Conservation of Pugin’s Decorative Scheme

Cliveden Conservation carried out conservation of the lower half of the wall paintings and the altar of the Drummond chapel.

Project overview

Project Overview
St Peter & St Paul’s Church dates from Saxon and Norman times. Cliveden Conservation was commissioned by The Friends of Albury Old Saxon Church and Dannatt Johnson Architects to carry out conservation of Pugin’s decorative scheme on the dado area of the walls and the altar of the Drummond Chapel. The project was awarded following a tender process supported and approved by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), which, together with the Friends of the Church, is responsible for safeguarding this church. ​

Summary of work carried out
The aim was to stabilise the lower section of the painted decoration in the chapel and the altar. The treatment was a complex process due to the unique nature of the building, the original construction techniques and the condition of the building.

The primary and concerning issue was the separation of the plaster from the wall, which risked the stability of the entire mural painting, the disintegration and loss of stone and the instability of the paint and gilded layers on the altar.

A detailed condition assessment was carried out of the walls from the floor level to the beginning of the windows, including the piscina. Conservators were able to identify aspects of deterioration on each strata or layer and quantify the amount of damage. During the assessment, it was possible to recover more information about the original techniques and materials used in Pugin’s scheme. Mortar and paint analysis were undertaken to complement existing information that had been found.

Solubility and cleaning trials of the paint layers were then carried out to provide a more homogenous appearance. Accumulated dirt, dust, spider webs and wax splashes were removed; the vanish wasn’t removed.

Due to the extensive areas of the render that were detached from the walls, conservators decided that the paintings should be protected with facing during grouting. This would prevent fragments of the decoration from falling and protect the surface from possible stains from the lime grout. The area could then be stabilised by applying a lime-based grout to bridge and re-adhere areas of detachment.

Flaking paint layers were stabilised using a conservation grade adhesive and smaller areas of loss carefully retouched. For larger areas of loss, new stencils were produced. The reconstruction of the design in the large areas of loss, as well as the reintegration of the smaller areas, recovered the unified reading of the walls, making it easier to appreciate the decoration as a whole and not focusing the viewer’s attention on the level of deterioration.

Treatment of the painted decoration of the altar began with the careful removal of loose dust, avoiding fragile areas of stone or unstable areas of polychrome. Facing was then applied to areas with paint delamination and around areas with stone disintegration.

The stone was consolidated using a lime based consolidant and grout to prevent further loss. Mortar repairs were applied to areas of lost stone and to support larger detachments of paint. Areas of flaking paint were also consolidated.

Once the stone and painted areas were stable, some areas were sensitively wet cleaned to recover the colour of the altar and the shine of the gilded elements.

Areas with paint and gild losses were retouched aiming to unify the surface, covering only the areas where the stone was exposed, and without covering original finishes.

Results
Consolidation and stabilisation of Pugin’s decorative scheme in the Drummond Chapel followed a first phase of work to the façade and roof to improve rainwater disposal. Both phases are now completed.

The conservation of the lower half of the wall paintings and the altar of the Drummond chapel was a successful treatment, stabilising and preserving Pugin’s decorated surfaces and finishes for many more years. The Drummond Chapel is one of the most complete examples of Pugin’s work.

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Project details

Client:

The Friends of Albury Old Saxon Church, and Dannatt Johnson Architects

Specialist Contractor:

Cliveden Conservation

Category:

Decorative arts

What we did