‘…Ante Room climax…’

A normally cool, calm and collected house team have been delirious with excitement this week. For the first time in decades the dividing screens in the Ante room have been brought out. The screens were the brain child of architect Thomas Lee. They create a partition between rooms, with folded and hinged screens set in to a recess. This is then ingeniously hidden behind mirrored panels. In a bold yet calculated move it was high time the screens were revealed so the hidden sections could be condition checked. As one screen had been brought out around ten years ago, we knew it was possible. With a heave and indeed a ho, (the procedure used is a trade secret) the screens were one by one brought out, with a whoop and a gasp. Not as easy as it looks. This was Arlington Court’s Howard Carter moment. Not quite as important as discovering an Egyptian tomb obviously, but we don’t get out much.

The panels are covered on each side to reflect décor of the room they now create. To cover the panels, Sir John Chichester used London artist and decorator John Gregory Crace and George Trollop and date to around 1839/40. The striking Rococo style, hand cut and painted wallpaper is impressive enough, but when the screens were pulled out and unfolded… Wow. We were expecting a wondrous sight but were not prepared for what unfolded before our eyes, or indeed what was next.

As if the wallpaper wasn’t enough, the other side of the screens contained another surprise. We knew they are covered by the same silk hangings as the cabinet surrounds of the Ante room and the nearby boudoir. But, we had no idea the Chinese style Spitalfields silk, would be in such good condition. A photograph and watercolour of the room with the screens out, gave us an idea of them is use, but to see them revealed was quite a moment. The screens and coverings need to be recorded and then carefully cleaned, so now the real work can begin…..

‘… Caravan convoy…’

Routine conservation work can sometimes throw up a surprise or two. This week at the Carriage Museum we had 5 surprises, all in the form of gypsy caravan models. We knew they were part of the collection having seen them on the inventory list, and noticed the packing crates for them in the store cupboard. As they had not been on display for some time, the opportunity had come to open them up to condition check the interior of the cases to check for problems. A micro climate can form if the cases are not air tight, so the possibility of mould or woodworm had to be ruled out. Thankfully there were no causes for concern at all. Not only were they in excellent condition, but looked like they were only finished yesterday. One caravan bears the emblems of a heron, the same as the Chichester family have used for generations. Although this is thought to be because the original caravan it is based on was used in East Anglia in the nineteenth century by the Heron family.

Records show they were donated to the Carriage Museum in 1990 and made by R.J. Amphlett of Abertillery, Wales. They are all 1/8th scale models of a variety of caravans, ranging from Burton styles, to a Gordon Boswell Open Lot style. They are made from a variety of hardwoods, brass and glass for the windows. The interiors are just as fascinating as the exteriors and were all painted and finished with original designs by Mr. Amphlett. The other model caravans from the collection are on display at the Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton along with the Mossman collection of carriages.

‘…Action stations…’

This month at Arlington we have been running another programme of Conservation in Action. This is a fantastic opportunity to engage with our adoring public and to show and tell from behind the scenes. Amongst other engagement opportunities, we have had clocks repaired and chandeliers and carriages cleaned.

With the help of Horologist Phil Kenning, the clocks at the house needed a quick condition check and a few repairs. The Dutch wall Clock in the Staircase Hallway was the first repair, due to the chain having come off the pulley. Next we came to a brass cased clock in the White Drawing Room. An interesting fact here is that the mercury cylinders in the pendulum might not be mercury. Gasp! It’s just as likely that they contain faux mercury which is a type of foil made to look like the liquid metal. Cheaper to produce and not so deadly. The striking longcase clock in the Blue Room was next on the repair list, made not too far away in Bideford. Unfortunately due to a lack of spare parts, it ticks, but doesn’t chime. Yet.
Last on the repair list was our French Mantle clock. This was a tricky one as it stops just as it gets to 12. After a re-start the problem was the rack arm contacting the snail. (If you know your horology terminology that will make perfect sense) This too was soon going again.

Next on the list was the Whiter Drawing Room Chandelier. Now we like a challenge here at Arlington towers, so with some room rearrangement and a mental walk through procedure, House Steward Dave and Assistant House Steward Robin set about this most delicate task. Firstly some sections had to be removed to aid access so two rows of droplets and all but one of the spears were taken down. Carefully. They are then marked with numbers and letters so the correct ones go back in the correct places. Hopefully. Armed with ladders, pony hair brushes, cotton wool pads, and vacuum cleaners we set to work. This is a slightly nerve wracking task as there is no room for error. Even more so when you’re observed and questioned about what we are doing! Systematically cleaning section by section we removed all the dust we could while fielding comments about the similarity to a particular episode of a particular comedy show. This was an inevitable comparison to Delboy and Rodney, so a sign went up right next to the raffle tickets…. If we had a pound for every time someone said…

To clean a carriage is no simple task. Especially when it is the Onslow Travelling Chariot. As with most objects, Work from the top down and then outside, under, then in. There is also the mix of materials to be considered so we use a variety of equipment. Pony hair brushes, lint free cloths, torches, vacuums and evidence bags for pests. Removal of dust is the main concern as we are now in full swing of the open season. To the untrained eye the carriages do look very clean, but there’s a dark side to dust. Literally. If you shine a light on an object from above it might look perfectly fine but to analyse the dust that lands on an object we need to use light at an angle of around 20 degrees. This is known in the trade as raking light. A carriage is a mixed material object so there is leather, metal work, woodwork, rubber and textiles all in one place. Cleaning the paintwork is a delicate task as there can be cracked or blistered and detached areas. These need to be cleaned up to and/or avoided, so there isn’t any more damage. There is also, an access issue. The easy to reach sections are fine, but there is also a lot of crawling on knees, contortion, lying underneath and fitting into gaps we really didn’t think we could fit! If we didn’t clean them, the dust that settles reacts with the environment and causes cementation. Sticky dust basically. This, if it’s left long enough will be very difficult to remove without damaging the surface it has stuck to. Having finished, all the fun and games gets detailed on the condition reports so any changes can be monitored.

We do love our jobs!

Why are we celebrating butterflies this month in Heddon Valley?

Originally posted on National Trust - North Devon Blog:

June is butterfly month, or so you are reliably informed by the colourful bunting decorating the Heddon Valley National Trust shop. Children are tucking into their ice creams, completed trail maps in hand, while others are enjoying butterfly arts and crafts activities put on by the Rangers. It seems the valley has gone butterfly mad. More on our June events.

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The Heddon Butterfly Trail: Follow the caterpillars to find the butterflies.

So what is the fuss all about? Well Heddon is home to one of the UK’s rarest butterflies, the High Brown Fritillary. It’s one of only three sites in the UK where the High Brown still breeds and a lot of the work of the National Trust Rangers is focused on improving the habitat for this species.

High brown fritillary butterfly (Argynnis adippe) on a fern, Cumbria, UK

We had some good news earlier in the season as 2014’s High Brown survey results were published. The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (BMS)…

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