Seaton Delaval Blog
Around the Central Hall by Scaffold
Going up the scaffold that surrounds the Central Hall is a wonderful way to come face to face with the work of the original builders. It’s also quite high up so for those who find heights a little alarming, it can need a certain steeling of nerve! And of course as a building site hard hat and hi-vis is essential. The quality of the stone carving is amazing to see, the capitals either side of windows are crisp and detailed, where they survive, there are many that are badly eroded. It could be that the stone used was easier to carve and perhaps softer, so it hasn’t survived as well. We are replacing several that are so damaged that they no longer support the window lintel above. We will also be replacing a huge piece of stone, one of the cornices at the top of a column on the North façade, has lost a great chunk from a corner, and is supported at present with metal bars hammered in underneath. This is not stable, so Team Force will be carving a new piece to match the original.
Sean, the site foreman, pointed out the initials and dates deeply carved into the stones that from the base of a parapet around one of the corner towers. They are I.W. 1729 and G.R? 1721, we don’t know and probably never will, who they were. Masons almost certainly but what’s the significance of the dates – when the men started work at Seaton perhaps, or when they had finished their apprenticeships? Records almost never mention the people who actually built these amazing buildings, so these carved initials are an intriguing glimpse of them.
Whilst the scaffold is in place we asked a stone conservator to have a look at the carved façade on the North side. Where the columns project forwards and form a corner, the level of erosion to the carvings is marked, they are creating eddies of wind which has eroded the stone. The conservators have worked with Team Force to consolidate the most at risk stone details on this façade. Walking around the scaffold it’s great to see the new lead work covering the top of the cornice that runs around the building, this will throw water off the stonework and not let it soak in as it has been. The cornice was originally covered in lead but at some point the lead has been removed. Also now protected are the tops of the columns. Team Force has been re-pointing the miles of joints with lime mortar mixed to be the right colour. This is essential to keep water out of the stonework, and would have been part of regular maintenance of the building.
From the scaffold there are great views of the roofs of the East and West wing. The East has its lovely new stainless steel roof and bright new stone; the West is felt roofed and is next on the list for major work.
David and Goliath, posturing in the courtyard, almost immune to the bitter North Wind.
The Lead Statues at Seaton Delaval
Recently as part of the long term work at Seaton the Trust’s Adviser on metal conservation came up from his studio in London, he came to assess the three large 18th cent lead statues at Seaton. These are rare representatives of what were popular 18th cent adornments to large gardens. The ones at Seaton are a group with attitude, David about to strike Goliath with a sword, Samson slaying the Philistine and the Goddess Diana, also not someone to mess around with. This assessment is part of the long term planning of potential conservation work at Seaton.
Originally these statues, larger than life size, were on the Bastions at each corner of the Haha walls, painted white they would have looked like marble and been a striking sight standing on their great curved Bastions. There are of course 4 Bastions and only 3 existing figures, we don’t as yet know what the 4th figure was. The only photo so far found is not very clear and seems to show a figure with a sheep or goat over its shoulder. Its Bastion is in the Churchyard, and it can be imagined what an incongruous figure it would have been when the Churchyard became officially Church property in the late 19th cent. Perhaps this may have been the reason for its disappearance, a minister feeling a pagan figure was unsuitable for a Churchyard… We hope the surviving stonework will hold clues as to the original figure.
The 3 figures have all had some major work in the 1980’s, there is an inbuilt problem that these statues suffer from. They have an iron armature inside, to which the lead is fixed and which is what holds the figure onto its stone base. This over time rusts, and in so doing expands, cracking the lead and eventually causing the whole statue to collapse. The other major issue is that all the statues have been moved, so that none are where they ought to be, this complicates things. As it isn’t simply a case of moving one but rather becomes a dance where each moves, together with its stone plinth, back to its original bastion. And with statues weighing 600kg and stone plinths of a tonne or so, this will call for some very large equipment. So one outcome from the adviser’s visit will be a plan for the conservation work and the potential move around.
West Wing Re-roof
As part of the conservation work at Seaton we are planning for the next big project looming over the horizon. This is the re-roof of the West Wing, at present roofed in felt, which is long past its prime, there are various leaks in the rooms below, that cause buckets to be set beneath when wind driven rain hits. Of course whilst the roof is off we will tackle any other building issues, crumbling stone, pointing losses and capped chimneys. On the roof of this wing there is one of the treasures of Seaton Delaval, sitting quietly inside its pediment is an early 18th cent turret clock mechanism. Covered in pigeon droppings and with woodworm in the wooden rollers it looks unloved and forgotten. However this is far from the truth, we are planning for its conservation, but we’ll say more of that another day, except to add when the re-roof happens we’ll be very carefully lifting the clock out of its pediment and sending it to Cumbria, where the specialist in these clock movements is based.
A big part of the planning for the re-roof is thinking about where to store the collections, as these will need to be removed from the West Wing. When we re-wired this wing we set up a store in the Old Kitchen and one at each end of the Long Gallery. The really big paintings stayed in place where possible and were carefully boxed in, but this time we’ll need to move everything. Fortunately we now have the East Wing with its lovely new roof, so this where we’ll set up our store rooms. We’ll put in place the measures to control light exposure, humidity and of course security. With the added complication that any wiring required will have to be temporary and with nothing fixed to the building. We’ll take these steps as we don’t want to damage the floors and walls of the East Wing, this wing has never been wired upstairs, so the floors have not been disturbed.
Our stone masons have carefully numbered, plotted the position of and lifted every black and white stone slab from the floor in the Central Hall. This had to be done because the slabs were unstable and loose, so every time they were walked upon, there was very real risk of them moving against each other and chipping the edges. They were loose, of course because of the disastrous fire of 1822 which left the Central Hall roofles and open to the elements for 40 years. So in a sense we are continuing the work of John Dobson, the famous 19th century architect, who, in the 1860’s, re-roofed and stabilised the building.
Once lifted, all the numerous cracked and shattered slabs have been painstakingly bonded together again using resin adhesives mixed with pigment and stainless steel dowels have been added to give them strength. The original three layers of screed have been replaced where they had been weathered to nothing, and the floor re-laid, with each slab returned to its original position. the final work is replacing those that were too badly damaged to be re-used. With due consideration, small samples were compared with the originals and whilst allowing for several hundred years of wear and dirt, not too mention the variety of effects produced by the fire, we have at last found Carrera Marble and black limestone that seems to match the originals closely.
As promised in our first ever blog post!
This is the head of one of our muse statues. You can see the iron rod inside that was used to form the shape.
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A rare, military leather buff-coat and doublet from our collection has been sent away to be conserved at the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk.
Photo by Michael Whittaker
The coat belong to Jacob Astley, 1st Baron Astley of Reading, a prominent Royalist Commander in the English civil wars (1642-1651) and is over 350 years old!
This conservation project wouldn’t have been possibly without the help from the players of People’s Postcode Lottery and will eventually be on display at the hall once it has been restored.
Keep up to date with all National Trust Textile Conservation projects via the conservation studio’s blog – Click Here.