Ballast from the past

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One of Edwin Lutyens most recognisable styles - seen at many of his houses - is the herringbone pattern. Here at Lindisfarne, we have brickwork floors laid out in this way but the very nature of the bricks themselves makes them a cause for concern.

There is a certain Dutch theme to a lot of what Lutyens did at Lindisfarne, and the bricks come under that category. They were once used as ballast in wooden-hulled shipping leaving Amsterdam for the markets of the Far East. By the turn of the 20th-century they were available in great numbers at low cost.

The problem with them is that they are not strong building bricks and were never meant to come under the sort of the pressure they now suffer. Throughout the castle, areas of brickwork on the floors are gradually wearing away. In the Ship Room, a large rug protects much of the floor, but elsewhere, we don't want to hide the feature in this way - even if that does protect it. Could there be a way to protect the floors, without losing the Lutyens feature?

Then we came across a company called Eyemats, based in Kent. They specialise in 'Conservation Flooring' and we asked them to help out here. Eyemats took dozens of high resolution photographs of our floors so we could have a basis to measure further change, but also so they could produce hard-wearing rubber mats to cover up the bricks - with the correct photo printed on the top. The effect was striking and many visitors did not notice the mat in the Long Gallery, but unfortunately even the strong rubber underlay could not cope with our footfall over the season and now we are back to the drawing board. The bricks are very abasive and wear away at matting caught between the surface and footwear above, meaning that first to go is the surface image, leaving several black dots across the brick photograph. Eyemats cetainly do work very well on stone and timber floors, but weren't the solution here unfortunately.

Our next thought is to continue our programme of repointing the joins between the bricks to keep the floor as level as possible, and not create gaps where corners can be worn away, and indeed become trip hazards. Hopefully this will allow us to keep this wonderful feature visible to all our visitors in the future.