Monitoring our special carriage

The Speaker's State Coach on loan to Arlington Court from the Houses of Parliament

This magnificent carriage is on loan to us from the Houses of Parliament. As our oldest and grandest carriage it requires extra special care – not only does it have its own environmentally controlled box (inside which the relative humidity, temperature and light levels are monitored closely and kept within acceptable levels), but it also undergoes daily, weekly and annual checks.

Daily check

Visual check through the screen, clean screen and visitor area, check monitoring systems on the computer.

Weekly check

Go inside the box for a close-up visual check using a torch – particularly looking at the structure and gilded and painted surfaces. There is purposely a false black, shiny floor underneath the carriage which, in the unlikely event of something falling off, would make it easy to spot. We also check that the environmental control equipment (dehumidifiers and heaters) are working correctly and compare readings to those of a hand-held monitoring device to check accuracy. Four times a year we also inspect the insect pest traps for any activity.

Annual check

Once a year the Speaker’s State Coach gets a thorough condition check from external experts. This year the date was set for 21 March and a top conservator from Plowden and Smith, a renowned London conservation studio, and our wheelwright came to visit. Also on site were our National Trust regional and carriage conservators and, of course, the Carriage Museum team too.

The importance of good record keeping

All aspects of the coach were carefully inspected, with specific emphasis on checking if anything had changed as this is a sign of deterioration. It is important to have detailed, concise and up-to-date records with which to compare notes. On very old objects there are bound to be areas that are imperfect, but if they are in a stable condition then there is little cause for concern, however if a material or area was unstable and breaking down, then this would be a worry and we would need to investigate further in order to prevent or alleviate this damaging process.

Keeping the wheels turning

All seemed to be well with the coach, with just a few observations about dust levels (it has been on loan to us since 2011 so a small build up is not unexpected) and a tiny bit of gilding that had lifted was re-stuck. The wheelwright was here to inspect and turn the wheels 90 degrees clockwise, to prevent stress caused by one section of the wheels constantly taking all the weight, which in this case is quite a load, at three tonnes.