A significant example of interior decoration by John Fowler will be preserved at Kelmarsh Hall with a programme of paint conservation in progress which is due to be completed this month.
Paint conservators and decorative specialists will spend four months cleaning, repairing and restoring the paintwork in the Great Hall and South Stairs at the Grade I listed country house. The Great Hall was designed by James Gibbs in the early 18th century, decorated by former owner and society decorator Nancy Lancaster in the early 1930s, and subsequently redecorated by John Fowler in the 1950s.
The restoration of the Great Hall has been the subject of much discussion in recent years - in November 2012, Kelmarsh Hall Trustees invited a panel of experts to discuss the future of the Great Hall in front of an audience of interested parties. A decision was taken with the Local Authority’s Conservation Officer to conserve the current Nancy Lancaster/John Fowler scheme.
Campbell Smith and Co were appointed to carry out the work, with the whole project likely to cost around £100,000. Specialist conservation subcontractors Crick Smith at the University of Lincoln are a key part of the Campbell Smith team, bring their expertise in paint research and conservation techniques. Claire Crofts from Campbell Smith stated: “This project is very exciting and we and the Crick Smith team, alongside undergraduate students from the University of Lincoln are delighted to have been appointed. The work will involve consolidating the flaking paint using a variety of techniques to re-fix any areas where the paint is delaminating and to fill and carefully colour match to the surrounding areas where there are losses. The areas of paint conservation will be carried out by the Crick Smith team, with the students working under the close supervision of a skilled conservator and the losses will be filled and colour matched by the Campbell Smith team. The aim of the project is to conserve as much of the original scheme as possible and to unify the whole by careful cleaning, consolidation and discrete repair. The conservation of a C20th scheme is significant, as the materials used by John Fowler when commissioned by Nancy Lancaster were some of the earlier ‘modern’ paints and require different conservation techniques than those used on paints from before 1900. As this is one of very few projects on this scale and of such importance in the development of the English Country House style, we and the Crick Smith team are proud to be given this opportunity to demonstrate how our partnership can deliver innovative solutions to the challenges involved.”
Ian Crick-Smith, from Crick Smith stated: “As part of the educational remit of the Kelmarsh Hall Trust, it is particularly important that the conservation students from the University of Lincoln are involved. Outside the laboratory environment, work on a ‘live’ project can be difficult for students to obtain during their studies; therefore the partnership between the University of Lincoln and Campbell Smith is uniquely able to provide this experience.”
Kelmarsh Hall’s Operations Manager Des Brack said: “The work starting this month is the culmination of close to 17 years of research and investigations into the historic paint schemes on the walls in the Great Hall. Once the Trustees decided to conserve back in 2012, further trials had to be undertaken to establish the most appropriate treatments to protect 300 years of paint archaeology lying beneath the current 20th century scheme whilst enhancing the appearance. In addition to the conservation works to the walls, minor repairs to the hall ceiling will be undertaken at the same time.”
Members of the public were able to see the restoration team at work when Kelmarsh Hall held two ‘scaffold days’.