A coronation to remember

Conservation studio visit ickworth

Theodora, 4th Marchioness of Bristol, attended the coronations of both George V and George VI and from 15 June visitors will be able to see the restored robes on the Museum Landing. Conservation Assistant, Elea Walker tells us about her recent visit to the May Berkouwer Textile Conservation Studio to see the progress on the conservation of Theodora's coronation robes.

Why did the robes go to a conservation studio?

The coronation robes which Theodora wore are very delicate and usually kept in store, so in order to be displayed to visitors they first needed to undergo remedial conservation work. For the past couple of months the robes have been with the team at the May Berkouwer Textile Conservation Studio in Sudbury. As the date of their return to Ickworth draws closer I and two other members of the House Team visited the studio to deliver the mannequin on which the robes will be displayed, and to see how the work was progressing.

What work has been done to the coronation robes?

The Coronation robes are not actually all one garment, but made up of a number of separate parts. Only the three largest elements; the dress, the train and the ermine fur tippet, which denotes Theodora’s rank as a Marchioness, are undergoing treatment at the Conservation Studio. A number of different materials make up the robes, including fur and lace, but the majority of the structure is velvet, which is a tricky material to conserve because the stitching and work which is carried out on it shows easily.

Restoring a part of history
Coronation robes conservation Ickworth
Restoring a part of history

Work to the train and the tippet was still ongoing at the time of our visit, but the dress had already been fully conserved.  The weight of the train where it attached at the shoulders of the dress had caused significant damage to the fabric and structural strength of this area, which needed most attention. Gerda and Maria, the conservators working on the robes, used silk crèpeline adhesive support and stitching to reinforce the broken areas. The hem of the robes were also conserved and the delicate lace sleeves were washed then blotted with blotting paper to remove some of the yellowing.

What work did you see being done there?

On the day of our visit treatment was being completed on the train. The sheer scale of the train affects how it is conserved; silk crèpeline is being used to cover the entire lining, whereas on the dress it was only used to give partial support to specific areas. Maria explained that covering the entire reverse of the train will give much fuller support to this heavy garment and will hopefully avoid any later damage.

What else can you tell us about your visit?

Fortunately we had a sunny day for our trip, so when we set off in the morning we didn’t have to worry about keeping the mannequin dry as we made our way down the drive from the Rotunda, although I’m sure we looked a little strange with it under our arms! I am currently working with the textiles in our collection here at Ickworth and really enjoy learning more about this area of conservation, so it was lovely to be able to chat with the conservators and find out more about the work they were doing to look after the robes. Everyone is so excited for the robes to return and go on display for the first time in their life.