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!