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Our work in the house at Arlington Court

Visitor in the Staircase Hall at Arlington Court, Devon
Visitor in the Staircase Hall at Arlington Court | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Arlington is home to over 5,000 items from tiny exotic shells to grand state carriages. Find out how more about how different collections are looked after and the projects taking place to care for the nature, beauty and history here at Arlington.

Our work caring for the collection

From textiles (including the historic wall hangings) to natural history to carriages, the collections team at Arlington Court care for a range of unique and varied objects.

Such diverse collections require specialist knowledge and care to ensure their long-term preservation. The team undertakes preventive conservation to safeguard these objects, occasionally employing specialist conservators, so they can be shared with our visitors.

Costume and textile collection care

The textile collection held at Arlington contains around 500 pieces, from elegant evening dresses to tablecloths and parasols to baby clothes.

Storing textiles

Due to the fragility of the collection, most of it is kept in store and so it's important the team condition check the items, update the inventory and carefully re-pack everything.

Each item has a unique inventory number, allowing the team to check the records on the collections management system and see whether the item has any new signs of damage or deterioration.

The items are then re-packed for storage, mainly in boxes as this puts less strain on delicate seams.

Protective materials

Acid free tissue paper is layered into the items anywhere where fabric touches more fabric, and any folds are padded out with tissue paper sausages. This acid free tissue deteriorates over time, so the items need to be re-packed every five to ten years.

Checking and re-packing the entire textile collection is an ongoing process, and the team completes this work around their other tasks.

Deteriorated lacquer being removed from a silver boat, from Arlington Court. Sally Bowling uses a solvent on a cotton wool swab on a stick, whilst holding the boat with gloved hands.
Deteriorated lacquer being removed from a silver boat at Arlington Court | © National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Model ship conservation

The delicate vessels in Arlington’s model ship collection require regular condition checking and cleaning.

Each model is unique and is treated differently. For example, the older Napoleonic models where lead-based paints and fish glue would have been used mean extra care is taken when choosing the cleaning products, as some old mixtures can even react to water.

Cleaning the cases

The cases the models are displayed in act as microclimates causing incorrect relative humidity and temperature. When mixed with light, mould can grow, and cementation of dust and fibres can occur.

The model cases are dusted regularly, 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.

Princess Louisa

The largest and oldest ship in the collection, the Princess Louisa presented the biggest mould problem. Four bags of dust and dirt were removed which had built up over 300 years. Made from silk, ivory and other delicate materials, it meant the cleaning process was slower, taking around 70 hours to complete.

It takes around 2000 hours to clean and check these delicate vessels.

Silk hanging conservation

The rare crimson and gold silk damask hangings in the Boudoir are one of the few surviving original decorative features in the house, dating from the 1830s.

However, 200 years of light damage and natural wear and tear had taken its toll and conservation was required to stop the deterioration.

View of the Boudoir at Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum, Devon, showing the fireplace and the rare crimson and gold silk damask hangings.
The silk hangings in the Boudoir at Arlington Court | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Repairing the silk

Over the past 20 years the National Trust commissioned repairs to the silk, including sewing a fine net over it to limit any dust getting onto the surface and placing patches on areas where the silk has fallen away.

Access to the room was also limited and shutters and curtains closed to remove as much light as possible. Although this slowed down the deterioration, it was impossible to stop it completely.

Conservation work in action

In 2019 conservation work took place by several textile specialists. The work took place in situ, as the silk was far too fragile to remove from the walls, which also offered visitors a unique opportunity to see specialised conservation work in action.

Watch a short video showing the conservation process here.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

Two adults and a child in a pram walk along a garden path at Arlington Court, Devon


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