Lillias Guyon wrote to us last November proposing her services as a restorer of gilding.  There is not too much gilding here, except on the picture frames.  Most of our paintings have been moved about, on and off display, sometimes going to exhibitions (from where they usually return in better condition), re-hung, sent away for cleaning etc, and as a result, many frames have been chipped and damaged. 

I used to think the odd chip did not matter.  However, as the number expanded, the overall effect was to make the collection look scruffy.  There was a time when we wanted people to think we had only old paintings from the family collection, and so an element of what the auction houses call “Country House Condition” was fine.  But now our visitors pay more and like to see the place looking well cared for.  So Lillias’s services come at a good time.

Like most people, I receive a lot of unsolicited offers through the post.  I called Lillias because she wrote by hand (legibly), she lived not too far away and, as others often say they do, she said she often passed through Ledbury.  She sent a good, not too glossy brochure, and when we met, she seemed happy to start work without producing a condition report as it was obvious to both of us, on inspection, what the condition of the paintings was.  I just hope the condition of the frames does not then make the paintings themselves look scruffy.

JH-B    April 2011

In an earlier posting, I mentioned that our Brussels tapestry showing the Battle of Gaugamela (formerly known as Battle of Arbela), which took place in 331BC between Alexander the Great and Darius III, had been sent off for repair. It was due to take about a year, but in the end it stayed away nearly 18 months. But the result was worth waiting for.

Alison Lister of Textile Conservation Limited and her team had a big job to do. First it had its lining and wall fittings removed and was sent for washing a the Royal Manufacturers De Wit at Mechelen in Belgium, that was wet cleaning, carried out on a large suction table using special detergent and soft water. We do not have any similar process available in the UK.

The tapestry was then relined and repaired, where there had been earlier patching. Many broken warps were reinforced by inserting new, colour-matched woollen threads, and new Velcro tape attached for attaching to the wall. It was still a perfect fit, despite the washing and repairs (I may think of sending my jerseys for the same treatment, although the delay and cost would be inconvenient), and it looks much cleaner and stronger.

The replica we had printed has been sold back to the supplier, who hopes to find a home for it elsewhere. No-one complained while the genuine article was away. Some may grumble now, however, as we have been advised to keep light levels as low as possible, so it may not always be easy to admire the excellent quality of the work of restoration.

JH-B 12th September 2010

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

We have recently restored the entrance to the ice house, which is located just above the lake on the south side.

It was used to store perishable food, which could nevertheless be preserved in the cold.  Ice was cut from the lake and placed at the bottom of the inner, brick-vaulted chamber, and then the food packed on top.  We have no detailed record of how it was used, but my mother remembers a very old and long-retired employee telling her that cutting and carrying the ice was the worst job he had on the estate.

The bank in which it sits had been planted up with ash trees by my parents.  We decided to remove them and make the bank into a more open space, giving better views to the lake from the track above it and to the castle as you approach after completing the lake path walk.  After much bonfiring, weeding and spraying, the ground was deemed to be clean enough for our groundsmen, Nick and Ron, to plant the grass this autumn.

After two years as a brown scar, it is now beginning to green up.  Let us hope it is not from the return of the weeds….and that it will look very good this summer.  We also hope to be able to let visitors look beyond the icehouse entrance.

This winter we are tackling the rebuilding of the perimeter wall to the Courtyard.  Over the years it has been hit by falling trees and suffered from damage from self-seeded saplings, ivy etc.  One section has been screened off as it looked as if it might fall down and damage parked cars, visitors and their dogs, and we will start on that part first.

The construction suggests that the building budget in the early 19th century many have been tight.  There are rusticated stones on each outer face, but the centre of the wall consists of a rubble infill, so there is little to hold it all together.  To remedy this, we will use stainless steel expanded metal strips embedded in the lime mortar on each course of stone, which should provide the previously-missing lateral strength.  The reinforcement will be invisible but should ensure a long-term repair.

Repairing walls and roofs rather than investing in improvements that generate more income is what we have to do from time to time.  We are obliged to do so as the Castle is Listed.  It is usually cheaper to repair and maintain at early stages of deterioration rather than wait until the repair becomes a major one.  It is always a financial challenge, but we try to take the long-term view and hope that what we mend now will not need to be redone for a generation or two.       JH-B

Our Gothic Drawing Room, decorated to the designs of AWN Pugin in 1849 contains six tapestries, which combine to give the room its rich and warm atmosphere.  Four of them came from Wimpole Hall, the former home of the Earls of Hardwicke, one of whose daughters married the Second Earl Somers and brought the tapestries with her.

It is wonderful to have them.  But the problem with tapestries is that they are vulnerable to damage from light and, in museum conditions, would be kept at very low levels of lighting, so that it would be hard to appreciate their beauty.  One of our tapestries, showing the Battle of Arbela, now referred more accurately as Gaugamela, in 331BC, has suffered in this way over the years.  The sun has shone on part of it through a gap in the blinds, and the ultraviolet rays have cut the silk so there is a noticeable tear.  There has been some fading of the colours too and it is in need of a good clean.

This year, we decided to have it restored.  We first had a reproduction made by a process using a photograph to print its image onto linen so we could use the “fake” to fill the gap on the wall.  The original has now been removed and its currently in Belgium where it was woven in Flanders.  It will be back early next year and should look much better.  I only hope it does not make the other five look too scruffy as a result.