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Dunkirk ‘little ships’ overhauled at Arlington Court

14:41 03 May 2014

The Dunkirk model

The Dunkirk model 'little ships' at Arlington Court are only cleaned once every 10 years.


Watch National Trust staff complete the once a decade clean up of delicate model moats commemorating the evacuation of allied troops from France during World War Two.

National Trust conservation assistant Giles Miller cleaning some of the Dunkirk model boats at Arlington Court.National Trust conservation assistant Giles Miller cleaning some of the Dunkirk model boats at Arlington Court.

VISITORS to Arlington Court from May 19-25 will be able to see National Trust staff conserving a collection of model boats commemorating the World War Two evacuation from Dunkirk.

The 12 models are part of a larger collection of more than 70 models, many of which are on display in the house.

The majority of conservation work at Arlington Court is usually done behind closed doors, either during the winter or before the house opens to the public each day.

But when the opportunity arises, the team enjoy sharing their work with visitors and so, 74 years after the evacuation of the allied soldiers from France, the house team will be completing their conservation work on the Dunkirk collection.

The Dunkirk model 'little ships' at Arlington Court are only cleaned once every 10 years.The Dunkirk model 'little ships' at Arlington Court are only cleaned once every 10 years.

The collection was amassed by Rosalie Chichester, the last owner of the North Devon estate, who had a passion for collecting and wanted her house set up as a museum when it passed to the National Trust on her death in 1949.

Rosalie commissioned the replica Dunkirk boats after the war to add to her collection of models but she died before the full order could be completed. The 12 models in the Dunkirk collection are only half of the original 24 models ordered.

The ships are only cleaned about once every 10 years, to minimise the chance of damaging them through handling. Each takes between six and 18 hours to clean.

“Being close to these models gives you a real sense of history and poignancy, not only because of the Dunkirk evacuation, but also because Rosalie never saw her collection completed,” said David Gibbons, house steward.

“When we start conservation work on the ships, we initially spend a long time looking at the construction of the piece and analysing the materials it’s made from. Then we have to decide which cleaning agents are safe to use – many products, even specialist ones, could strip off paint or dissolve old glued repairs.”

Arlington Court is open daily from 10.30am-5pm, more information can be found at or contact 01271 850296.

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