200-year-old luxurious silk hangings fit for a lady to be conserved at Arlington Court

Luxurious silk hangings, featuring a pattern similar to ones thought to have been used in the Queen’s Apartments at Versailles, are set to undergo expert conservation at the National Trust’s Arlington Court in North Devon.

Experts are travelling to Devon for a five-week project to preserve the richly coloured hangings, which are too fragile to be removed from the walls of the Lady’s Boudoir. Unchanged for nearly two centuries, the boudoir provides visitors with a glimpse of life inside the private rooms of a 19th-century lady.

The highly valuable 200-year-old hangings were brought to Arlington in the time of Colonel John Chichester in the 1790s, when they were the height of fashion. The room would have been used by his daughter-in-law, Lady Caroline Chichester, and provides an insight into the luxurious lifestyle of a lady at Arlington Court.

Paula Martin, House and Collections Manager, said: ‘The silk museum in Lyon, ‘La Maison des Canuts,’ established that the pattern of our silk hangings is ‘Lampas 6528’, originally a brocade used in the Queen’s apartments in the Palace of Versailles.’

The Arlington hangings are a damask, a luxury patterned fabric typically woven in silk, often with gold and silver thread. They are thought to have been woven in Lyon.
In 2017 the National Trust commissioned a report to assess the hangings and to see if conservation work was possible. Over the years light has faded the silk and weakened the threads, causing splits and fraying. The National Trust has taken measures to protect it, including placing a fine net over the silk and closing shutters and curtains to prevent further light damage. This has helped slow deterioration.

Now, thanks to donations from National Trust members and visitors, work can begin to repair areas which have become worn and faded over two centuries.

Paula Martin, House and Collections Manager, said: ‘We’re really pleased that textile conservator May Berkouwer will be starting work to preserve such beautiful hangings. You can just imagine ladies of the period lounging in the luxurious boudoir. It’s great to think we can preserve the hangings so that future generations can continue enjoying them.’

May Berkouwer said: ‘Conserving silk as delicate as this is a painstaking task. We start by removing a very fine netting, hardly visible to the naked eye, which covers and protects the material.

‘Then the task of surface cleaning the silk begins, using ‘smoke sponges’ to delicately remove any dust. Next we will secure loose areas and dye patches to tone in with the colour of the hangings.’

Visitors will be able to watch conservation work on selected dates starting 7 May, please check website for details.

For more information visit:  https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/arlington-court