20 Apr 2010
Westminster Abbey has commissioned conservation work on the Coronation Chair in which nearly every British monarch has been crowned since 1308. Work will be carried out in a specially-built enclosure in St George's Chapel in the Abbey which means that visitors to the Abbey will be able to see the work taking place.
A survey of the Coronation Chair carried out at the end of 2003 revealed that although the original structure was relatively sound, much of the surviving medieval paintwork and gilding needed conservation. In April and May of 2004 conservators from the Hamilton Kerr Institute, part of the University of Cambridge, worked on the chair in its normal position in the Abbey to re-fix and consolidate areas of paint and gilding which had gradually become detached from the wooden surfaces to which they had been applied more than 700 years previously.
At that time further desirable conservation work was identified which could only be carried out in a studio environment where temperature and relative humidity are controlled and where the conservators would have proper access to all of the chair’s surfaces. This is the delicate and painstaking work which is about to begin. In addition to the consolidation of further fragile areas of paint and gilding the work will include the careful removal of later unsightly layers of polish and wax which now dull the appearance of the chair.
The opportunity will also be taken to remove areas of brown paint applied when the chair was prepared for use at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee service, held in Westminster Abbey in 1887. In some places this Victorian paintwork obscures surviving portions of the chair’s original medieval gilding.
As the Coronation Chair is only definitely known to have left Westminster Abbey on two previous occasions it was decided to undertake the conservation work at the Abbey. So, the chair has been moved to the enclosure in St George’s Chapel at the west end of the Abbey’s nave. Conservation work is expected to take approximately one year. Before the chair was moved the condition of the painting and gilding was checked for further deterioration, and X-rays were taken to identify any structural weaknesses
While the medieval Coronation Chair is being conserved the replica chair, made for the use of Queen Mary II as Queen Regnant at her joint coronation with King William III in 1689, will take its place on display in the Abbey. This later chair, which has never subsequently been used at any coronation, is normally displayed in the Abbey’s Undercroft Museum.
Visitors can see the work taking place in St George's Chapel during normal opening hours. Work is due to start at the end of April.