5 May 2011
We are delighted to have won a sub-contract with Patton Construction for the repair and renewal of historic plasterwork at Lowther Castle near Penrith in Cumbria. Lowther Castle is the seat of the Lowthers, Earls of Lonsdale, with the 17th century house being remodelled from 1806 by the architect Robert Smirke. The plasterwork was mainly by Bernasconi of London. The Castle was stripped and unroofed in the 1950s, although the Stables were left largely intact.
Much of our work will be in the making good of plasterwork here as the Stables are converted to an Exhibition and Visitor Centre, Cafe, Shop and units to let. Part of this is the conservation of the gothic vaulting to the Sculpture Gallery, which links to the Castle ruins. We are also going to be repairing the external render. We are currently analysing this, which appears to be an early or proto Portland Cement material, neatly applied and lined out to imitate ashlar.
Skillingtons have always demonstrated a strong commitment to staff training and CPD, and support the development of CSCS Heritage Skills Cards. With the deadline for eligibility for these cards in most ‘traditional’ areas under the Managed Industry Accreditation route (effectively ‘grandfather rights’) now expired our experienced craftsmen and women have their Heritage Skills cards. We have been campaigning for recognition of architectural conservators within this scheme since 2009 and Dr Carrington is representing the field in ongoing discussions between ICON and ConstructionSkills, such that a route for conservators is now near to being formally established.
Skillingtons have recently won by competitive tender the Main Contract for the repair of the Orangery at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, for English Heritage. The Orangery was designed by the architect James Clephan in a French 18th century style for the De Grey family in about 1836.
The facade is of ornate stucco in an early form of cement, using a combination of mouldings formed in situ and cast elements. The repairs are not only to the stucco but also to the roof (including the glass), the interior, and with the return to working order of the great north doors – where a whole bay opens up on huge hinges.
This was designed to allow the wheeling in and out of orange trees, and is believed not to have been opened for around 50 years. The contract will be completed with complete internal and external redecoration, with a planned hand over date of December 2010.
Skillingtons have had a long working relationship with Harlaxton Manor near Grantham – which is part of the US University of Evansville. A major programme of repairs to the Lion Terrace and Culpin Bank to the rear of the main building had been commenced by another contractor in 2009. When they went into administration at Easter 2010 the completion of the project, which is grant-aided by English Heritage, went out to tender again and this time we were successful in winning the contract.
It is never easy picking up from where somebody else left off and nobody takes any pleasure in witnessing another firm getting into difficulties so this has been a difficult job to get to grips with. However, now that we have been on site for several weeks the jigsaw is unravelling and areas of the site have started to be handed over to the client. It is expected that the contract will be complete in late 2010 or early 2011, depending on stone supply and the weather.
Skillingtons are currently due to commence an autumn and winter programme of monument conservation at All Saint’s, Alrewas; St Michael’s, Broome; St Andrew’s Langford; St Margaret’s, Sotterley and St John’s, Hackney.
We first looked at the Urswyck Chapel at St John’s; Hackney in 2003 and subsequently presented a report for the Parish with our recommendation for their conservation. St John’s suffered from a significant fire in 1955 and at this time the monuments were restored.
Sadly the techniques involved in the restoration of the monuments and the Urswyck Chapel itself have had adverse affects upon them especially that of the floor mounted monument to Christopher Urswyck d.1522 which was entirely repainted in oil paint. Part of the conservation of this monument will be the careful removal of this paint layer to reveal the stone and any original polychrome.
Skillingtons have won by competitive tender the contract for the refurbishment of three towers at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, working directly for the National Trust. Starting work just before Easter, we are working in close liaison with our friend and master plasterer Jeff Orton, with our own master plasterer Philip Gaches heading the team on site. We are carrying out extensive repairs to the 16th century plasterwork including running in missing sections of cornice and modelling to missing fragments of decorative plaster overmantles. We are also carrying out extensive patching to the historic gypsum plaster floors, and decorating the three rooms on completion.