Three of the carriages at Arlington had a rare and unusual treat recently. They were allowed outside! (gasp) We had a visit from the team involved with the magazine ‘World of Interiors’ and as well as requiring the use of our lovely carriages the courtyard provided a perfect back drop as it is the original 1865 building. Naturally the North Devon weather tried it’s best to scupper the plans.
Having decided on 3 carriages, the Hansom cab, the Double Brougham and the Park Drag, then came the task of moving them. Now this is naturally what they were designed to do, but as they are now museum exhibits with an average age of around 120, they are used to being still while being admired. As with any large object movement, you need to get the right amount of people to help. Naturally the carriage would have been pulled by a number of horses, but this would put a unwanted stress on the centre pole and fore carriage if we were to move them that way. (We also couldn’t find anyone willing to be harnessed up and do all the pulling.)
With moving carriages the comfortable amount of people is one per wheel, and a team leader at the front and/or back to keep an eye on the procedure. The Park Drag (surely the Range Rover of carriage world) proved the most problematic as it’s the biggest and in a fairly tight space. With our team assembled the first job was to use bottle jacks underneath the axle’s to raise the carriage wheel by wheel on to small trolleys to make movement easier. Once done the next task is to move the carriage to the doors, which proved way more difficult than it sounds due to the uneven historic floor in the stable block. With an expert eye from Ranger Dave (Equine division) we finally got to, and through the doors with inches to spare. It’s more of a delicate job than you would think, with our gloved hands ideally only holding the iron tyres of the 1.6 tonne carriage…
However the fun had only just started as the trolleys proved ‘problematic’ on the cobbles, so with the rest of the process the wheels did the work. Once outside and underneath the arches, we quickly learnt how to maximise the fore-carriage design and use the limited turning circle to the best of our advantage. (the challenging nature of this reminded me of a Golf GTI I used to have to parallel park in Bath) ‘Forwards, full lock right, backwards full lock left’ echoed round the courtyard many, many times…
As the winter clean at Arlington is now in full swing the carriages are getting some extra tlc. One of our most important carriages in the collection is the ‘Knole’ State Coach.
It was built around 1860 by Peters and Son, London, for George John Sackville-West, the 5th Earl de la Warr (1791-1869). The Earl de la Warr married Elizabeth, daughter of the 3rd Duke of Dorset at Knole in Kent in 1813. Although they spent most of their married life at Buckhurst Park in East Sussex, the coach was always kept at Knole were they were married and it remained there after George died in 1869 until the 1980’s when it was given to the Carriage Museum at Arlington Court. The silver plated fittings and furniture are unusually fine, including crested door handles, snake head body loops decorated with acanthus leaves, and heavily ornamented lamps.
To successfully clean a carriage you ideally need to be an ‘ambidextrous octopus’ as a colleague recently described it. (Preferably, one with really good eyesight and a penchant for surfing… ) With the conservation cleaning equipment set up to be within an easy reach, a small ladder is used to step in. (The steps built in to the body are far too fragile to use.) The carriage body has such a perfect suspension design you don’t really realise you’ve just stepped into a wooden box held up by metal springs and leather straps. Although as soon as you move, the carriage body sways slightly, up, down, left, right, forward, backward.
So when you have your stance the work can begin. One of the reasons the doors are usually kept closed during the open season is to protect the delicate fabrics inside. Usually fine silks and carpets that can easily be victims of light damage. However this also means the possibility of mould and pest damage, so the interiors are regularly inspected by the team. Thankfully the warning signs of beetle or moth damage were relatively few, but as usual, were reported, cleaned and bagged. As The Knole coach has recently had the textiles conserved by a specialist the process moved to the outside. To get to each section of the carriage is a challenge, and as a matter of procedure we have different brushes to clean each of the different materials, (metal, wood, leather) so not to cross contaminate. The outside is just as tricky but in a different way, as scaffolding is not possible, ladders need to be used to get to those ‘hard to reach’ areas. Not surprisingly, the heated floor mat for under carriage work, is a very popular piece of equipment at the moment!
A highlight of the Arlington carriage collection is The ‘Brougham’ carriage. (pronounced ‘broom’) In fact we have two, a single and a double version. It was first designed in 1837 by the first Lord Brougham. His initial design was to incorporate an enclosed carriage body with four wheels that could be pulled by a single horse. It was also one of the earliest carriages to be designed with ‘eliptical’ springs. The body is similar to the rear section of a coach, and has a seat for two passengers, with a fold away seat at the front of the body for extra passengers. It also has a glazed window at the front. The fore-wheels and wheel arch design made the Brougham capable of a tighter turning circle than other four wheeled carriages.
The original design was rejected by his coach builders coach builders ‘Sharp and Bland’ on the grounds it would ‘not have popular appeal’. How wrong they were. The design was then taken to ‘Robinson and Cook’ who subsequently built the first Brougham carriage.The Brougham became popular with the gentry of the day, and was an ideal carriage for town and city travelling. The low step design also makes it an easy carriage to get in and out of.
The Double Brougham is more of a deluxe version. The one we have was made by ‘Cole and Sons’ of London in 1893 and was given to the trust in 1982. The double Brougham not only has the foldaway seats replaced with a second fixed seat but had a slightly extended carriage body and small side windows. The Brougham was so popular that eventually a motorised version was produced. The ‘Studebaker Brothers’ adopted the design for the United States and went on to sell them to the rich and famous of America, including President Roosevelt.
(pictures courtesy of the NT photo library)