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Conserving the Sovereign's Throne & Footstool - Summer 2017

11 October 2017

Image of UK Parliament portcullis

Over the summer recess 2017, the Historic Furniture & Decorative Arts team have taken the opportunity to carry out conservation work on the Sovereign's Throne and footstool in the Lords Chamber.

Constructed by John Webb of Bond Street in 1847 to the designs by A.W.N. Pugin, the throne is an important part of the collection. The intricately embroidered red velvet seat and back are within a carved and gilded wooden frame inset with rock crystals, and the embroidered footstool sat in front is beautifully embroidered on velvet. The throne is significant in the Palace of Westminster as a symbol of the monarch, who is the third element of Parliament (alongside the House of Commons and the House of Lords). It also has ceremonial importance during each State Opening of Parliament, when it is used by the monarch to deliver a speech to the House of Lords.

Kate packing throne seat

Kate packing the throne seat to be sent for conservation treatment.

We are working with Kate Gill, a specialist in textile and upholstery conservation, who has previously carried out work on the back cushion of the throne chair. The seat pad and footstool last received treatment in the 1980s, although they are dusted and consolidated before every State Opening of Parliament. The throne is not often used, but it is still vulnerable to damage; light, dust, and changes in temperature and humidity all cause textiles to fade and weaken.


Conserving the footstool

The footstool was in a fragile condition as significant areas of the silk velvet had degraded, and although the four corner tassels were still attached to the upholstery they were almost hanging on by a thread! After removing the tassels and old net, Kate was able to insert new pieces of custom-dyed fabric to support the worn velvet. The thread of the embroidery had worn away over time, creating many loose fragments – they were stabilised with conservation techniques and a protective overlay of new netting.  The footstool before conservation

The footstool after conservation

The footstool before and after conservation work – here you can see where the fragmentary top cover has been stitched to new patches of colour-matched support fabric.

A conservation support system was devised that would divert the weight of the tassels from the weakened upholstery and prevent the tassels from trailing on the floor.  This was achieved by placing a red fabric-covered Nomex disc at each corner of the footstool; the discs were anchored with white linen twine, through the upholstery, to the base of the footstool; each tassel head was stitched to the twine and disc.

Tassel being reattached

One of the tassels in the process of being attached to the conservation support.


Making ethical decisions

The seat pad was similarly in a fragile condition; the velvet was worn at the front of the seat and the embroidery was falling apart. The embroidered panel was temporarily removed from the seat for conservation treatment. New silk velvet was upholstered over the remaining historic velvet covering the seat pad. Conservation treatment involved the removal of damaging repairs from the embroidered panel followed by mounting onto a fine support fabric. All detached embroidery fragments, including the exposed card under layers, were stabilised using a combination of stitching and adhesive techniques. A protective layer of fine, conservation-grade net was stitched over the panel. The stitching increased the effectiveness of the support by drawing the net in contact with the contoured surface of the embroidery. The conserved embroidered panel was stitched to the newly covered velvet seat pad.

Reupholstering the seat

Kate reupholstering the seat with new velvet using conservation techniques that minimise damage to the wood frame and existing upholstery.

The process of conservation often involves making ethical decisions. Whilst treating the seat, it became evident that the front of the embroidery had suffered greater damage than the back, visible in the image below. The decision was made to turn the panel around when it was reapplied to the reupholstered seat as although this changes the object, it will allow the seat to wear more evenly. Ultimately this decision will ensure the continued ceremonial use of the throne alongside the footstool for many years.

Seat embroidered panel

The embroidered panel after removing old net patches and repairs. The front section of the seat (bottom of the image) was in a more fragile condition than the back section.

The newly conserved footstool and seat are now back in the Lords Chamber – do come and take a look!


Emily Spary, Collections Assistant, August 2017