St. Edmund’s church, Warkton, Northamptonshire was given a new chancel in about 1750 designed to house a series of monuments to the Montagus of Boughton House. It’s now known that the chancel was designed by Louis Francois Roubiliac, who has long known to have been responsible for the monuments to John, 2nd Duke of Montagu (d.1749) and to his wife Mary (d.1751). Roubiliac is widely recognised as the outstanding sculptor of his age and these are two of his masterpieces, which would sit just as comfortably in Westminster Abbey.
Still, they barely out shadow the wonderful monument to Mary Duchess of Montagu of 1777-82 by Peter Mathias van Gelder, with the last monument of the series, to Elizabeth Duchess of Buccleuch (d.1827) by Thomas Campbell being a fine work in its own right, even if rather austere by comparison.
The monuments have been a cause of concern since about 1980, when fractures due to corroding iron fixings were noted on Duke John’s monument. The causes of deterioration (including staining to all the monuments) were complex, with the impact of the environment within the chancel itself – with its large east window – being unclear. Despite the involvement of many of the country’s leading conservators and institutions, proposals seemed to go round in circles whilst the condition of the monuments got worse. Skillingtons were commissioned by the PCC and the present Duke of Buccleuch to start looking at the monuments in 2007, with a sustained and carefully planned programme of investigation culminating in a major programme of repair being undertaken throughout 2014.
The urgency of the work was reinforced by a new fracture to the centre of Duke John’s monument appearing overnight during the investigations.
Our works involved the complete dismantling and rebuilding of Duke John’s monument, to remove iron fixings and carry out repairs, rebuilding without a damp-proof membrane; localised repair and restoration to Duchess Mary’s (d.1751) monument, including the provision of a new marble spindle (critical to the iconography) based on historic photographs; and localised rebuilding of Duchess Mary’s (d.1775) monument.
Much investigation into a curious decay pattern to the Duchess of Buccleuch’s monument concluded that it related to a fault in the marble itself, and a combination of restoration of lost parts and consolidation of surviving was carried out. All the monuments were sensitively cleaned. The environment of the chancel was improved. Externally, at the east end, the railings were renovated, ground level reduced and drainage improved.
Sub-contract value: Circa £150,000
Client: The Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust
Project Manager: The Prince’s Regeneration Trust
Architect: Alan Frost