Monthly Archives: November 2011

Object of the Month – November 2011

Radio, about 1940

Radio, about 1940

Arthur Noakes’ radio

This radio was used by Arthur Noakes, who was a secret listener during the Second World War. Secret listeners were amateur radio enthusiasts who were recruited by the government to listen to enemy radio messages. They passed the messages on to Bletchley Park where they were decoded. Bletchley Park’s success in intercepting and decoding German messages played a key part in winning the war.

Arthur was one of a handful of secret listeners in Coventry. He was already a keen amateur radio enthusiast and a member of the Coventry Amateur Radio Society when war broke out. At first the government took away all amateur radio sets, but soon realised that they could be very useful for the war effort. An official visited Arthur at home and recruited him to work for the government. He had to sign the Official Secrets Act and was then given a radio and asked to listen to certain frequencies.


At first Arthur struggled to pick up anything and was given this radio instead. It is a National Radio HRO set, made in the USA. The British government bought thousands of these high quality receivers during the war. With this new radio Arthur was able to listen to successfully listen to enemy messages. He believed the stations he listened to were in Belgium and Holland.

Arthur continued to listen to enemy communications throughout the war and often got feedback about how important the work was. He kept his work secret even from his family and it was not until many years later that his sons found out how he had spent the war. In the last few weeks two other people have come forward to tell us that their fathers were also secret listeners.

Arthur’s certificate of war service

We would like to thank the Noakes family and Coventry Amateur Radio Society for donating this radio and for recording Arthur Noakes’ story.

Huw Jones, Keeper of Collections


Wiki, water & watercolours

More routine, more roof repairs, more photography – more of everything, really, but some new themes as well, just to liven things up. On 1st October, two of us had groups round the conservation studio as part of the Wikimedia Back Stage Pass event. We felt this was very successful both for The Herbert as a whole, and for ourselves with the level of interest for conservation (not that it’s a competition…..). It was an enjoyable day, with an added bonus of finding the hairdryer and anti-static brush we though lost, whilst tidying. There’s still more to be done on that score, but sadly I don’t see where the (still missing) beam balance could possibly be hiding – that one must really be on loan, not just pretending like the hair-drier… In case you’re wondering, the hairdryer is for hot air, and the brush is for stopping dust getting over-attracted to nice clean flat plastic surfaces you’re about to shut away. You never know what you may have to do down here!

Talking of lost items, I raided the long-lost-property bag for a couple of emergency response training sessions. Add random items from home, out of date marketing leaflets and some apparently potential hazards, place in a large trough with water, and watch your colleagues retrieve them. Very interesting personality test – including on myself; by the third session I’d accustomed myself to deliberately tipping water over most things, but didn’t progress as far as dunking the much washed cute, cuddly leopard cub that some poor parent is bearing the brunt of loosing. I’ve never had to retrieve objects for real or run a practical training session before so we were all learning together, and now I’ve a pile more stuff to do to improve our emergency preparedness, and a leopard that keeps mysteriously moving around the studio…

Drying out after emergency response plan training

The next major project is to prepare for a large watercolour exhibition in Feb. This has rather crept up on me under cover from a number of unexpected happenings why have had to take priority, but really does have to be started – immediately after I’ve sent this. Work will involve cutting mounts, hinging watercolours, possibly dry cleaning and such like. My training is in archives conservation, so I’m not really used to playing about with pigments, but many of the techniques are similar, or require the same skills applied slightly differently. Even so, I was rather relieved that we managed to raise funds to have work on the William Brooke album done by a private Works on Paper conservator. 10 items were removed and cleaned by her, and I mounted a selection of these for an event a couple of weeks ago, re-acquainting myself with the mount cutter – I still need to learn its angle of minimum effort, but at least I know what I’m aiming at now! Many of the items are listed as only requiring a check over, but who knows what this will find – the first 2 taken at random have horridly acidic backboards which should really be removed, but I’d best see what the total of these is rather than diving in on those two and then finding there’s no time for ones which are discolouring the image. The idea is to use a poultice to hold moisture against the board, then strip it off in layers; usually the adhesives will be water softenable on older items. It’s a while since I’ve done anything of that nature, so I think a practice session is in order – there’s a nasty, mouldering apprentice indenture that’s been a skeleton in the drawer for years which should be just the job. Lovely!

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