For five days in May 2017, a team of Textile Conservators from the Studio traveled two miles down the road to Blickling Hall in Norfolk, to undertake condition surveys and estimates for treatment for all of the textile items on display on the visitor route.
Blickling is a red-brick mansion left to the National Trust in 1940 by Philip Kerr, 11th Marquis of Lothian. It houses a wide range of textiles from tapestries, carpets, upholstered furniture, beds, a weighing chair to pole screens- the list is long and varied.
The property asked us to undertake the survey so that they can understand the overall condition of their textiles and to help them plan future conservation work.
Each object (or textile component of an object) is rated according to four categories: its condition, stability, treatment priority and the type of treatment it requires.
Arriving at Blickling with our laptops, torches and cameras we worked in the showrooms before and during the opening hours. Light levels are kept low for conservation purposes, so we use hand held torches for closer inspection.
All information collected was input onto an Excel spreadsheet which holds information on all of the textiles at Blickling. Our task is to note any deterioration or problems and this can range from something minor, such as dust, to something more serious such as moth damage, mould or large tears in weak fabric. A lot of time was spent crawling around on the floor getting a closer look at carpets or looking under chairs.
We get to see the parts that the visitors don’t – we can go behind the ropes and look behind the tapestries.
We also undertook two fuller surveys and estimates for treatment. Firstly, the State Bed, an impressive and important object to the property, dating from c. 1770. The silk on the bed is extremely weak and all parts require conservation.
Secondly, three tapestries displayed in Lothian Row and in the Long Gallery, were given a fuller inspection and detailed timings and costs were given for their treatment.
The tapestry has been ‘gridded up’ with string into 20cm vertical sections. Each section is looked at to ascertain the problems and to estimate how long stitched conservation would take.
We found some interesting things….
A tapestry in the Lower Ante Room had a label sewn onto the lining on the reverse, listing two incidences of conservation. Firstly, work undertaken by volunteers at Blickling’s Studio in 1979-80 and then by the National Trust’s Conservation Studio, after water damage in 2004.
Probably the most modest of the textiles on display at Blickling – the hand towel in the below stairs kitchen!
So next time you see a team of National Trust conservators crawling around the floors of a property looking very interested in a carpet or the upholstered arm rest of a settee, you’ll hopefully have a better idea of what we are up to!