s CMS?”
This is the customary greeting in the volunteer’s room for member of the CMS team! We could get T-shirts made, but instead we’ll go for the quick explanation via blog…
CMS is the National Trust Collection Management System (CMS), an online treasure trove detailing every object in the Trust’s care. If you were to look closely at any object in the house, you would see a unique identifying number which pertains to a record on CMS. (Don’t actually do this – most of the numbers are on the backs of things or underneath them and you’d probably ruin Emily’s day!)
The inventory records contain a description of the object, an identifying photo, measurements, provenance statement, conservation data and all sorts of vitally important info. On one level it is used to keep track of the thousands of items in each collection, but more importantly enables the National Trust to plan for the conservation, care and display of all the amazing stuff we look after.
Needless to say, it is vast!
When the National Trust took on responsibility for the ‘new’ areas of the house, most of the objects housed there were un-catalogued. Indeed in many of the spaces, we are not entirely sure what is actually in there! That is where the new CMS team come in. We are a volunteer team of six, Tony, Lou, Claire, Annie, Conrad and myself – Vicky.
We list, measure, photograph, catalogue, mark and occasionally research all the objects in the new rooms. It is a fascinating job and great fun. There was some training involved when we first started, as this was a task new to all of us. Emily and Siobhan took us through how to safely handle different objects, and how the inventory marking should be done. The Hugo and Barry, from the NT CMS team, came to Knole to give us some intensive training on how to use the CMS itself.
Once we had completed our training on the CMS database and on object handing and marking, Helen and Emily felt it was safe to unleash us on the first new area: The Estate Office. Armed with tape measures, purple gloves and a clipboard we systematically listed every “indigenous” item in the room. Having done this we took detailed records of every item and “accessioned” them (I know, it’s a new word for us too!) to the database.
Once the inventory numbers are generated by CMS, the objects need to be marked with their unique numbers. On most items this process is quite time consuming, requiring us to apply a varnish undercoat, paint the numbers on with white paint and overcoat with varnish to provide a safe but removable identification record.
Next time you are in the Estate office, have a good look in the display cupboard on the left – it is full of interesting objects from the days when Knole Estate was managed from this office.
We were particularly delighted to find a clock dating from nineteenth century and a mystery measuring device that may (or may not) have something to do with measuring water levels in the reservoir under Stone Court – the wire definitely goes somewhere!
The huge safe by the fireplace is an early model of fireproof safe. Sadly, it contained only fire-lighters and not (as we hoped) the fabled lost signet ring of Thomas Sackville – oh well, plenty of cupboards left to do, we’ll keep you posted!