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Conserving the Duke of Wellington’s uniform

May 2019 marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of the Duke of Wellington. Wellington made his name as a military hero, leading the Allied armies to victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Unlike his naval contemporary Admiral Lord Nelson, Wellington survived his great military triumph, becoming Commander in Chief of the British Army and a leading statesman.

As Constable from 1827, Wellington worked to modernise the Tower of London. The Royal Armouries is fortunate in having its own personal links with the Duke. Currently his uniform coat as Constable of the Tower is displayed on the top floor of the White Tower in the Powerhouse Gallery.

The coat, distinguished by its buttons with their silver White Tower device from other military-style tailcoats, is one of the items featured on the extended Tower audio-guide launched in May which now includes the White Tower galleries.

This uniform was worn by the Duke of Wellington when he was Constable of the Tower of London (1827-1852).

blue and scarlet uniform jacket with gold wire epaulettes

Duke of Wellington’s uniform coat

It is made of blue cloth with a white lining and scarlet facing. The buttons are gilt bearing an image of the White Tower in silver. The epaulettes are made of gold and silver thread.

Button with the white tower at tower of london embossed on it

Button from Duke of Wellington’s uniform coat. XVI.8.

The coat is in reasonable condition but has a few small holes and surface grazing of the cloth probably due to moths. This is probably caused by moths.  The main area of interest to our conservators were the tarnished metal threads and spangles (sequins) on the epaulettes.

Metal threads are fragile at the best of time. Some are made from twisted fine metal wire and others are formed by twisting wire around a cotton or silk thread.  When applying treatments to remove the tarnish conservators have to be careful not to leave residues behind that will ‘rot’ the thread over time.

On these epaulettes there are eight different types of thread design including:

epaulette and a detail of it

Detail of the left epaulette before and after treatment

The tarnish was removed by gently cleaning the surfaces with a damp swab using a mixture of carefully chosen chemicals.  This was carried out under a microscope to make sure no metal threads were being pulled away from the epaulette.  Residues where removed again by careful swabbing using deionised water – very pure water that has had any minerals filtered out of it.

The Duke of Wellington’s uniform is on display at the White Tower at the Tower of London.

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