Queen Victoria Coronation 'Peepshow' Restored for New Galleries

A rare historic ‘peepshow’ commemorating Queen Victoria’s 1838 Coronation is being prepared for display in the new Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries which open next summer at the Abbey. The pocket-sized book of coloured cut-outs ingeniously unfolds to create a 3-D view, like a theatre set, of the royal ceremony. Never previously on show at the Abbey it is undergoing specialist paper conservation at Lambeth Palace Library.

With photography in its infancy, Victorian peepshows were the virtual reality devices of their day celebrating events, famous places and popular stories. The Abbey’s peepshow of Queen Victoria’s Coronation conjures up the spectacle of the occasion in exquisite detail: the gothic arches of the Abbey soaring upwards, and the Coronation Chair centre stage with Queen Victoria in her robes. Lords and ladies are crammed into ornate galleries, hung with crimson drapes, and a royal blue carpet covered with gold stars is laid before the High Altar.

The peepshow is just under the size of an iPad mini, 15 cm high by 11 cm wide with 10 layers, and extending out to two metres. The view is from the Abbey’s triforium looking down into the church – the location of the new Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. So, visitors will be able to see the same view that the artist used for creating the peepshow.

Lambeth Palace Library paper specialist conservator, Fiona Johnston, has been given the responsibility of bringing it back to its former glory. Despite over 15 years’ experience with books and manuscripts, she has never tackled a project quite like this. Fiona said:

It’s unusual with particular challenges because it is 3-D, so it’s not flat to work on like a book or manuscript. I will need to work out a special way to support it. It’s a rather intricate and delicate item which over the years has had well-meaning but clumsy repairs, all of which will need to be carefully removed without causing any damage.

Fiona is confident though that she can rescue it by the painstaking removal of yellowing tape and adhesive on its folds using a water-based poultice, and then through stabilising it with conservation-grade Japanese paper, which is as light as a feather. When she has finished tackling this project she will begin work on a peepshow of William IV’s 1831 Coronation. It’s also in the Abbey’s Collection and will too go on display in the new Galleries.

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© 2017 The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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