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Tru Vue Blog: Luxury Travel Textile Conservation

We've got another Icon Tru Vue blog for you as the deadline for the next round of grants steadily approaches

Sophie Adamson is the Archive Consultant for the Saltaire Archive, West Yorks. Here, shares her experience of conserving the textiles of a rare Midland Railway Pullman Sleeping Car, ‘Balmoral’ of 1882.


Earlier this year I was fortunate to be given a Tru Vue grant to attend a tailored training course with the conservators from Textile Conservation Ltd in Bristol. The heritage railways continue to play a significant role in the preservation of the UK's rolling stock although the emphasis is on restoration, for practical reasons. Upholstery and textiles particularly, tend to be replaced or recovered, sometimes at great expense using reproduction moquette. 

It has very ornate livery and interiors, marquetry, stained glass windows and a painted ceiling​

surviving_upholstery_stately_trains_0_0.jpgMy training was to aid in the investigation of some rail carriage textiles from the rare survivor ‘Balmoral’, a Midland Pullman sleeping car, from 1882. The car was originally manufactured in a flat packed form in Detroit, America and was assembled by the Midland Railway who introduced the opulent Pullman parlour and sleeping cars to Britain in the 1870s. It converts from a day to a sleeper and is the only surviving example of a three axle Pullman out of four made. It has very ornate livery and interiors, marquetry, stained glass windows and a painted ceiling. It has undergone many transformations, survived two fires and after 1918 was incorporated into a house in Seaford. In 1987 it was salvaged, joining the private fleet ‘Stately Trains’ in 2000. It is currently undergoing restoration at Embsay Steam Railway and is intended to be a working vehicle. The aim of the project was to investigate the materials and construction of the remaining seat upholstery and a surviving painted fabric ceiling panel and to design a conservation strategy for these elements of the car, taking into account the requirements of the owner.

A considerable amount of information was gathered before, during and after my weeks training, thanks to Alison Lister and colleagues. The studio had recently undertaken a project conserving the textiles of a privately owned road carriage, so were able to understand the nature of the project and provide lots of advice and literature. Investigative conservation was undertaken and the archival research is ongoing. The development of early rail fabrics is not well documented, although some of the original moquette manufacturers survive and supply the heritage sector using designs from their archives. Hand and power looms for weaving moquette and plush can be found in museum collections. Evidence points to an American cut and loop plush on Midland Derby works frames with no sign of reupholstery, suggesting the fabric was sent a part of the flat pack. The fabric ceiling panel is known to have been painted in the Pullman workshops. Two treatment approaches were trialled on a back and head rest from one seat compartment to compare results. One treatment was interventive but added further support and another was non-interventive. Options for reinstating some seat components were discussed and the need to retain the rest for preservation.

ceiling_panel_detail_0.jpgThe fabric ceiling panel was examined but will be conserved later this year following help from the Californian State Railroad Museum amongst others. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Bristol and the opportunity to work on this unique car. I am grateful to Textile Conservation Ltd and Icon Tru Vue for giving me access to the help I needed to undertake this interesting project and I hope to continue my research into rail textiles.

The deadline for the current round of Icon / Tru Vue Grants is 30th April. Click here for more information.

Lead Image: Balmoral Pullman Sleeping Car
Image 1: Balmoral Livery; Tim Warner
Image 2: Surviving upholstery 
Image 3: Ceiling panel detail
All images courtesy of Stately Trains ©





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