‘…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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‘…A Harrowing experience…’

The Carriage Museum courtyard was a hive of activity recently. Arlington’s newest recruit Barbara, is the Equine Ranger for the property and brought in her horse Tyler. She is a 13 year old coloured cob and had been brought in for a day of working demonstrations. The plan was to have a harnessing demonstration, followed by a harrowing demonstration, followed by a harrowing demonstration in the field behind the stables, followed by an un-harnessing demonstration and a wash down. One of our stables volunteers Ann had also been recruited to fill the magician’s assistant role, so with many a rope and stanchion used, the stage was set for Tyler’s big day.

(The lightshow was cancelled due to unexpected sunshine and the smoke machine had been double booked, so it remained a low key affair.)

A working harness differs from a carriage harness as the weight to be pulled rests mainly on the shoulders of the horse. Mixtures of Scandinavian and Canadian harness were thrown in for good measure to demonstrate the differences. Tyler seemed more than happy to oblige, standing perfectly still for harnessing and responding to commands when needed. Having made some lovely patterns in the gravel in the courtyard it was time for some work. To the Field! With a sound not unlike cufflinks going up a vacuum cleaner the thankfully short trip to the field was met with some questionable looks from some sleepy sheep.
The chain harrow can be used with different settings depending of the type of surface you need to rake and to what degree. It is a great way to manage a field as it gently rakes the surface of the ground while preventing the soil becoming
compacted, allowing water and nutrients to be taken up by plants more effectively. It can also be used for weeding and is a great way to (how can one put it) Re-distribute naturally produced fertiliser. (muck spreading to you & me)

‘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!