Cleaning Gill's Wind Indicator

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Visitors to the Castle are greeted in the Entrance Hall by a spectacular sight; MacDonald Gill's Wind Indicator, a huge painted panel 8 feet across showing the fleeing Spanish Armada, Holy Island, and the Castle-laden Northumberland coast.

The Spanish ships were famously blown away by the so-called 'Protestant Wind', the nagging south-westerly that prevented escape back down the English Channel, and so makes an ideal subject for such a piece. The central pointer was connected to the vane on the roof to show the correct wind direction outside.

At least that was the idea. Decades of dirt and pollution in the air created a foul brownish layer on the varnish which covered the panel, covering up the vivid blues, greens, and reds which Gill had lovingly painted in 1913.

In 2006, with the help of raffle ticket sales at the Castle, Jim Devenport, a Fine Art restorer from Humshaugh in Northumberland, was tasked with restoring the panel to its original glory. The panel was taken down for the first time since Gill stood back and admired his handy work. Jim used a heat-sealing adhesive to repair flaking paint, retouched areas where flakes of paint had fallen off, and of course removed the discoloured varnish. This last task was complicated when the solvents usually used to remove varnish did not work as intended and threatened to damage the painted surface. Jim then had to improvise and painstakingly remove the varnish with a scalpel.

After a lot of hard work and a huge amount of skill, the painted panel was rehung and the pointer was reattached to the mechanism. The result is visible on the pictures shown here, but to really appreciate the success of Jim's work the Wind Indicator must be seen for real.