Normansfield theatre scenery: materials and construction revealed through conservation

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Thompson, Karen ; Lennard, Frances (2013)
  • Publisher: Archetype Publications

Described as one of the finest collections of stock scenery in the country, and a rare survival from the 19th century, the painted scenery from Normansfield Theatre is the focus of this paper. A team of conservators from the Textile Conservation Centre, in collaboration with paintings conservators, conserved a representative selection of painted flats, a backdrop and a false proscenium for display on the stage as well as stabilising and storing the other items in a bespoke system so that they are accessible to researchers.\ud \ud Normansfield Theatre was a small private Victorian theatre and entertainment hall built in the grounds of a former hospital for people with learning difficulties. The theatre was used by the staff and patients for both therapeutic and recreational purposes between 1879 and 1909. The stage is a miniature version of a typical Georgian theatre, with grooves for scenic flats and mechanisms for hanging backdrops, set within a Victorian proscenium arch. Unusually over 100 pieces of stock scenery, created by established scene painters and dating from the 1870s, survived in its original setting. \ud \ud Although textile conservators are familiar with treating painted textiles, the Normansfield scenery with its large flexible canvases and water soluble, under-bound paint presented new conservation challenges. Research into the scenery’s materials and construction, collaboration with paintings conservators and the conservation treatment itself were able to shed more light on the scene painter’s art.
  • References (24)
    24 references, page 1 of 3

    1. Langdon Down's name is associated with the chromosomal condition that now bears his name, Down's Syndrome.

    2. Taken from an advertisement for the hospital in the 1890s http:// (accessed 14 April 2012).

    3. Recreation Hall, Wakefield resources/theatres/show/2127-stanley-royd-hospital-theatre (accessed 19 April 2012) and Earl 2010: 31-2.

    4. Examples of well-preserved sixteenth-century theatres with complete working mechanisms and scenery can be found in Drottingham in Sweden and Český Krumlov and Litomysl in Bohemia.

    5. normansfield-hospital-entertainment-hall-theatre (accessed 19 April 2012).

    6. Further details on the work of Dr Langdon Down and the hospital can be found, most notably, in publications by O'Conor Ward (1996 and 2010) and from the Langdon Down Museum based at Normansfield. Further information about the theatre and general aspects about the scenery can found in Earl 2010.

    7. For details of the conservation treatment carried out please contact the authors (see 'Authors' addresses' below).

    8. Flats measure approximately 451-453 cm (H) × 85-192 cm (W); borders measure approximately 170-392 cm (H) × 667-685 cm (W); backdrops measure approximately 462-498 cm (H) × 550-600 cm (W); and walk-through cloths measure approximately 473-553 cm (H) × 620-642 cm (W) with opening 199 × 138 cm.

    Earl, J. 2010. Dr Langdon Down's Normansfield Theatre, 2nd edn. London: Borough of Twickenham Local History Society and Down's Syndrome Association.

    Joseph, S. 1964. Scenic Painting and Design. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons Ltd.

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