Specialist paint conservators Hare & Humphreys have started work in Combermere Abbey’s most important and historic room, The Library, which was the pre-Dissolution Abbot’s Lodging. You can find more about the firm by going to www.combermere-restoration.co.uk/latest-news/. There is more on this site about The Library, its history, and recent restoration work; go to www.combermere-restoration.co.uk/category/library/.
They have a very substantial job to tackle; the cartouches on which the many Cotton coats of arms are painted are made of wood, and have been bolted through the plaster to beams behind. The arms themselves seem to have been painted on to paper which has been applied to the wood, but elsewhere there is evidence of canvas. Each element has to be stabilised separately. As you can see in these photos, the plaster needs repair, and in several places the paper is coming away from the wood (it is most likely that the heraldic arms were painted off-site, and pasted onto the wooden cartouches). Interestingly, one coat of arms on the window side of the room is slightly skew-wiff, but there is no sign that it has slipped. It must have been put up badly and never been corrected.
The first stage is almost complete, which is to securely panel off the rest of the room to avoid accidental damage during the conservation. Plywood covers the floor and all the joins are taped, and battening has been fixed so that the covering can sit clear of the walls. This is the second time in recent months that the fireplace in this room has been boxed off; a temporary ‘shed’ was erected round it to protect the rest of the room while the chimney was being repaired, and now it is being boxed in for its own protection.
Once the plaster, wood and paper/canvas has been made secure the painting can begin. The colours will be mixed to be an exact match for the originals. The work will be undertaken it two phases; the first lasting some five weeks, then everything will be left for a fortnight, and then there will be a finishing-off period of another two weeks. All that will take us to about the end of March, and we are hugely looking forward to the finished room. It is going to be utterly glorious – and just as it was when the first Viscount Combermere commissioned it.