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