Scaffolding up to save our shells

The scaffolding is up at A la Ronde

Scaffolding has been erected at A la Ronde to investigate what is causing the water ingress to the Shell Gallery, fix the Shell Gallery windows and to repair a shutter in the Oval Sitting Room.

Water ingress has been damaging the Shell Gallery and causing some serious conservation concerns at A la Ronde. The scaffolding means we can find out the cause of the leak and our Building Surveyors have been working hard to find the cause.

Whilst the scaffold's up we've also been able to fix one of the shutters which has become damaged in the Oval Sitting Room. Tom, our carpenter, and Syd, one of our volunteers, have removed the damaged part and taken it away for repair. The cafe team were also pleased to hear the scaffold meant better ventilation to the kitchen could be put in place.

The shape of the building and fragile hip tiles mean the scaffold was a challenge to erect. It cost the equivalent of 1,250 cups of tea, 1,000 jars of lemon curd or 1,750 raffle tickets to put in place. Every time you visit this special place it helps us raise money for vital conservation work such as this, but it is just the beginning. Once we know the cause of the water ingress we can put a stop to the leak and save the Shell Gallery.

The Shell Gallery presents us with a particular conservation challenge. It is over 200 years old, built into the structure of the roof of a building which has undergone enormous change. Before we make any interventions we always need to fully understand the implication of our actions.

Jane and Mary used fragile materials including feathers, shells, glass and bone to create the decorative interiors of A la Ronde. The natural decay of these materials is particularly evident in the Shell Gallery, a consequence of touch, light, temperature, humidity, pests and vibration over many years. The gallery is unique and of international significance, but by it’s very nature is extremely fragile and requires considerable specialist care.

What we have done so far:

  • We have an ongoing programme of specialist surveys and analysis to ensure that our care continues to protect the Shell Gallery for future generations.

  • We have investigated the condition of the plaster. It turns out there are eight different kinds of plaster and each will require slightly different treatment.

  • Much of the adhesive used in the decorative schemes is isinglass, a glue obtained from the dried swim bladders of sturgeons. This is a favourite food for certain insect pests, making anything stuck on with isinglass vulnerable.

  • Fragile wall paintings and other paper in the Shell Gallery such as strips of card used as backing for shell and feather designs have been surveyed by conservation experts.

  • Specialist advice and challenging environmental conditions of the Shell Gallery mean we carefully monitor temperature, humidity levels, light levels and pest activity for any further signs of deterioration.

  • A full photographic record has been created so we have an exact image of the Shell Gallery as it is now. You can see the latest record using the virtual tour here.

  • Due to its complexity and fragility, cleaning the shell gallery is difficult. We have tested various cleaning procedures to ensure we are providing the best care that we can.