Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Roofscape and landscape

February 25, 2014
©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

When you have a big roof that leaks, you have a big problem.

©National Trust/Steve Heywood

©National Trust/Steve Heywood

At Castle Drogo the roof has never really been watertight since the castle was built by Sir Edwin Lutyens for grocery magnate Julius Drewe between 1910 and 1927. But then they do say that all great architecture leaks…

©Lobster Vision

©Lobster Vision

Following intermittent repairs over the years, the National Trust has now initiated a five-year project, with major support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to finally sort out the problems with the Drogo roof.

©National Trust

©National Trust

A huge and almost Piranesian scaffolding structure has been erected to provide access and protection for the contractors.

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

A two-layer membrane designed by Bauder will be introduced to cope with the extreme temperature fluctuations and heavy rainfall of the Dartmoor area. This will involve the removal and reinstatement of 2,355 separate granite blocks weighing 680 tonnes.

Channel 4 television has just broadcast a special Time Team programme about the restoration of Castle Drogo, entitled The Edwardian Grand Design.

Peppered papers

October 22, 2013
Detail of a flower in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall, which was printed and then finished in colour by hand. The paper was hung in 1752. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a flower in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall, which was printed and then finished in colour by hand. The paper was hung in 1752. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Last Friday Andrew Bush and I gave a lecture at the fourth annual conference organised by China Culture Connect at the National Maritime Museum in London, which this time focused on the history and conservation of traditional Asian painting. We were talking about the Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust and what we have discovered about them so far with the help of a growing international network of experts.

Detail of a pair of ducks in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a pair of ducks in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

As we are keen to learn more about the art-historical context of the production of this wallpaper, we were delighted be able to attend talks by leading Chinese experts. For instance, we heard from Min-ying Wang of the Yiheyuan Summer Palace in Beijing about the conservation and restoration of wallpapers and other works on paper mounted as wall decoration there.

Detail of a lotus leaf in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a lotus leaf in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Although the designs of the wallpapers in the Chinese imperial palaces are different from those of the wallpapers made for export to the west, the materials and techniques are more or less the same. Pictures were sometimes pasted on top of patterned or plain wallpapers in Chinese interiors, a practice that probably influenced the development of pictorial wallpapers for export. And the printing seen on some export wallpapers (such as the one at Felbrigg Hall shown here) relates to the long-established pictorial printing tradition in China. This confirmed to us that Chinese export wallpaper was not an isolated phenomenon, but was grounded in the Chinese art-historical tradition.

Detail of a pomegranate in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a pomegranate in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Ms Wang also told us that treating wallpapers with pepper extract is very effective at deterring paper-munching pests – a wonderful example of a traditional technique that is as effective now as it ever was. Perhaps pepper should be added to the list of conservation materials in the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping.

Good news for Knole

August 1, 2013
Conservator removing dust from the headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Amabassador's Room at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Conservator removing dust from the headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Amabassador’s Room at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has just announced a £7.75 million grant to help secure the multi-year conservation project currently underway at Knole.

The state bed with its related suite of furniture in the Venetian Ambassador's Room. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The state bed with its related suite of furniture in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The first phase or repairs to the fabric of the building is complete and, with the HLF’s support, the focus can now move to the interiors and contents of this Tudor palace.

Detail of headboard and headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room, with a Netherlandish tapestry behind it. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Detail of headboard and headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room, with a Netherlandish tapestry behind it. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

As part of the project a bespoke and state of the art conservation studio will be created at Knole. Visitors will be able to watch the conservators at work and the studio will offer conservation and heritage-related training courses.

Conservator taking apart the bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Conservator taking apart the bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Alongside the conservation work, the funding will also allow us to create stable environmental conditions in the rooms on show to the public. In addition we will open up previously unseen rooms and create improved visitor facilities.

Detail of the headboard, with James II's monogram, on the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room.  ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Detail of the headboard, with James II’s monogram, on the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Among the objects at Knole to be safeguarded and shown to better advantage are the extraordinary sixteenth- and seventeenth-century state beds. The bed shown here, in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room, was originally made for King James II in 1688.

The carved and gilded feet of the bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room. The 'JR monogram stands for 'James Rex'. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The carved and gilded feet of the bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. The ‘JR monogram stands for ‘James Rex’. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The bed was given to Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset (1638-1706), who was Chamberlain to the household of King William III and Queen Mary II. As a perquisite of his office the 6th Earl was allowed to dispose of furniture from the royal palaces when they were deemed to be out of date, and this is how the collection of magnificent Stuart furniture came to Knole.

Slow conservation

July 3, 2013
Conservation assistant at Osterley Park cleaning one of the Robert Adam-designed pier glasses. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Conservation assistant at Osterley Park cleaning one of the Robert Adam-designed pier glasses. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Since the 1980s the Slow Food movement has championed regional cuisine, traditional food and locally sourced products. Sarah Staniforth, museums and collections director for the National Trust, has argued for some time that the same principles should be applied to the conservation of historic buildings and collections.

A young visitor at Little Moreton Hall trying out the cleaning of the transomed windows under the guidance of a conservator. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

A young visitor at Little Moreton Hall trying out the cleaning of the transomed windows under the guidance of a conservator. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

In a recently republished article entitled ‘Slow Conservation’, Sarah makes the case for ‘a holistic approach to the care of collections that reduce the rate at which damaging change occurs, whilst recognising that some change is inevitable.’

Tools used by dress conservators at Smallhythe Place. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Tools used by dress conservators at Smallhythe Place. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

In practice this means focusing on preventive conservation, conserving what is there rather than spending a lot of energy on restoring something back to its idealised ‘original’ condition. Like gardening, preventive conservation is best done little but often. It also involves maintaining and building the right skills and sharing these with a wider public.

A conservator dusting the Elizabethan canopy in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

A conservator dusting the Elizabethan canopy in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Sarah’s article can be found in the recently published book Historical Perspectives on Preventive Conservation, which she edited. This book also contains essays and excerpts on subjects as diverse as intangible heritage, Japanese kura storehouses, Mrs Beeton on housekeeping, cabinets of curiosities, the rebirth of the Louvre, the ‘Aer and Smoak’ of London and the impact of climate change.

The people behind the objects

March 21, 2013
Conservator inspecting the back of the headboard of the King James II bed at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Conservator inspecting the back of the headboard of the King James II bed at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Perhaps I don’t feature people often enough in this blog.

Conservator the late Linda Shelley dusting an urn in the Entrance Hall at Osterley Park. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Conservator the late Linda Shelley dusting an urn in the Entrance Hall at Osterley Park. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

It is easy to overlook the people who actually preserve and open up the collections of the National Trust. Many of them beaver away modestly behind the scenes.

Volunteers conserving textiles at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Volunteers conserving textiles at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Also, unlike objects, people tend not to stay still for very long and are therefore more difficult to capture in photographs.

Food historian Peter Brears carrying a silver item to the Dining Room at Attingham Park. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Food historian Peter Brears carrying a silver item to the Dining Room at Attingham Park. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

But here are a few of the many different types of people involved with the collections of the National Trust, with some of the objects in their care.

Scrubs up nicely

March 14, 2013
Portrait of ‘young’ Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer (1622-1684), by circle of Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), at Dunham Massey, photographed following conservation. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

Portrait of ‘young’ Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer (1622-1684), by circle of Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), at Dunham Massey, photographed following conservation. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

In June 2012 we managed to buy this portrait of ‘Young’ Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer of Dunham Massey (as I reported at the time). It was sent to London-based conservator Sophie Reddington for treatment and Sophie has just sent me these images of the work.

The portrait before conservation. ©Christie's

The portrait before conservation. ©Christie’s

The picture was quite dusty and dirty and even had some white splash marks which appeared to be emulsion wall paint. At some point it had also been relined using too much heat, causing the paint to melt in places.

The portrait midway during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

The portrait midway during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

Sophie cleaned the painting with deionised water and then removed several layers of discoloured varnish with various solvents. Old retouching and overpainting was removed, again with solvents and also mechanically with a scalpel.

Lord Delamer's sleeve during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

Lord Delamer’s sleeve during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

Then Sophie refilled the small paint losses with acrylic putty, applied a first coat of new varnish and added new retouchings, followed by a final coat of varnish sprayed on in several thin layers.

The portrait after the filling in of the losses and the application of the first coat of varnish, but before retouching. ©Sophie Reddington

The portrait after the filling in of the losses and the application of the first coat of varnish, but before retouching. ©Sophie Reddington

Where the canvas had become brittle and torn around the sides and the back of the stretcher Sophie mended it with nylon gossamer impregnated with adhesive.

Fragile and brittle tacking edges before treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

Fragile and brittle tacking edges before treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

Sophie also treated the frame, consolidating loose parts, retouching damaged areas with watercolours and bronze paint, lining the rebate with paper tape and felt and reinserting the picture.

The same tacking edges after treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

The same tacking edges after treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

On the back of the frame there is a label of James Bourlet and Sons, London frame makers, as well as the more recent Christie’s label.

Labels old and new on the back of the frame. ©Sophie Reddington

Labels old and new on the back of the frame. ©Sophie Reddington

All this has vastly improved the readability of the image and given it a new lease of life.

A room with a blog

October 23, 2012

The breakfast Room at Osterley Park, before its recent repainting in ‘Batman grey’ and the start of the conservation project. ©National Trust Images/Mark Fiennes

Some rooms have views, other have blogs — and some have both. The Breakfast Room at Osterley now has its own blog, documenting the conservation process that aims to rediscover its original yellow colour scheme.

The Breakfast Room as the contents are being removed. © National Trust

Between 1949 and 2011 the Breakfast Room had undergone several redecorations, including a green and a yellow scheme, carried out first by the Victoria & Albert Museum and latterly by the National Trust.

James Finlay scrutinizing the evidence. © National Trust

The room was recently painted grey when it was used as one of the sets for the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. The fees charged for the filming have now enabled Osterley to instigate a full-scale investigation into the original yellow.

A paint scrape from the dado, showing a yellow layer on top of an earlier blue one. © National Trust

In 1772 Agneta Yorke visited Osterley and described the Breakfast Room as being ‘a lemon colour with blew ornaments.’

An unpicked sample of the 20th-century wallpaper, showing different layers of paint, paper and linings. © National Trust

But descriptions of colours are notoriously subjective, and it would be ideal if we could identify physical traces of the original paint.

The discovery of a doorway which once connected the Breakfast Room to the Library Passage. © National Trust

20th-century layers have now been stripped off and paint scrapes have been taken. The various findings are now being analysed, and you will be able to follow the story on the Osterley Breakfast Room blog.

Knole uncovered

October 3, 2012

©John Miller

The team at Knole has now started a two-year programme of emergency repairs. This is the first stage of a much larger project aiming to secure the whole of the house for the future.

©John Miller

The roof of the east front is currently being opened up and the cement render used during previous repairs is being removed.

©John Miller

Modern cement was once widely used to patch up old buildings, but its hardness actually caused more damage to the softer traditional building materials.

©John Miller

Investigations are underway to assess how the damage to the roof timbers can be best repaired and to find out what the structure can reveal about the building’s history.

©John Miller

As curator Emma Slocombe says: ‘There have been many more interventions and build stages in the external envelope of the building than we had thought. We are fascinated by each new revelation. It is an incredibly moving experience to see Knole in this state.’

©John Miller

Some lucky visitors were recently able to take scaffolding tours of the building, to see Knole’s skeleton for themselves.

Retouching the floor

July 11, 2012

The new lime mortar grouting between the flagstones in the Great Hall at Knole being painted. ©National Trust

The Knole conservation blog keeps providing fascinating insights into the reality of looking after a large and complex historic house.

The Great Hall at Knole. Both the floor and the carved screen date from the remodelling of the house in 1605-1608. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

A recent post included images of the bright new lime mortar grouting of the stone floor in the Great Hall being painted to make it blend in – a wonderful example of the artifice required to preserve the aesthetic balance in a historic interior.

The floor in raking light, showing the difference in wear between the dark and the light flagstones. ©National Trust

As the Knole conservation blog tells us, the Great Hall was part of the original palace built by Archbishop Bourchier in about 1460, but the Purbeck marble floor probably dates from the extensive remodelling of the building by Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, in 1605-1608.

Conservator from Cliveden Conservation working on the survey of the floor. ©National Trust

Over time the black flagstones have been worn away more than the white ones, due to their slightly different physical properties.

Completed map of the condition of the floor before remdial work. Red indicates 70% surface damage, green 10-70% damage, orange 0-10% damage. ©National Trust

Cliveden Conservation recently carried out a survey of the floor in preparation for doing some remedial work.

Conservator from Cliveden Conservation injecting runny mortar into a crack in a flagstone. ©National Trust

The subsequent programme of work included removal of surface dirt, consolidation of flaking areas of stone, injecting of cracks with runny mortar and repointing between the flagstones with lime mortar – and some artful retouching with mortar colour.

Knole’s big project one step further

May 18, 2012

Late-seventeenth-century mirror, its ebonised frame inlaid with pierced gilt brass chased with acanthus patterns, one of a pair, probably English, in the Cartoon Gallery at Knole. The pilasters with grotesque decoration are topped by ram’s masks, the old crest of the Sackville family. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has just announced that the Inspired by Knole project qualifies for a ‘first round pass’. This means that the HLF is recognising the project’s potential, and that the Knole team can now develop a detailed business plan for it.

The Cartoon Gallery. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The aim of Inspired by Knole is to improve the state of conservation of the house and its collections ad to put it on the map as one of the UK’s most spectacular examples of  a combined Tudor palace and Renaissance mansion.

Trompe l’oeil grotesque decoration in the Cartoon Gallery, probably created by Paul Isaacson in about 1608 for Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

Plans for the project include the rewiring of the building, the installation of conservation heating and the creation of an on-site conservation studio which will be open to visitors.

Painted motif of a vase with a small lemon tree or branch in the frieze of the Cartoon Gallery, probably by Paul Isaacson, c. 1608. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

In addition the Knole team wants to open up more of the attics and tower rooms to the public, to develop new ways of volunteering and to make Knole a centre of heritage skills training.

Gilt table and candlestands in the Cartoon Gallery, thought to have been given to Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset, by Louis XIV in 1670-71. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The HLF will make its final decision about the £7.5 million grant application in 2013, but this initial response is very encouraging and will help the National Trust with its other fundraising towards Inspired by Knole.

The ongoing behind-the-scenes work at Knole can be followed on the Knole Conservation Team Blog.


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