When we asked Donald Smith, the restorer we use for painted ceilings, to touch up the Library ceiling this year, he reported a sagging area. On closer inspection, one of the ribs which form the frame of the 44 painted panels, executed when the Library was redecorated by George Fox in the 1860s, had cracked and dropped. Something serious was obviously happening.
We first had a Health & Safety moment and checked to see if the damaged section was about to drop. It appeared secure, so we did not have to support it from below, which would have been quite tricky given the height of the room. We then cleared the furniture from the Queen’s Bedroom above the crack and lifted the floorboards. But before we could see what the problem was, we had to hack away the lathe and plaster layer of sound proofing, which insulates the sound of footsteps, in the days before fitted carpets, in the bedroom from the company in the room below.
Then, we found the cause of the problem straight away. The ceiling was suspended from beams by nails driven in from below. The nails were hand cut (nothing but the best for my forebears) and tapered. A combination of the weight of the plaster and drying out of the wood had caused a few nails to start to pull out of the wood. Their shape did not help.
We could not lift the ceiling back, so after consultation with architect, engineer and our Clerk of Works, Alan Smith, we decided to secure it all with angled brackets. We used Graham Walker and his team from Ledbury to do the work. One of them was thin enough to fit under the floor in the gap above the ceiling to reach the areas inaccessible from above. We hope it will now be secure for the indefinite future but have taken the chance also to photograph all 44 painted panels just in case.
JH-B 11th May 2010