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“Rat Destroyer” belt plate conserved

Our conservators enjoy working on an object which can be related back to a particular person in history. This belt plate is one of a pair of objects relating to the Board of Ordnance’s only identified rat destroyer, Richard Dean.

Richard Dean rat destroyer to the honourable board of ordnance - chiselhurst

Belt Plate I.979 ii

The plate is the only surviving portion of Dean’s uniform and he can be seen wearing it in his portrait. The brass belt plate is engraved with a rat shown sitting below the arms of the Board of Ordnance, whilst around the edge the inscription reads “Richard Dean, Chislehurst, Rat Destroyer to the Honorable Board of Ordnance”.

painting of man in a red coat with blue waistcoat wearing a top hat and glasses. A belt is slung across his chest

Portrait of Richard Dean, of Chislehurst, Kent, rat destroyer to the Board of Ordnance. I.979 i

In order to make the letters and images engraved on the plate stand out a black enamel-like material was originally applied to the object. Unfortunately, over time this material has cracked and in some areas has been lost. Where damage to the enamel had occurred traces of a powdery green corrosion could also be seen. The powdery corrosion was carefully removed from the damaged lettering and other areas of decoration using a scalpel whilst under magnification. Once clean it was necessary to stabilise the enamel to prevent any further cracking or loss, this was done by running a thin adhesive solution into the damaged areas.

belt plate shown before and after cleaning

Before and after conservation

In addition to the problems with the lettering, several finger and palm prints were clearly visible and spread across the plate. When we handle metal objects with bare hands the sweat and oils on our fingers are transferred to the objects and if not swiftly removed can become etched into the object’s surface. Sadly there is no way of removing finger prints once they are etched into a metal surface without removing the object’s top layer at the same time. Once fingerprints are imprinted they are generally there for good, which is why conservators always ask people to wear gloves when handling or moving objects.

The belt plate and painting of Richard Dean is on display in the White Tower at the Tower of London.

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