Weald & Downland Open Air Museum
Kite Style Vardo
In 2003 the museum acquired this Romany caravan from Mrs Everington of Cowden near East Grinstead to provide an interesting contrast to the other living vans already in our collection.
Fortunately for the museum, Mrs Everington was able to provide us with over 80 years of the caravan’s history and detailed information of repairs and upkeep which she had been responsible for since she herself acquired the vehicle in 1958.
The caravan was bought by Mrs Everington from a very religious and somewhat eccentric old lady, Miss Udal, who actually lived in the van at Playden near Rye; Miss Udal was apparently not a Romany and did not travel in the caravan but lived in and used it for over 40 years.
When Miss Udal agreed to pass on the caravan to Mrs Everington, it was with the proviso that the contents remained untouched; her wishes were upheld and when the museum acquired the caravan, everything was just as it had been when Miss Udal lived in it.
The contents were accurately catalogued and photographed in their original positions before being carefully packed for the journey back to the museum; they remain in store for the time being whilst conservation work is carried out, but will be returned once safe to do so.
The museum is currently undertaking major conservation work to the caravan. The colours of the vehicle are not original, or indeed the types of colour which would have been used on such a caravan; its regular painting and maintenance have however kept it in a generally very good condition. It is our aim to return the caravan to its original colour scheme, using traditional paints and methods to do so and to this end, we recently commissioned a detailed report into the paintwork.
The caravan seems to have been totally stripped of paint using a blowlamp, sometime around the 1960s; burn marks left by this procedure are visible once layers of paint are removed. This action was presumed to have taken place during the 1960s since a grey aluminium primer, popular at that time, was the first subsequent colour layer to be found.
The total stripping of the external paint meant that very little original colour remained, however there are always nooks and crannies where a blowlamp can’t reach, and these inaccessible areas produced some very interesting results.
Although the undercarriage has suffered some physical damage and been subject to quite extensive repair in the past, sufficient original woodwork has survived to show original decoration.
These areas were not totally stripped but simply painted over at some point and the careful removal of the top layer of paint revealed the highly decorated timbers beneath; this is also interesting as these areas of undercarriage would have been virtually invisible to the casual observer, yet they were as highly decorated as we presume the rest of the vehicle to have been.
We are now in the process of removing the various layers of paint added since the 1960s. Once this has been completed, a number of structural repairs to the caravan timbers will have to be carried out, along with the replacement of the felt roof with a more authentic canvas covering.
The exterior of the caravan will then be painted in what we have discovered were its original colours. Once the vehicle has been given a new roof and paint scheme, and become much more weatherfast, attention will then be given to the interior, in order to return this to a caravan that Miss Udal would recognise.
The ‘flat’ areas of the caravan will be painted in the dark green colour whilst the chamfered timber ribs will be more highly decorated.
Pictures/info: special thanks to Julian Bell -
Curator/ Weald & Downland Open Air Museum c. 2006
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