How to protect sculpture and decorative stonework from weather damage this winter

7th October 2021

Lewis Proudfoot, of Cliveden Conservation, discusses the importance of Winter Covers in protecting marble sculpture and decorative stonework from wet and freezing (or adverse) weather conditions this winter.

Winter is coming. The nights are drawing in and the seasons are turning. Relish the season’s mellow fruitfullness and look forward to the warm glow of the fireside after a long walk through the parks and gardens of one of our nation’s many historic houses.

But spare a thought for those lonely statues stood shivering in the cold long after the visitors have gone home. Or the urns and well heads that might fill with damp leaves or freezing water, the empty stone benches crouching behind hedges, or buffeted by the winds that blow across the soggy lawns.

For years Cliveden Conservation have been providing its Winter Covers to private properties, country houses, the National Trust and customers across Europe and the United States. Over this time we have developed an offering which aims to protect garden and outdoor statuary and other stone objects from the damaging effects of adverse weather.

The Fountain of Love. Cliveden National Trust

These fit into three main categories; those of excessive exposure to water, fluctuations in temperature and then a third consequent problem of relative humidity and condensation caused by attempts to avoid the first two.

With the UK’s climate becoming wetter, it is now more important than ever to protect historic stonework from excessive saturation due to rainfall. Extremes of weather are more common, and the effects on stone work or marble as it absorbs moisture from heavy rain, freezes from extreme cold, and then heats up quickly on sunny winter’s day can be damaging to fragile and delicate detailing and historic stonework.

As much of our country’s historic garden sculpture is of marble, it is particularly susceptible to chemical dissolution as the calcite content of the stone is dissolved by excessive exposure to Carbon dioxide in the water. Wetting and drying cycles are damaging to fragile stone, especially aged marble, and of course we are all too aware of the dangers of freeze-thaw in porous stonework when exposed to the elements.

We have contributed to research papers, and our covers have benefitted from the scrutiny of academics, conservators, property managers and house owners. So we have developed a three-layered material that provides great thermal insulation, protection from wind and rain as well as preventing the build-up of condensation and humidity that other, less ‘breathable’ covers create.

The aim of a cover is not to keep a statue completely dry and maintain one consistent temperature, but to maintain steady conditions that do not cause damaging fluctuations. Our covers are robust enough to handle a season’s elements, before being removed and stored in a dry place, to be rolled out again and again. Yet they must be light enough to not damage fragile sculpture, and we fix them with bespoke straps and fastenings to fit tightly around the object – creating a snug barrier to endure the worst of the British weather.

Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village in Surrey commissioned Cliveden Conservation to create a bespoke winter cover to protect the nineteenth-century terracotta well head

Our latest research project that is running this year looks to improve the sustainability of the materials we use, and we are working on our largest and most complex yet – using accurate digital measuring and fabrication technology to create detailed covers that fit perfectly. We are experimenting with other even more robust materials, and most exciting of all, working on a project to produce bespoke artistic designs to liven up the sculptures over the drab winter months.

Now is the time to order covers for the coming winter, and if you have a project that you wish to discuss with us, please do get in touch – we’d be pleased to work with you to protect your delicate statuary, ready to emerge safe and sound for all to enjoy next Spring