Chirk Castle's Red Hand of history

The Myddleton family pedigree after restoration © National Trust

The Myddleton family pedigree after restoration

A document detailing centuries of family history dating back to circa 1660 is now on public display at Chirk Castle, near Wrexham in North-East Wales.

For the first time visitors can see the Myddelton Pedigree, a document that dates back to circa 1660 and maps the ancestry back from this point through the lines of Welsh princes and rulers of ancient Britain.

The Pedigree, which is on display in a bespoke case in the lower dining room of the East Wing, celebrates the Welsh bloodline of English kings such as Henry Tudor, and illustrates the Myddeltons’ pride in their Welsh ancestry.

It was probably made to commemorate Sir Thomas Myddelton III being created a baronet in 1660 - hence the ‘Red Hand’ (knight's glove) shown on the bottom of the coat of arms.

Intricate conservation

The Pedigree is made of 19 sheets of hand-made paper sewn and glued together and is 35 feet long. It is illustrated with graphite, watercolours and iron gall inks, as well as gold and silver decoration on the coats of arms.

It has not been exposed to light previously and the good condition of the coloured ink is so rare that it is important to preserve it.

Specialist conservation work has recently been carried out by paper conservator Graeme Storey to stabilise the document; this included repairing tears, splits and holes with Japanese (acid-free) paper, neutralising the acidity of the iron gall inks and reducing the oxidisation of some of the historical corrections.

Some of the watercolours have been mixed with ‘Chinese White’, a zinc-based paint, to create a thicker surface and a stronger colour, because the watercolour paint surface has flaked. To prevent the paint flaking further a 3% gelatine consolidant has been used to stabilise the colour.

This conservation project has been funded by the property raffle, Chirklands National Trust Members’ Association and the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust.

On display

Following the conservation work, we have been able to put the Pedigree on display. As it is too fragile to handle, we have created a facsimile using a high-resolution flatbed scanner. These scans have been matched up and printed onto paper and the whole thing is mounted on scroll arms. Visitors to Chirk Castle will be able to handle and have a close look at the copy.

Approximately six feet of the original Pedigree is on display. It will be rolled on annually to display a new section each year - this falls in line with the conservation programme for this document, ensuring that the colour of the inks doesn’t fade through exposure to light.

Our volunteers are currently transcribing and researching the document, and we will be able to share this knowledge with our visitors in the near future.