A Christmas chandelier challenge

December 19, 2023 | Treasure tales and archive snippets | 4 minute read

Christmas in the Hall is taking shape here at Holkham. Prep begins almost the moment we close at the end of October. But before the trees, baubles and decorations come out, there are a few things which have to be done to protect the collection. Here, Katherine Hardwick, Collections Co-ordinator, shares how a pair of very special chandelier was de-stalled for Christmas 2023.

Planning begins way back in January, with discussions between the Christmas and Collections Team. From a conservation perspective, knowing what is being planned is hugely helpful, as it allows us to anticipate how we might look after the objects and – in very, very rare circumstances – suggesting we might need to tackle things a different way!

When November rolls around, a full list of has been made of objects that need to be removed to accommodate the festive displays, and a storage plan drawn up. Come the 1 November, the team of houseman are busy moving tables, chairs, carpets, and other vulnerable items out of the State Rooms, and into their temporary homes. The Hall looks very bare when everything is removed! There is always the need to adapt on the hoof; this year, a pair of marble busts had been marked for removal, but the house team determined they were too heavy to move safely. Cue conversations with our Christmas team to ensure that the busts could be worked safely into the display!

This year, we had one of our most challenging, and nerve-wracking de-installs – a pair of Regency Ormolu chandeliers needed removing from the Statue Gallery. No one in the house could remember the last time these chandeliers were removed – and some of our team had been here over 20 years! Investigation of the wiring indicated that work had been carried out 22-years ago, but it was unclear whether that was with the chandeliers in situ or not.

The de-install was a real team effort. First, we needed to remove the wiring and make safe the electrics, carried out by our qualified electrician. Once the ladders were out and the team gloved up, however, it became clear that our initial scheme to lower them by hand wouldn’t stand up under the weight of the chandeliers. A quick rethink brought out a block and tackle to gentle lower the chandelier into the waiting arms of Jack and Ryan below.

We’d set up their storage nearby, so it was only a short walk for the lads carrying the chandelier, carefully supporting them on the central section and avoiding putting pressure on the branches. In order to store them, we hung them from suspended rods, meaning the weight was held as it would be when hanging normally. Taking the chains down was a much simpler task, lowering it through the hands and down a scaffolding tower. Having the chandeliers gives a great opportunity to study them in detail and give them a thorough clean (always easier on terra firma rather than up scaffolding!).

Stylistically, they date to the early 19th century, and are therefore unlikely to have hung in the Statue Gallery as Thomas Coke intended it. Curiously, from inventory records, there is no mention of what chandeliers hung in this room in the 18th century, if anything at all. This is not unduly surprising, as although chandeliers were used in the 18th century, they were not the favoured form of lighting, as they created shadows underneath. It was more common for rooms to be lit by deploying candlesticks around the room where they were needed. It seems likely this was the technique employed for lighting the Statue Gallery, whilst the Tribunes at each end were lit by the magnificent cut glass chandeliers which remain in situ today.

And what were the chandeliers removed for? Book onto one of the last remaining Holkham Hall by Candlelight dates to find out!

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