After reading my earlier post about the textiles at Ham House, National Trust conservator Lynda Skipper alerted me to the fact that the wall hangings in the Queen’s Antechamber are currently receiving conservation treatment. I thought it would be interesting to show a few details of the work.
The silk had been visibly deteriorating, so in November 2008 the fabric on the west wall was taken down and sent to the studio of textile conservator May Berkouwer. In the original inventory, the centre panels were described as blue silk damask. Puzzlingly, the extant pinkish golden brown silk seemed to have no trace of blue in it.
When the panels were taken apart fragments of the original blue damask were found underneath. Moreover, chemical analysis of the pinkish upper layer detected the presence of an early synthetic dye which was first used in the 1880s.
This dating linked it to the restoration work carried out at Ham by William Tollemache, the 9th Earl of Dysart, in the 1890s, using the firm Watts & Co to replace many of the faded and damaged fabrics in the house. He had the pattern of the original blue damask carefully copied, but for some reason the colour was changed to pink.
He did retain the original corner motifs, which were cut out of the blue damask and appliquéd onto the new pink silk. However, because the synthetic dye was unstable the pink quickly faded to a golden brown, making the fabric look more ancient than it was.
The 9th Earl clearly regarded Ham as a valuable survival from a previous age which was worth preserving. His interventions are also an example of the ‘palimpsest’ effect often seen in historic houses: how the activities of successive generations create a layered picture.
The hangings from the west wall have now been cleaned and strengthened and funds are being sought to treat the remaining hangings in the room.
In response to a question from Janet Blyberg I can report that a book on the house and its collections is to be published in 2011.