Thomas Hardy altarpiece is returned to its original splendour

10th November 2017

Conservation work to the altarpiece designed by the novelist Thomas Hardy, that was uncovered at All Saints Church in Windsor in 2016, has been carried out by Cliveden Conservation. The altarpiece, which is made up of different types of stone, required various techniques and conservation materials.

A highly decorative altarpiece (known as a reredos) designed and drawn by the novelist and poet Thomas Hardy – who also trained as an architect and worked as a draughtsman in the 1860s, contributing to designs for a number of churches – was discovered by chance when a torch was shone behind a panel 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 general public, a programme of works to reveal the altarpiece has taken place.

Cliveden Conservation were contracted to clean and repair the forgotten treasure which had been hidden for nearly a century. 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.

“The application of a latex poultice gave very satisfactory results especially in more decorative parts of the altarpiece such as the carved elements of the arches of niches,” explains Kris Zykubek, ACR (Accredited Conservator Restorer), Senior Conservator. “It peeled every speck of dirt away and prevented the risk of dirt penetrating into deeper areas of the porous stones such as Caen limestone used for the main body of the altar.”

All the marble elements, semi-precious stone gems and the symbols of the four Evangelists carved into pink and white alabaster were painstakingly cleaned with 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 Cliveden Conservation team made another discovery; a brass crucifix decorated with semi-precious gems dating back to 1902. Its rightful position on the stone altar was visually confirmed once the team had identified that the marks on the stone shelf perfectly matched the decorative legs of the crucifix.

“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.