Conservation staff at the National Railway Museum are to restore the outside of Queen Victoria’s historic royal carriage for the first time in 50 years thanks to a private donation.
Set to last 18 months, the project will involve a complete overhaul of the Saloon carriage sides and roof which will include stripping layers of yellowing varnish and paint before restoring it to its former glory.
Housed in the museum’s Station Hall, the carriage was the queen’s favourite and was lavishly finished in Teak with precious silks, satin wood and bird’s eye maple inside the carriage. The interior was last restored in 2003 to preserve the delicate fabrics, although the exterior remained untouched until now.
The project will aim to conserve as much existing decoration as possible, while sensitively returning the carriage to its original appearance. This will involve applying individual sheets of 23¾-carat gold leaf by hand, coating the exterior with a synthetic UV-resistant varnish and repainting the carriage in the original colours, matched from the museum’s archive (Carmine and Flake White).
To protect the delicate interior furnishings, an invisible film will be placed across the window to block UV light that can damage fabrics and LED lights will be fitted that emit low Lux levels.
The restoration project is going ahead following a significant donation from one of the museum’s supporters.
Helen de Saram, Conservator and Collections Manager at the National Railway Museum, said:
“Queen Victoria’s Saloon is loved by visitors from all over the world and is undoubtedly one of the museum’s most popular attractions. However, despite being well cared for, the years are beginning to show, and cracks were appearing in the panelling, shellac is peeling and yellowing, and the paint had faded.
“It is very exciting to be able to restore this royal treasure back to its former glory, using a combination of the latest materials and techniques as well as traditional craft skills. We are also very grateful to our generous donors, without whom we would not be able to embark on restoration projects of this scale. We plan to finish the first side in time for the royal wedding which is expected to be in May.”
The project is open for the public to view, and members of the Conservation Team will be on hand to answer questions, although access to the carriages themselves is not permitted.
The Team will be using many similar techniques and materials recently used to restore the museum’s North-Eastern Railway Dynamometer Car which recorded Mallard’s world record-breaking run in 1938.
The National Railway Museum has nine royal carriages, many of which are on display at the museum’s Station Hall—York’s former goods depot.
Built in 1869, originally as two separate carriages which were linked by a corridor connection, one of the first of its type, the saloon was adapted into one carriage in 1895. Queen Victoria’s Royal Saloon is the most lavishly decorated of the carriages on display and originally cost £1,800—the queen personally contributed £800.
The carriage featured the latest onboard comforts including lavatories, although the queen preferred to use the facilities at stations on route. This explains why many railway stations of the day had very grand toilets in case the queen happened to stop there.
The carriage also features original attendant buttons which she would press to order the train to stop. She was fond of doing this on the way to Balmoral to admire the view, although this caused havoc with the scheduled timetable, as did her meal stops—for she refused to eat on the move.
Although the carriage is still owned by the palace, the present-day Queen has a purpose-built royal train, making it unlikely the carriage will be recalled to active service.
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About the National Railway Museum
- The National Railway Museum in York has the largest collection of railway objects in the world and attracts more than 700,000 visitors per year
- The collection includes over 260 locomotives and rolling stock, 600 coins and medals as well as railway uniform and costume, equipment, documents, records, artwork and photographs
- The National Railway Museum’s vast art collection comprises over 11,000 posters, 2,300 prints and drawings, 1,000 paintings, and 1,750,000 photographs, many of which have never been on public display
- The National Railway Museum forms part of the Science Museum Group, along with the Science Museum in London, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and Locomotion in Shildon
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