40 years on from the ‘Destruction of the Country House’ exhibition

Originally posted on The Country Seat:

Many was the time I stood in that exhibition watching the tears stream down the visitors’ faces as they battled to come to terms with all that had gone.’ – Sir Roy Strong [Diaries, 1974]

'Destruction of the Country House' exhibition, 1975 - V&A

‘Destruction of the Country House’ exhibition, 1975 – V&A

In October 1974, one of the most influential exhibitions ever staged by a UK museum opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  The ‘Destruction of the Country House‘ laid bare the scale and depth of the losses the UK had suffered, showing how four centuries of architectural tradition and achievement in country houses had been severely damaged by the depredations of the 20th-Century. It was conceived as a dramatic display to waken the nation to the threat faced by country houses and the danger faced by all aspects of heritage.  This was in an age with weak legal protection and which seemed to be growing ever more…

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‘Rice crispies’ and the Tapestry Room carpet

Originally posted on Osterley Conservation Team Blog:

Two conservation volunteers removing insect casings from the Tapestry Room carpet at Osterley Park House.

Two conservation assistant volunteers working on the Tapestry Room carpet in Osterley Park House (image: Kirsty Brown).

We recently said goodbye to our Assistant House Steward, Kirsty, but before she left, she called on a couple of our trusty volunteers to help with a project to remove some ‘rice crispies’ from the carpet in the Tapestry Room, which took place in front of visitors, as another Conservation in Action event.

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Monitoring the Great Stairs environment

The Great Jacobean Staircase at Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent

The Great Staircase was entirely remodeled by Thomas, 1st Earl of Dorset, between 1605 and 1608. It formed a key stage in the formal procession of the family and their guests from the Great Hall to the state rooms on the first floor.
The Great Staircase at Knole was remodelled by Thomas, 1st Earl of Dorset between 1605-1608 at Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent

The wall paintings decorating the main staircase at Knole are rare and very important survivals of Renaissance decoration. Dating from about 1603, they are one of only two complete schemes which survive from this period (the other is at Harrington Hall in Worcestershire) and presage the development of sumptuous painted staircase schemes in the late 17th or early eighteenth century, as seen in the King’s Apartment at Hampton Court Palace.
The Great Staircase from the landing at Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent

The paintings were executed in oil on plaster and have been unstable from an early period. Oil paint tends to lift and flake in the English climate, and their location also makes them particularly vulnerable to damage by touching. Flaking eventually leads to loss of the paint, seen in the white spots over the painted balustrade. The following images illustrate some of the damage and earlier remedial conservation repairs that have taken place over the years:

Areas of paint flaking revealing the plaster underneath

Areas of paint flaking revealing the plaster underneath

Cracking in the paint surface

Patches of previous repair, some of which are now failing and the paint is flaking off again

Patches of earlier repair, some of which are now failing and the paint is flaking off again.

As a part of our Inspired by Knole conservation project we are currently undertaking some extensive environmental monitoring of the staircase, internally and externally. We have placed temperature and relative humidity sensors on the external wall of the staircase and on the inside wall.

The external sensor, on the east facing wall

One of the internal sensors, on the north wall. The second is positioned on the east wall

One of the internal sensors, on the north wall. The second is positioned on the east wall

This will allow us to monitor what the temperature and relative humidity levels of the external wall surface and the internal wall paintings. Using time lapse photography we are also recording where direct sunlight falls on the external and internal walls.

The time lapse camera recording direct sunlight on the external wall of the Great Stairs.

The time lapse camera recording direct sunlight on the external wall of the Great Stairs.

 Our conservators who came to install the monitoring equipment also took some thermal images of the walls, another method to record the temperature of the wall surfaces.

Inside thermal imaging shot

Inside thermal imaging shot.

 

We are also monitoring another two wall surfaces to draw comparisons with the Great Stairs. The Spangled Bedroom, with new render and insulation; and the Brown Gallery which has relatively new render but no wall insulation. In these locations we have a temperature and relative humidity on the external surface and in-between the render and internal plaster. By monitoring the effects of new render and a wall with and without insulation, this will help us decide what the best method of protection will be for the Great Stairs wall paintings.

Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena

Understanding medieval sites in South-East England- a Great Hall lecture

Thursday, 14 August 2014 7pm – 8:30 pm

Set against the backdrop of the magnificent Great Hall, this lecture given by Professor Matthew H Johnson of Northwestern University will report on archaeological surveys of medieval sites at four local National Trust properties.

Join us to hear the results of archaeological surveys at Bodiam, Scotney, Ightham and Knole. Over the last four years a team of archaeologists from the University of Southampton and Northwestern University have worked in partnership with the National Trust to try to understand more about these sites in terms of the medieval landscapes that surround them. Drawing on years of work, the lecture will challenge the idea that the sites were just military castles or pleasure palaces.
Southampton Survey2

A team of archaeologists from the University of Southampton and Northwestern University carrying geophysics in the park at Knole.

More Information: Knole, 01732 462100, knole@nationaltrust.org.uk

  • Booking Essential 0844 249 1895
    Please note that a book fee will apply to ticket bookings. This is 5% of the purchase price.
  • Suitable for Groups
  • Please come to the front of the house where you will be greeted by a member of our team
  • The Great Hall is wheelchair accessible. Please do get in touch if you have any access requirements we can help with for the evening
  • Our lecture will begin at 7pm. It takes about 10 minutes to get from the main entrance (off Sevenoaks High Street) to the car park and then to the Great Hall.

A horologoical overhaul!

The Conservation Team look after four working clocks in the show rooms. However Knole’s largest working clock actually lives outside, on top of Archbishop Bouchier’s tower. This clock is looked after by the Knole Premises Team. Like the Conservation Team the Premises Team is a mixture of staff and volunteers. Their role is to look after and maintain the fabric of the building, but there would need to be a whole other blog post just to explain everything it is that they do…so back to the clock.

Very little documentation has been uncovered on the history of the clock other than it was previously housed over the Great Hall and moved to its present position in 1744. The dials have undergone several changes. In photographs from the 1870s, the clock still had only one hand, a typical feature of early clocks. By 1912 it had two hands and a larger central blue portion on the face. The edges of the lead covered wooden board were painted to emphasise the hexagonal shape – a feature which does not exist in the current face which appears circular from a distance.

The clock in the 1870s

The clock in the 1870s

The clock after 1912

The clock after 1912

By the post-war period, the dials had their current appearance with a circular painted dial and the hexagonal shape not picked out in black.

Post WWI image of the clock

Post WWI image of the clock

Back in January the face from the southern side of the clock turret was removed. The deterioration of the face had stopped the clock from functioning and it was removed to enable the clock to start working again. The face had become quite distorted and the hands could not turn.We took this opportunity  to undertake a close examination of the face so we could determine how we would go about redecorating all the faces and rectifying the problems in the structure.

The clock face is on display in Stone Court.

The clock face is on display in Stone Court.

The clock face weighed 213Kg and was only held in place by the brass screws gripping the lead skin – molded over a wooden base – as the wood had rotted away and was suffering from wet rot. The face required a crane to lift it to the ground and this was done at the same time as scaffolding was being removed following extensive building work. We found no evidence of an earlier clock face on the timber – however there was evidence of an earlier lead covering. This unusual choice of a very heavy material has probably contributed to some of the structural problems shown in each face but more obviously in the southern side.

Paint research was commissioned in order to determine the extent and character of the current paint scheme. Analysis indicates that the painted and gilded clock face retains only its existing decoration over a lead base. The materials identified in this decoration scheme suggest that it was applied at some point after 1920. The ways in which the lead is joined suggests a pre-war date, somewhere during the 1930s.

The tower clock mechanism

The tower clock mechanism.

Following consultation with our clock conservators and other specialists, our proposal is to remove the remaining three defective dials, all of which are in a similar poor and defective condition. It is evident from the condition of the dials that the method of construction is unsuitable, not only because the wooden backboard has rotted, but also due to the weight in using lead to encapsulate it. New dials can be manufactured using a marine plywood backboard, with a stainless steel dial plate front and sides, copying the construction method of the existing dials.

The chosen dial design can then be replicated onto the stainless steel dial plate. We propose that this follows the earlier pre-war design where the octagonal shape is emphasized. We feel that this approach will restore the appropriate appearance to the clock tower, keep the workings in good order and reduce the impact the weight is having on the turret structure itself.

Scaffold going up ready for the conservation work to the clock to begin.

Scaffold going up ready for the conservation work to the clock to begin.

Watch this space for more updates on the clock!

The Conservation and Premises Teams

Thinking pink at the Royal Pavilion

Originally posted on Treasure Hunt:

The Long Gallery at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

The Long Gallery at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

At the recent ‘Objects, Families, Homes’ conference of the East India Company at Home project I heard a fascinating lecture by Dr Alexandra Loske about the rich array of colours and motifs in the interiors of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

Chinese famille rose porcelain lidded vase, inv. no. 1245511, at Polesden Lacey. ©National Trust/Lynda Hall

Chinese famille rose porcelain lidded vase, inv. no. 1245511, at Polesden Lacey. ©National Trust/Lynda Hall

Alexandra teased out how some of the decoration came from Chinese sources, such as famille rose porcelain and mandarins’ robes, while other elements came from European illustrated books about China and the ongoing tradition of imitation-Chinese – or chinoiserie – decoration.

The Long Gallery in John Nash's Views of the Royal Pavilion, 1826 (image from Austenonly)

The Long Gallery in John Nash’s Views of the Royal Pavilion, 1826 (image from Austenonly)

Out of these diverse and and sometimes unexpected influences the ‘design team’ – comprised of the Prince of Wales (client), John Nash (architect)…

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Photographic materials cleaning and re-housing project

Our mini photographic materials conservation project is underway. I say mini, there is a lot of work to be done, but its not quite on the same scale as our Inspired by Knole project.  We don’t have a £18m budget for a start. We’re about two months in to the project now and we’ve made good progress.

The Knole photographic materials collection is in two parts:

Part A: a mixed collection of albums, loose prints, glass plate negatives and lantern slides which date from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Many photographs feature Lionel Edward Sackville-West, 3rd Baron Sackville, his wife Victoria and daughter Vita, as well interior and external views of Knole. Several of our photographs were taken by Sevenoaks photographer Essenhigh Corke. It also includes some lovely personal scrap books that include photographs, annotations and watercolor sketches. The collection is a mixture of ownership by the National Trust and on loan from the Sackville family.

Some of our glass plate negatives, probably in their original packaging.

Some of our glass plate negatives, probably in their original packaging.

Part B: a new element of the collection, all items have recently been taken on loan from the Sackville family along with other contents from the Outer Wicket Tower rooms (new spaces we will be opening to visitors as a part of Inspired by Knole). Again it is a mixed collection of loose and framed prints, albums, carte de visites and cabinet cards, and cellulose negatives. They date from the late nineteenth century and early to mid-twentieth century and feature Edward Charles Sackville-West, 5th Baron Sackville (Eddy), his friends, and his family members, in particular his step mother Anne.

Condition of the collection:

A brief condition survey of Part A of the collection was carried out by Anita Bools (NT photographic materials advisor) in February 2012. Most of the objects looked at have been rated as follows: Condition = Fair Stability = unstable Treatment priority = desirable. A couple of the objects seen were rated poor and highly unstable. The collection has been kept in an environmentally controlled store room since the 1990s. Although some of the current housing of certain items is inadequate. A more in-depth condition survey of each individual item is required.

A more extensive survey of Part B of the collection was surveyed in December 2013 by photographic materials conservator and acting NT advisor, Sarah Allen. Overall condition of the collection has been rated as poor, stable / highly unstable and requires urgent treatment. The collection has been housed in a very poor uncontrolled environment for several decades, exposed to light, dust and there has been an active pest insect infestation.

The latest photographic materials taken on loan, in their previous storage location.

The latest photographic materials taken on loan, in their previous storage location.

So our mission is to condition asses every object in both parts of the collection.  Carry out basic cleaning and repairs, and identify those objects in need of more substantial conservation.  Then finally re-house the collection in the correct type of storage materials. We started off with sizing each object so we knew what type and size of storage housing to buy in for the collection. Now we have begun the condition assessments.

Every object is measured in mm and entered on the condition report spreadsheet.

Every object is measured in mm and entered on the condition report spreadsheet.

It is quite time consuming assessing each object, especially trying to identify each photographic process that has been used.  The more you see the easier it becomes to recognise the process.  Although we do have a little help to.

Two very useful reference books.

Two very useful reference books.

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Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena