Meet Our Conservation Trainees

Restoring Pugin

Paint Conservation Trainees, Mary and Emily, share about their experiences on our Restoring Pugin Project.

As part of our Restoring Pugin project, two trainee paint conservators have joined the project team and are working with Cliveden Conservation to carefully uncover, through a variety of techniques, A.W.N Pugin’s original decorative paint schemes. Mary Scott is a recent graduate of the MA Conservation of Fine Art Course at Northumbria University and Emily Bird, studied for an MA in Conservation of Cultural Heritage at the University of Lincoln. Having focused on the conservation of easel paintings and objects respective, both Mary and Emily have a sound understanding of conservation philosophy and principles, and transferable skills which are applicable to working within this specialist field. These traineeships, made possible by a generous grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, meet a further aim of the wider project, to address a skills shortage within the paint conservation sector. Here are two short reflections from Mary and Emily about their experiences of working on our Restoring Pugin project.


Mary Scott – Trainee Paint Conservator

I joined the project team a few months ago, with the hope to get hands-on experiences in decorative arts conservation. I already had a background in easel painting and I wanted to expand my skills in the conservation field but this project has also enabled me to expand my social skills through interacting with the public and supporting the organization of public events.

Since starting work at Nottingham Cathedral, the work has been varied and I have learned a lot, from different terminology used in the field to different practical skills, such as using scaffolding. No two days are the same, some days I might be learning how to mechanically or chemically removed layers of paint from the Cathedral walls and other days I might be engaging with the public through heritage events and open days at the Cathedral.

A highlight of the work so far has been the opportunity to work alongside a conservation mentor from Cliveden and to work as part of a bigger team. One of the biggest challenges I have faced in this work has been adapting and transferring my training in easel paintings into a skill set that enables we me to work on site with new materials and techniques. Learning to work on scaffolding at daring heights has also been a new experience for me!

My advice to any school leaver looking to break into the heritage/conservation sector would be to try push yourself and to learn new skills in different specializations. Whilst I had a slightly different experience than that required for this post, I have been able to learn and adapt this previous experience for this new role in paint conservation. Even if you don’t meet all of the requirements for the job, it is worth enquiring and searching for new roles and experiences. Perseverance and passion goes a long way when breaking into a new field of work.

If I could ask A.W.N Pugin one question, I would ask where he got his inspiration for the decorative ceilings in the Cathedral, which originally depicted a starry night.

Emily Bird- Trainee Paint Conservator

What appealed to me about this project at Nottingham Cathedral, is that it’s an investigative project. In the past, I’ve worked on later stages of a project, carrying out the tasks designated in the investigation report, so it’s exciting to be involved with these beginning stages. My main goal is to learn and develop my skills and knowledge of paint conservation, to enrich my skill set. I’m keen to get some practical experience and to get involved with, rather than just observe, the process.

I have learned a lot through this project. I’ve already worked on site before in other projects. In this project, I’m learning that there’s a lot of thought that goes behind removing each paint layer – you have to think while you work, interpreting what you’re seeing. It’s such an active process, like putting a puzzle together while the pieces are being made!

One of the best moments of the project, happened just a month into working as a trainee. Once I’d completed some training and was confident to be left working independently, I was removing a paint layer and saw something shiny – I had found a gild layer! This was an exciting and important discovery! We will be sharing more about these discoveries as the project unfolds.

One of the biggest challenges about this project has been handling the cold! I often forget to move around a bit when staring at a wall for hours… It can be hard to remember to look after yourself when you get so engrossed in the work!

I would say to school leavers thinking about heritage careers that if you are interested, then don’t put yourself in a box.  A heritage career isn’t limited to working in museums. And remember that you don’t have to specialize instantly – try as many different environments, fields and skills as you can; it’s as important to find what you like as what you don’t. And finally, listen to people who have worked in that field for many years – they have invaluable knowledge, and you’ll go a long way if you listen to their advice.

If I could meet A.W.N Pugin I would be curious to know where he left his designs and blueprints for the Cathedral. It would make our work so much easier! I’d also like to know why he wasn’t happy with the Cathedral once it was finished. What did the builders and decorators do wrong?