‘A bug’s life…’

The Carriage Museum gallery here at Arlington has been in constant occupation in recent months, from storage to exhibitions, to muddy Rangers, to more exhibitions. The space is in constant demand it seems. The recent tenant could not be more fitting as it forms a central part of Arlington’s ‘Simply the Pests’ property wide exhibition. The pests theme follows each department with a focus on which little critters we have to deal with in our daily conservation work. Unfortunate in some ways but good for the exhibition, is the amount of pest damage that we have evidence of.

From mice to moths, the exhibition gives details of each pest we have to deal with and the damage that they leave behind. This is all helpfully illustrated by textiles and objects on display including a coachman’s cloak, a child’s Maltese costume and a fox stole, as well as other items with pest damage. It’s an opportunity to show from a conservation perspective, what we do and why we need do it.

Good housekeeping will keep a certain amount at bay but with organic materials in historic collections it’s a bug banquet. As they like to feed undisturbed, as do most people, the pests look for the area that has the most nutritious elements but are mostly hidden. Woodworm like to feed on certain woods but will leave other types relatively untouched. Specific textiles will be grazed upon by clothes moth, like wool and silk. Animal furs are also serve as a special of the day.

The Carriage Museum exhibition has been the brain child and nemesis of our trainee Hannah. As there is a matter of weeks left before the end of her course, she’s been keen to leave a legacy and lasting impression on Arlington. Not only has Hannah had our new conservation store as her pet project, she’s worked tirelessly (except for the tea and cake breaks) in the pursuit of exhibition perfection, with an almost worryingly enthusiastic approach to the project!

‘Dining Room re-shuffle…’

Arlington has another new portrait on display in the dining room. Thanks to a recent loan agreement, a portrait of ‘Henry Chichester of Marwood’ (1578-1661) painted by an unkown artist, has made a perfect addition to the collection. He now sits proudly (with full wig and armour) in a re-jigged dining room in a who’s who of the Chichester family. The choice was made to move the other portraits around to create a more athletically pleasing display. There can be many a problem when picture hanging, so to minimise this, a cunning plan was hatched. The mission was to hang the new acquisition, and to move three other paintings to fit a visual flow of the room. So with a crack team of House & Carriage Museum Manager, House Steward, Assistant House Steward, Senior Conservation Assistant and PTYF Trainee, we were given our respective roles and put to task. With ladders positioned (correctly ‘footed’ of course) the re-hang began. Having already moved the shoulder height pictures to their new spots (always do the easy bit first) we prepped the area with ropes, moved the silverware, got the biggest ladder we could find and had a procedural run-through before we set to it.

Another recently acquired painting, that of Catherine Chichester (1765-91) was to take pride of place above the side board so she went first. Lowering her down involved one person atop a ladder and one person to take the weight. Before going up, she was put out of harm’s way. Henry now needed to go in the space so with a quick re-position of the picture hanging chains he was hoisted up.

There is an optimum handling position when one is holding and moving paintings but this can change depending on circumstances. With the mover facing the painted canvas, a right hand is placed to the upper right side of the frame and the left hand is placed on the lower left. This is the best way a painting can be supported, but care also has to be taken that the frame isn’t compromised as it can easily be damaged if heavily decorated. If you’re not careful you can hold the painting too close to your face and this can result in a ‘canvas kiss’ if you’re not careful. If two people are carrying the painting the holding pattern is similar but held at the edges of the frame.

So, there are many considerations when deciding who should go where, be it a historical family connection, or size of picture, or size and appearance of the frame. It also makes a dramatic impact on the rest of the collection in the room according to your line of sight and a natural order of objects in the collection. As a simple addition to the room would look out of place, the Romney portrait of Catherine Chichester now fits perfectly between the portrait of Robert Chichester of Hall, and a portrait of a young Sir Bruce Chichester who had the 1823 house built here at Arlington Court.

All these shenanigans were under the watchful eye of the portrait of Mary Macdonald Chichester (1738-1815) who’s portrait still sits proudly over the fireplace opposite the portrait of her two daughters Elizabeth and Mary. This used to hang to the left of the window and was once above the fireplace in the boudoir.

Confused? Why not visit and see for yourself!

‘By Royal Appointment…’

The house and Carriage Museum team took a little time out recently and decided on an ‘educational road trip’, just before the season really gets going. A cunning plan was hatched for us to travel to London to visit the Royal Mews to look at their collection of carriages. Not only that, we also decided to take in another carriage museum at Luton on the way back. That’s just how we roll. Having rented a van and woken at stupid o’clock, the team assembled, albeit slightly bleary eyed and set off for the big smoke. House and CM manager Paula was our pilot for the day with yours truly as navigator. (With my sense of direction a sat-nav wasn’t far away.) Thankfully we are all too grown up for hours’ worth of ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain’…

As the green slowly gave way to the grey, we missed our intended turning (I blame the navigator..) and headed straight into London. Trying not to look like tourists we marvelled at the lavish designs and unique construction of these wonderful carriages. They include carriages used for royal and State occasions, weddings and the Opening of Parliament.
The Royal Mews carriages are also used for around 50 occasions during the year, ‘to convey newly appointed High Commissioners and Ambassadors from their official residence to Buckingham Palace to present their credentials to The Queen’. Since 1843 the Brougham carriage has set out from the Royal Mews to collect and deliver post between Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace.

The natural highlight of the collection is the Gold State Coach, which has been used at every coronation since that of George IV in 1821. Very similar to the carriage we have on loan at Arlington although bigger and not as old.
After a spot of lunch, (the irony of travelling to London and eating Cornish pasties did not get lost on us) we took a quick detour to see the Mossman collection at the Stockwood Discovery centre. A wonderful collection of carriages and similar to the range of styles that we have at Arlington. Personal highlights were a carriage used in the film ‘Carry on Cowboy’, the gargantuan ‘Char-o-banc’, and the square and travelling Landau’s.
After a quick shot of caffeine it was time to hit the long road home…