‘…A year of change…’

1865 was a big year in the Arlington story. In February, Sir Bruce Chichester married Rosalie Chamberlayne at Cranbury Park in Hampshire. After a honeymoon in Malta, the couple returned to England as the property underwent a dramatic change. The original kitchens were moved from underneath the house to be incorporated into a new extension.
This reflected the architectural style of the stable block at Arlington, completed a year earlier. To round off the year, Rosalie Caroline Chichester was born in November. The last of her branch of the family tree, she gave the estate to the National Trust in 1949.

The project to bring this story to life was the brainchild of House Steward Dave Gibbons and House and Collections manager Paula Martin. Ideas came thick and fast. Just like stars aligning in the night sky of ideas, it grew from humble beginnings. Not content with a simple ‘did you know that…’ the 1865 think tank expanded the idea of celebrating the 150th anniversary of a special year. Pondering the question, how would the wedding be reported in today’s news? Some interpretation was needed. But your usual leaflet would not do….

Behold, the majesty of WHAT HO! Magazine. Without wishing to name names, (Dave) it was decided to produce a celebrity style magazine using the facts of the wedding as reported in the local newspapers. Not only does this enable us to entertain and educate, but shape the content to be a self-led tour booklet as well as a souvenir brochure. It was an interesting exercise as the house and carriage museum team all took part in its production. With two newspaper reports written at the time to go by, we had to translate the facts to modern language. It’s worth noting, not as easy as it sounds. One of the problems we had was the lack of photographs of the wedding. The two we do have are fairly small so had to be digitised and tweaked. Raiding the archives, pictures of the wedding guests were also slowly uncovered. The layout took many forms and went through quite a few changes. The house temporarily became the What Ho! Editorial suite.

While all this was going on, the house itself had a room re-vamp. The four Beauvais tapestries were removed, cleaned and stored, so that a new exhibition space could come into existence. This room was a gentleman’s bedroom, known as the Blue Room, so it seemed fitting to return it one. With the walls stripped, filled and painted, (no points for guessing what colour) we set to work on stripping the floor.

The (mostly) original floor boards had a coat of varnish from who knows when, so this need to be scraped off by hand so the floor could be waxed. Working on it was a team effort that started with the very best of intentions and ended up feeling a little like you had upset someone. The reason it had to be gently done was to retain as much of the historic surface as possible. Seeing it slowly change did make you wonder about each dent and scratch that revealed itself, thinking of the distinguished occupants so many years ago. (Also a good time for a breather…)

The shade is a mix of contemporary and historic and complete with display cases courtesy of Buckland Abbey, come together to make a fantastic exhibition space. The room also reflects the 1865 theme, displaying dresses on loan from Killerton and other textiles such as shoes and parasols from the Arlington collection. The tapestries will also make a return to the room albeit one at a time. All this is brought to life with shiny new interpretation boards.

Don’t just take our word for it, pay us a visit to find out more and be sure to grab a copy of WHAT HO!

‘…Paraloid android…’

To say the winter has been a busy one at Arlington towers would be an understatement. Not content with the usual deep clean of the house and carriage museum, plans were made for an open season to remember. Amongst all of the hub-bub, there have also been some movers and shakers in the collection.

We now have on display in the Morning room, a rare picture of a teenage Rosalie Chichester, the last of the family to live at Arlington Court. This type of photograph is known as an Opalotype. This is a photograph printed onto a sheet of opaque glass and hand tinted. Having been re-discovered last year in a storage area she has been cleaned and re-framed for the new season.

In addition to a portrait of Catherine Chichester and Henry Chichester acquired and displayed last season, we now have another family portrait in the Dining room. This is of Charles Chichester of Hall (1722-98) who became a baronet at the ripe old age of 15. This meant a little re-shuffle to accommodate the painting, which included just as much ladder and picture chain movement as it did chin scratching. (Left a bit…right a bit… etc.)

The Dining room was also subjected to the smells of a strange and mystical chemistry. Was the room doubling as a laboratory for a play of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstien? No just Assistant House Steward Robin, doing a spot of inventory marking.

The reason for the alcoholic aroma (a bit early in the morning…) was a mix of solutions integral to the process. To mark an inventory number onto an object in the collection, a combination of Paraloid and Acetone are used to create a glue-like paste, to apply to the object for the number to be written on to. This is a process that can be easily reversed if need be. The trick is to get the mix just right. This did take quite a while. House and Collections manager Paula suggested aiming for a nail varnish consistency. Obviously this meant nothing …. (Ahem…) The solution is then applied once more over the top to seal in the number, and hey presto! A sealed in inventory mark that be removed if need be.

‘…Tapestry take down…’

The Tapestry room in the house was a hive of activity recently. All four 1790’s Beauvais tapestries were removed, cleaned and rolled up to go into storage.

They are going into storage to give them a rest as they have been decorating the walls for around ten years. They are thought to have been brought from a family owned property in Wales and destined for the dining room in the late 1860’s. They are made of wool and silk and each depicts one of the four continents of Europe, Africa, America and Asia.

The process of tapestry removal is not for the faint hearted. They are in very good condition, apart from a few marks and some light damage, so we aim to keep them that way. With the help of textile conservator Liz Flintoff a team of staff were assigned to either hold or tear. So that the tapestries could be removed quickly in an emergency they had been fixed to batons on the wall with Velcro for ease of removal.

With around three people taking the weight of the tapestry at the base the top line is carefully peeled off and then transferred to the floor. Here it is rolled and moved to allow both sides of the fabric to be cleaned, and a condition check to be carried out. The cleaning is done with a variable speed vacuum cleaner and a mesh placed of the surface. This is so that if any fibres become dislodged while cleaning, they are trapped in the mesh and not lost up a nozzle.

The next task, is rolling them. Although the fabric of the tapestry is pretty sturdy, they can become brittle and can crack if not rolled smoothly, so Liz instructed us on the how and why of the rolling process. The tubes used to roll them on are 3.4 meter plastic drain pipes with around a 6 inch diameter. We started with the tapestry face down and the drain pipe at one end. Acid free tissue paper is strategically placed so that when you roll it covers the surface so that each roll of the tapestry comes into contact with a paper layer, protecting every section of the design. When finished you have a neatly and tightly packed cylinder. Like a pre-coiled croissant.

The tapestry room is now destined for a reality tv style make over during the winter to become ‘The Blue Room’.(not sure what colour to paint it yet…) It will then become a new exhibition space ready for next season and will feature one of the tapestries at a time.

40 years on from the ‘Destruction of the Country House’ exhibition

Originally posted on The Country Seat:

Many was the time I stood in that exhibition watching the tears stream down the visitors’ faces as they battled to come to terms with all that had gone.’ – Sir Roy Strong [Diaries, 1974]

'Destruction of the Country House' exhibition, 1975 - V&A ‘Destruction of the Country House’ exhibition, 1975 – V&A

In October 1974, one of the most influential exhibitions ever staged by a UK museum opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  The ‘Destruction of the Country House‘ laid bare the scale and depth of the losses the UK had suffered, showing how four centuries of architectural tradition and achievement in country houses had been severely damaged by the depredations of the 20th-Century. It was conceived as a dramatic display to waken the nation to the threat faced by country houses and the danger faced by all aspects of heritage.  This was in an age with weak legal protection and which seemed to be growing ever more…

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