Thomas Hardy altarpiece is returned to its original splendour

Cleaning and repair of a forgotten treasure which had been hidden for nearly a century.

Project overview

Project overview
A highly decorative altarpiece (known as a reredos) designed and drawn by the novelist and poet Thomas Hardy was discovered during a search for the church’s foundation stone. Thanks to donations from the Thomas Hardy Society, Prince Philip Trust, Louis Baylis Trust and the public, a programme of works to reveal the altarpiece took place. Cliveden Conservation were contracted to clean and repair the forgotten treasure which had been hidden for nearly a century.

Summary of conservation work
The team began by removing years of dust which had settled down behind the wooden panels on the front. Using soft artistic brushes, the team carefully removed stubborn areas of dust. A latex poultice was then applied and peeled away to get rid of every trace of dirt.

All the marble elements, semi-precious stone gems and the symbols of the four Evangelists carved into pink and white alabaster were painstakingly cleaned using a different method. This technique involved creating a specially formulated cleaning solution together with small cotton swabs on bamboo skewers to allow for the precise and careful removal of dirt on the decorative carved details.

Other works including cleaning the Gilded Cross behind the Holy Lamb and carrying out small repairs and pointing with plaster and appropriate mortars. Small areas of damage caused by workers mounting the wooden panels after WWI were retouched using
acrylic paints. Finally, the team waxed and polished the alabaster and marble elements.

During the works, the team noted that unusual marks on the mensa stone fitted the brass crucifix decorated with semi-precious gems that has been dated back to 1902. This confirmed that the crucifix was standing for approximately two decades on the Thomas Hardy altarpiece before installation of the wooden panelling. The crucifix was put back into its original location for Rededication Service.

The results
The altarpiece is once again a central and integral part of the church. The architecture of the reredos, pattern and some of the structural materials can be easily observed in the overall design of the church.

Project details

Client:

All Saints Church in Windsor

Main Contractor:

Cliveden Conservation

Category:

Decorative arts

Awards & recognition

SPAB John Betjeman Award

Shortlisted for the SPAB John Betjeman Award for the conservation of the reredos designed by Thomas Hardy.

What we did

“The uncovering, cleaning and restoration of the Thomas Hardy Altarpiece (Reredos) at All Saints, Windsor has transformed the whole building. A new and arresting focus at the altar has been created which enhances the beauty of the church, and its compelling history, covered up for nearly 100 years, can now be seen again in all its original splendour. The cleaning and restoration work by Cliveden Conservation has been the crowning glory on an amazing historical and spiritual find”

Fr Ainsley Swift, Rector of Windsor.

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