Conservation and Restoration Work in Queen Victoria’s Apartment

Before the lockdown we were keeping very busy in the Royal Pavilion.

In January the Conservation department shut off Queen Victoria’s Apartment and its ante-room to carry out some long-awaited conservation and restoration work involving some rather special Chinese wallpaper.

This early 19th Century wallpaper was hand-painted in China and exported for the European market. It was purchased and hung in the Pavilion in the early 1830s and since then has had quite a journey.

When Queen Victoria sold the Pavilion to the town in 1850 it was removed from the walls, along with most of the interior decorations and taken to Buckingham Palace, where much of it was used to decorate the Yellow Drawing Room. Unused sections of the set were returned to Brighton and installed in the Saloon in the 1930s in the mistaken belief that it had originally hung there.

Towards the end of the restoration of the Saloon in 2014, with permission from English Heritage (now called Historic England) the wallpaper was once again removed with the condition that it would eventually be reinstated in the Pavilion.

Recent research had shown that this yellow Chinese wallpaper originally hung in the room now known as Queen Victorias Bedroom – confirmed by the discovery of a fragment of the paper below the cornice during a previous restoration of the room. Finally, timing and funding came together in January this year and we were able to proceed with the plan to reinstate the wallpaper, in what we hope will be the end of its travels!

The bedroom had been decorated for many years with a wonderful modern handpainted reproduction of the paper. This was made by a former member of the conservation team and fortunately he was on hand to carry out the removal of this paper. The reproduction paper will be safely stored for now, but there are plans to rehang it in another location in the Pavilion at a future date.

Reproduction wallpaper being removed in Queen Victoria’s Apartment

Meanwhile our wonderful original wallpaper had been removed from the Saloon back in 2014 and taken away for conservation treatment by Allyson McDermott. Although we were aware that there was not enough original wallpaper to fill this room we were fortunate that Allyson could offer other skills. In her studio, she was able to make wonderful matching digitally printed reproduction drops of paper to fill in the gaps. It really does look amazing and we challenge you when you visit to work out which is original and which is reproduction!

Original and reproduction wallpaper being rehung. Can you tell which is which?

So Queen Victorias Bedroom now stands ready for us to re-introduce furniture and fittings (the conservation team managed to fit in a spring clean too!) when we return to the building.

The ante-room next door has also had a makeover. Records show that all the rooms along this front on the upper floor were decorated with Chinese wallpapers but as no further fragments have been discovered we have chosen to display a framed panel of wonderful grey-ground Chinese wallpaper (birds and flowers) and one of our team has been using traditional techniques to restore all the woodwork, with painted wood graining as used throughout the building.

Large framed Chinese wallpaper undergoing conservation treatment (tear repair and hinging). Just a little more to do when I get back to work!

While we are closed a few other things are awaiting completion, but we hope it wont be long before you can come in and enjoy these newly restored rooms.

Amy Junker Heslip, Paper Conservator

8 Responses

  1. Nicki Carter

    Brilliant!
    Looking forward to doing a product range
    Thank you Clare

  2. Steve Hodgson

    Amy,

    The picture seems to show the consistency of the paper more of a fabric structure than paper. How was the paper fixed to the wall and, more importantly, how was it removed with minimum damage? What method will be used to re-affix it to the wall? Some excellent conservation work going on here, keep up the good work.

    Steve Hodgson

    • Amy Junker Heslip

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks so much for your interest and your kind comments.
      The wallpaper is made up of many layers of paper pasted together. I think the texture you mention that you can see on the back of the paper in the photo is the old paste layer from when it was mounted on linen one point in the past.
      The walls are lined and so is the wallpaper, with conservation grade materials, in preparation for the rehanging. A conservation grade paste is also used to affix it to the walls.
      To remove the wallpaper off the walls it takes a great deal of experience and precision and there are a number of technical aspects. Please do email if you would like further information. ObjectEnquiries@brighton-hove.gov.uk
      Best wishes,
      Amy

  3. Richard Harrison

    A fascinating narrative, and one far more complicated that I would have imagined. It’s extraordinary how highly valued these papers were, and the lengths that were taken to remove and re-fit them. Congratulations to all the restorers.

    • Amy Junker Heslip

      Thank you Richard for your kind words. I hope I have illustrated in my article just how many different people were involved in this project. It really was a collaboration.

  4. Virginia Hinze

    I remember watching the reproduction wallpaper going up in Queen Victoria’s bedroom in 2014, and was impressed by the care and precision employed to ensure it was hung with absolute perfection. I look forward to seeing the real thing!

    • Amy Junker Heslip

      Thank you Virginia. The reproduction wallpaper is safely stored and we have plans to redisplay this elsewhere soon. I think you will love the newly restored room. Hope we all get to see it in the not too distant future.

  5. Hannelore Lixenberg

    Wonderful! So proud of the Conservation Teams skill and Dedication. Will one of the Team have the patience to show us Guides the ‘new’ pieces of Wallpaper? ( pretty please)

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