Attingham goes Through the Roof

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Latest update 22.08.2014 11:19

Our Through the Roof project to rescue and restore the stunning Nash Roof over the picture gallery is reaching new heights in 2014.  Visitors are invited to come behind the scenes as the final stages of work on this ambitious project unfold.

Saving an iconic structure: the Nash roof

The Nash roof is a curved cast iron frame and glass roof, commissioned by the 2nd Lord Berwick in 1805 from the famous Regency architect John Nash, who also designed the Brighton Pavilion. Lord Berwick was creating a picture gallery inside the existing walls of the mansion, so Nash had to design a solution to the problem of having no windows in a room where all the objects were meant to be seen in good lighting and admired.

His solution was to provide natural light for the 2nd Lord’s Grand Tour art collection from above, with curved cast iron ribs supporting a series of glass panes allowing light to shine in. The roof is an example of the picturesque architectural style, providing a sense of beauty through decorations and light, and a sense of the sublime through the sheer size and height of the space it spans.

"Flashy but flawed": why are we are going Through the Roof?

The arching effect that the small glass window tiles lend the roof means that it is ‘fundamentally flawed’, with the roof vulnerable to leaks. This was one of the first uses of cast iron in a domestic setting, and the expansion and contraction of the iron in changing weather contributed to the leaks that began a few years after the roof's installation.

With water leaking in over the course of 200 years there is now some highly visible damage to both the roof and the picture gallery below, including water staining and, more worryingly, cracks in the wall. In response to this the National Trust installed a partially covering secondary roof above Nash’s original in the 1970s, but this secondary roof has now reached the end of its life. Our Through the Roof project will see us investing over a million pounds installing a new protective hanging glass roof that will protect this iconic design for years to come.

Rescuing and restoring

The new secondary roof will be a state-of-the-art "floating" glass roof. Made of Pilkington glass mounted on a steel framework, this new roof will protect Nash’s from the elements and also control its environment.

This project has also given us the opportunity to get up closer to the damage than ever before, and we will be carrying out some much needed conservation work on the roof and upper levels of the Picture Gallery. We have already completed much of this work in the Nash Staircase, cleaning the delicate stained glass panels in the dome above the staircase and cleaning and repainting over 10,000 "fishscale" tiles.

In the Picture Gallery itself we'll be re-gilding, cleaning, painting and working on the Nash roof to ensure its durability - and we'll be keeping you up to date every step of the way on this mammoth project in our mansion blog.

Our Through the Roof highlights so far

This project has allowed us, and our visitors, to witness a major conservation and building project up close, and there have already been some amazing moments. You can see many of them for yourself on our youtube channel.

1. All change!

We took down our paintings to protect them from the work, bubble-wrapped the heaviest furniture and boxed it all away safely. Our 8ft chandelier was cased in a perspex box, allowing visitors to marvel at it up close at eye level for the first time.

2. Discovering the damage

In early 2013 our scaffolding went up and we were able to see the scale of the damage for the first time, with cracked panes, broken gilding and cracks in the Gallery walls.

3. Uncovering history

The scaffold also lead us to an amazing discovery: a signature carved into the top of a pillar which could well belong to John Nash himself.

4. Letting in new light

Our first major conservation work took place over the winter, with our team caring for the staircase in the Gallery and the beautiful stained glass dome above it. The transformation was breathtaking as years of grime were cleared off, and visitors can now admire it in all its original glory.

5. Reaching new heights

In March 2014 the crane arrived to begin the process of lifting the steel "skeleton" of the new roof into position: all in all there is around 20 tonnes of glass and steel to lift piece by piece and assemble over the coming months.

6. A glass jigsaw

In August 2014 work began to lift 52 panes of glass into place on the secondary roof – none of these are square, and each panel ranges in size from 0.7m wide to 2m wide. Each slot has been laser-measured and individually numbered to help the team fit it together like a giant jigsaw. The new glass will not only protect the John Nash roof from the rain, but also protect the paintings below from the damaging effects of the sunshine with a filter that reduces the amount of UV light coming into the Picture Gallery.