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Hercules takes a bath

Conservation of the Tapestries in the Great Watching Chamber

Date: 16 November 2016

Author: Rebecca Bissonnet

The Death of Hercules tapestry was recently removed from the Great Watching Chamber at Hampton Court Palace for conservation reasons. You can learn more about the tapestry and how it was safely removed from display in our earlier blog post. We have now begun the two-year conservation programme, starting with wet cleaning in our custom-built facility.

The textile conservation studios at Hampton Court Palace have been in existence for over 100 years and house the largest wash table facility in the UK and possibly Europe. It was built in 1990 and measures 7 metres by 10 metres, designed to accommodate the largest tapestries in our collection from The History of Abraham series that hang in the Great Hall.

Close up on ' The Death of Hercules' tapestry before and after conservation in 2016.

Image: Before and after detail showing the improvements to the colour of the tapestry when wet-cleaned.

The table can use up to 8,000 litres of water but is designed to be able to be divided and for the wet cleaning of Hercules, half the table was used as the tapestry is relatively small, measuring 4 x 5m. We use a conservation grade detergent to help remove ingrained soiling, re-hydrate the fibres, re-balance the pH level and improve the overall appearance of the tapestry.

After initial preparation which included testing the threads for colourfastness of the dyes, the tapestry was submerged. Once the fibres had relaxed detergent was sprayed through a moving boom on to the tapestry and sponged by conservators working from a gantry.

Take a look at the Abraham tapestries in the Great Hall on our 360-degree image, created in partnership with Google Arts & Culture.

The bath is then drained and the tapestry rinsed thoroughly remove all the detergent before blotting away excess water with towels and allowing the tapestry to dry naturally overnight.

The tapestry is now ready to continue its conservation journey on the loom in our conservation studios at Hampton Court Palace. As part of the treatment, a linen support will be applied to ensure that Hercules can support his own weight when he returns to the Great Watching Chamber in 2018.

Rebecca Bissonnet,
Tapestry Conservation Supervisor

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Washing Historic Tapestries: Making sure our colours don't run...

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As supervisor of the furnishing conservation team at Historic Royal Palaces, I lead a team of four conservators over five years to conserve one of our tallest beds, Queen Caroline's state bed. The bed is part of the Royal Collection, and can usually be found on display at Hampton Court Palace.

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A new addition to our Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, this velvet and silk child’s dress was worn to celebrate the wedding of the future Edward VII; Prince Albert Edward, the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Princess Alexandra of Denmark on 10 March 1863.

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