Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Mount Stewart reopens

April 23, 2015
The central hall at Mount Stewart, showing the restored paintwork, cleaned marble columns, restored balustrade and redisplayed sculptures. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

The central hall at Mount Stewart, showing the restored paintwork, cleaned marble columns, restored balustrade and redisplayed sculptures. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

Mount Stewart, the ancestral home of the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family in County Down, has now reopened after a three-year, £8 million restoration project.

The portrait of the race horse Hambletonian, by George Stubbs (1724-1806), in a new frame, on the staircase which has had its earlier wall colour restored. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

The portrait of the race horse Hambletonian, by George Stubbs (1724-1806), in a new frame, on the staircase which has had its earlier wall colour restored. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

The project was a hugely complicated logistical exercise. First the historic contents of the rooms had to be carefully removed (‘decanted’ in conservation-speak) and stored.

The drawing room during restoration. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

The drawing room during restoration. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

Then the structure of the building was repaired. Much of the work was undertaken by the building firm H & J Martin, which was founded in 1840 and is associated with a number of landmark buildings in Northern Ireland, including Belfast’s City Hall.

The drawing room following restoration. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

The drawing room following restoration. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

The heating system was upgraded to make it more efficient and suitable for a historic building and collection.

Callum McCaffrey, apprentice joiner, at work at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

Callum McCaffrey, apprentice joiner, at work at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

The joinery also needed attention. As much as possible of the original woodwork was left in place, and new sections were carefully joined in (similar to the method of conservation shown in a previous post).

The newly restored 'Rome' bedroom, epitomising Edith, Lady Londonderry's bold colour sense. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

The newly restored ‘Rome’ bedroom, epitomising Edith, Lady Londonderry’s bold colour sense. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

Following repairs to the plasterwork the rooms were redecorated, often restoring them to their appearance during the time of Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry (1878-1959), who put a distinct stamp on the house and garden (personally I love her colour sense, as you can also see here). Finally the original contents were moved back in.

Portrait by Lawrence of Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry (1800-65) and her son Charles, Viscount Seaham, later the 5th Marquess (1821-84), on display in the drawing room. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

Portrait by Lawrence of Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry (1800-65) and her son Charles, Viscount Seaham, later the 5th Marquess (1821-84), on display in the drawing room. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

There are also many new things to see at Mount Stewart. A large number of historically associated objects has recently been allocated to the house through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. A further group of important works of art and other items has been lent by the estate of Alistair Vane-Tempest-Stewart, the 9th Marquess of Londonderry (1937-2012). All of these objects reflect the historical significance of the family and their taste and interests.

The restored breakfast room, including one of the views of Mount Stewart by Solomon Delane (c.1727-1812) accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Mount Stewart, 2014. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

The restored breakfast room, including one of the views of Mount Stewart by Solomon Delane (c.1727-1812) accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Mount Stewart, 2014. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

There are now 11 paintings by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) on display at Mount Stewart, including portraits of Robert Stewart, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry (1769-1822, usually known by his courtesy title Lord Castlereagh), who played an important role in stabilising Europe following the Napoleonic wars.

One of Mount Stewart's stone floors being restored. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

One of Mount Stewart’s stone floors being restored. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

A brief interview with Lady Rose Lauritzen, the granddaughter of Edith, Lady Londonderry, can be seen here.

Lady Londonderry's sitting room, following restoration and reinstatement. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

Lady Londonderry’s sitting room, following restoration and reinstatement. ©National Trust/Elaine Hill

The project was funded by the National Trust with help from the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Royal Oak Foundation, the BH Breslauer Foundation, the Lauritzen Foundation, the Friends of the National Libraries, the Northern Ireland Museums Council and a number of individual supporters.

Restoring the stable yard gate at Hardwick

April 14, 2015
The stable yard gate at Hardwick Hall following restoration. ©National Trust

The stable yard gate at Hardwick Hall following restoration. ©National Trust

One of our building surveyors, Richard Lambert, was recently involved in restoring a historic stable yard gate at Hardwick Hall.

Part of the Hardwick stable yard gate affected by rot, with the markings delineating the sound and unsound sections. ©National Trust

Part of the Hardwick stable yard gate affected by rot, with the markings delineating the sound and unsound sections. ©National Trust

The colleagues at Hardwick had noticed some rot in part of the gate. When Richard inspected the gate the rot turned out to be worse than expected. As this entrance is used by all of the visitors to Hardwick there was added pressure to get it sorted out quickly.

A rotted section being chiseled out. ©National Trust

A rotted section being chiseled out. ©National Trust

Richard commissioned the local joiners and builders L.B. & J. Mather to repair the gate. He worked closely with them to achieve a historically appropriate result.

New and old sections of wood being connected with a scarf joint. ©National Trust

New and old sections of wood being connected with a scarf joint. ©National Trust

Richard marked up the extent of the required repairs, so that as much as possible of the old wood could be preserved. The wood used was Douglas fir, matching the original material.

The gate coming together again in the yard of L.B. & J. Mather. ©National Trust

The gate coming together again in the yard of L.B. & J. Mather. ©National Trust

All the joints were hand-cut. Mathers were asked to match the new joints to the existing mortise-and-tenon joints (i.e. a piece of wood fitted into a hole in another piece) and to use scarf joints (or overlapping joints) to fit the larger structural members into the existing framework.

Part of the ironmongery being reforged. ©National Trust

Part of the ironmongery being reforged. ©National Trust

Some of the gate’s ironmongery also needed refurbishing, but fortunately Mathers could turn their hands to that as well, having a forge and blacksmith expertise available.

Part of the gate's refurbished locking mechanism. ©National Trust

Part of the gate’s refurbished locking mechanism. ©National Trust

All the stages of the work were recorded in photographs, some of which are shown here.

How to build a ha-ha

February 17, 2015
A section of ha-ha being rebuilt at Croome Court. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

A section of ha-ha being rebuilt at Croome Court. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The ha-ha, a ditch with a wall built along one side, was developed as an aesthetically pleasing way of keeping grazing cattle out of the pleasure garden. Even from a short distance the ha-ha is invisible, and its name is said to have been derived from the exclamations of surprise it provoked.

The ha-ha at Croome Court before repair and rebuilding. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The ha-ha at Croome Court before repair and rebuilding. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The ha-ha at Croome Court has been undergoing a rolling programme of repair and rebuilding. Previously it is was  in quite poor condition and it had even collapsed in places.

Sections of the ha-ha had completely collapsed. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

Sections of the ha-ha had completely collapsed. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

Advice was sought from a structural engineer in order to provide a more durable solution for the collapsed sections. A backing wall of concrete blocks was inserted first, which was then covered by historically appropriate bricks.

Stable sections were preserved. The large blocks further behind provide structural support to contain the earth. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

Stable sections were preserved. The large blocks further behind provide structural support to contain the earth. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The sourcing of new, ‘old-look’ bricks proved to be quite challenging, as the colour and texture of the bricks of the original ha-ha varies considerably along its length. In the end different bricks and mortar mixes were used in different sections.

Concrete blocks provide the containment structure for the sections that had to be rebuilt. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

Concrete blocks provide the containment structure for the sections that had to be rebuilt. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The stable sections of the ha-ha were preserved as much as possible and repointed with traditional mortar. As time goes by the new brickwork will further blend in with the old.

An original section of ha-ha is repointed. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

An original section of ha-ha is repointed. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

A significant proportion of the funding for this work was provided by Natural England.

 

Sarah Staniforth awarded CBE

January 2, 2015
Sarah Staniforth ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Sarah Staniforth ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Sarah Staniforth, our former Museums and Collections Director, has been appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the New Year’s Honours list. She stepped down from her National Trust position last year, although she is still involved in various honorary and voluntary roles.

Sarah was made a CBE for services to heritage. She worked for the National Trust for nearly thirty years and is known as an international authority on conservation practice. She is also currently the president of the International Institute for Conservation (IIC).

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In recent years Sarah was closely involved with the publication of the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping (2008, updated 2011). In 2013 she published the reader Historical Perspectives on Preventive Conservation.

Having worked with Sarah for a number of years, I was delighted to hear this news.

Spangled and patched

June 24, 2014
The proper left foot curtain of the spangled bed (inv. no. 129462), shown from the top end. ©National Trust

The proper left foot curtain of the spangled bed (inv. no. 129462), shown from the top end. ©National Trust

One of the objects at Knole currently undergoing conservation treatment is the so-called ‘spangled bed’. This bed may have been created in the early eighteenth century using an Elizabethan or Jacobean royal canopy of state which was sewn with silver sequins.

The spangle bedroom at Knole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The spangle bedroom at Knole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The silk curtains of this bed are being analysed and treated at the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio. The Knole Conservation Team Blog has recently shown these images of the initial findings.

Yellow damask section at the top end of the proper left head curtain, which seems to have been part of the original lining. ©National Trust

Yellow damask section at the top end of the proper left head curtain, which seems to have been part of the original lining. ©National Trust

It turns out that the curtains are a patchwork of different elements, including six different types of silk damask, a plain silk section and a linen section.

Pink damask patches at the bottom of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

Pink damask patches at the bottom of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

All these patches seem to have had previous uses before they were inserted into the bed curtains, as they show additional seams and darning.

Green damask patch at the top of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

Green damask patch at the top of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

There are a number of different types and styles of seams, suggesting that there were several successive repairs.

Yellow damask patch. ©National Trust

Yellow damask patch. ©National Trust

At some point the curtains seem to have been turned upside down, so that the damaged and patched hems would be at the top and therefore less obvious.

Patch of a different crimson damask. ©National Trust

Patch of a different crimson damask. ©National Trust

All this gives some glimpses of the life of this venerable bed, as well as of the thrifty housekeeping methods of previous generations.

Alfred, the emblematic king

June 20, 2014
Historic building conservator Philip Scorer inspects the fabric of King Alfred's Tower. ©National Trust

Historic building conservator Philip Scorer inspects the fabric of King Alfred’s Tower. ©National Trust

The National Trust’s South West Blog keeps coming up with great images at the moment. A suitable caption for this one might be ‘Just another day working for the National Trust.’ I love Philip Scorer’s studious pose, pen and paper at the ready, while dangling off the side of an eighteenth-century folly.

King Alfred's Tower, Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

King Alfred’s Tower, Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

In fact it shows Philip inspecting King Alfred’s Tower, on the Stourhead estate, which is in need of repair. Significant funds have already been raised, including grants from the Viridor Environmental Credits Company and from the Mackintosh Foundation, but we are now trying to find the final £24,000.

King Alfred the Great, attributed to Samuel Woodforde (1763-1817), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732296. ©National Trust, image  supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

King Alfred the Great, attributed to Samuel Woodforde (1763-1817), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732296. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The tower demonstrates how the figure of King Alfred (849-99) was used as a cultural emblem in the eighteenth century. This Anglo-Saxon king was known for repelling vikings, rebuilding towns and cities, reforming the legal system and encouraging scholarship and religion.

Bust of King Alfred in the Temple of British Worthies at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/Jerry Harpur

Bust of King Alfred in the Temple of British Worthies at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/Jerry Harpur

From the sixteenth century onwards Alfred ‘the Great’ came to be revered as the epitome of a virtuous monarch. He was seen as a symbol of British virtues such as patriotism, love of liberty and respect for the rule of law.

Portrait of Anne Hoare, later Lady Mathew (d.1872), with King Alfred's Tower in the distance, by William Owen, RA (1769-1825), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732267. Image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Portrait of Anne Hoare, later Lady Mathew (d.1872), with King Alfred’s Tower in the distance, by William Owen, RA (1769-1825), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732267. Image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

King Alfred’s Tower at Stourhead was designed by Henry Flitcroft (1697-1769) for Henry Hoare II (1705-85). It commemorates the peace with France in 1762 and the recent accession of King George III (1738-1820), like Alfred seen as ‘a truly British King’.

Painted plaster relief of King Alfred, probably 1760s, in the Caesar's hall, Kedleston Hall, inv. no. 109000.2. ©National Trust/Andrew Patterson

Painted plaster relief of King Alfred, probably 1760s, in the Caesar’s hall, Kedleston Hall, inv. no. 109000.2. ©National Trust/Andrew Patterson

American readers of this blog might well question George III’s credentials as a champion of liberty, but I suppose that is one of the ironies of history.

Cover to reveal

June 17, 2014
Collections officer Ruth Moppett showing the protective Eyemats in the chapel at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust

Collections officer Ruth Moppett showing the protective Eyemats in the chapel at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust

I just read on the National Trust’s South West Blog that the colleagues at Tyntesfield have commissioned high-tech floor coverings for the high Victorian chapel there.

View into the chapel. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

View into the chapel. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The chapel floor is an elaborate and sumptuous feature created by Powell and Sons for the ‘high church’ Gibbs family in the early 1870s. The materials used include marble, faience, Mexican onyx and blue john or Derbyshire fluorspar.

Detail of the vine leaf mosaic on the floor of the chapel. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the vine leaf mosaic on the floor of the chapel. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The floor is too fragile to withstand the wear and tear of the 220,000 visitors that Tyntesfield receives each year. So previously there had been carpets in the chapel, but that meant that the floors could not really be appreciated.

Quatrefoil stained glass window in the chapel at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Quatrefoil stained glass window in the chapel at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

So Tyntesfield commissioned the Eyemats company to create protective flooring printed with ultra high definition photographs of the floor. These ‘mats’ are so realistic that visitors often don’t notice them at all. And it allows the design of the floor to be appreciated in concert with the other decorations and furnishings in the chapel.

Detail of the wrought iron gate through which the priest would enter the chapel. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of the wrought iron gate through which the priest would enter the chapel. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Similar illusionistic floorings has been used at a number of other National Trust properties and also at places such as Bowhill, Dumfries House and Houghton Hall. Apart from being a practical solution, they can also be appreciated as a metaphor for conservation in general: a little bit of artifice to bring out more of the historical reality of a place.

A closer look at Dyrham Park

May 20, 2014
Dyrham Park ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

Dyrham Park ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

From a distance historic houses can appear almost eternal. But a closer look usually reveals some evidence of the ravages of time.

Experts looking at the repairs needed to the roof at Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Experts inspecting Dyrham’s roof. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Dyrham Park has been receiving quite a lot of scrutiny recently. Its roof is now over 200 years old and beyond its natural life.

Patch repairs on the roof at Dyrham. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Patch repairs on the roof at Dyrham. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Patch repairs are no longer sufficient and the roof needs a complete overhaul.

Spalling stonework on the roof at Dyrham ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Spalling stonework on the roof at Dyrham ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Some of the stonework is also beginning to fail, exacerbated by the freezing and thawing of excess rainwater. So as well as urgent stone repairs the house needs improved gutters to prevent future damage.

Damaged stonework on the west front of Dyrham. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Damaged stonework on the west front of Dyrham. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

In addition access to the orangery roof needs to be made safer, so that high-level maintenance can be carried out more frequently and efficiently.

Water damage in the orangery at Dyrham. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Water damage in the orangery at Dyrham. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

That is why we are trying to raise £500,000 towards the total cost of £3.54 million. Any donation is welcome, and can be made here.

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.


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