Model ship conservation

Arlington's model ship collection is famous for its size and variety. These delicate vessels need a lot of care and conservation, and are regularly condition checked and cleaned.

Condition checking

Each model is unique and has its own issues, so needs its own individual condition report. As well as detailed photographs, the report notes old damage, pest damage, mould, oxidisation and, in some cases, old paintwork. This was the case with the Napoleonic models where lead based paints and fish glue would have been used in the construction. We have to be careful with the cleaning products we use as some old mixtures can even react to water. The more modern models, like the Dunkirk collection were simpler to work on, as we knew that the paints, lacquers, and structures were sound so the process of conservation was straight forward.

Creating a clean environment

The cases the models are displayed in act as micro climates, like a green houses, causing incorrect Relative humidity and temperature. When mixed with light these can cause mould growth and cementation of dust and fibres .The model cases are dusted regularly, but we have no record of when they were last removed from their cases for cleaning. To prevent further mould growth , the cases were also thoroughly cleaned; vacuumed and treated with a mixture of Industrialised de-natured alcohol and white vinegar. Each model has an acid free board placed in the base to prevent future problems

The biggest and the longest

The biggest mould problem came from the Princess Louisa, our largest ship and the oldest in the collection. Four bags of dust and dirt were removed, which had built up over 300 years, since the model was built. Fascinatingly the work uncovered some never before seen detail on the interior of the ship.

Interior details never seen before, brought to light
Interior detail from the model of the Princess Louisa at Arlington Court
Interior details never seen before, brought to light

One of the more complex models took the longest time – around 70 hours. Being made from silk, ivory and other delicate materials made the cleaning process slower, but it was worth the time to see the amazing detail being uncovered.

Time well spent

Around 2000 hours have been spent on this project over the past four years. Whenever the cleaning is undertaken next, there will be detailed condition reports, including photographs, for the conservator to refer to, making the work much quicker. Models that have had conservation completed on them to date have not had any further problems, which makes the project a success, protecting the model ships for our visitors to enjoy for years to come.