Attingham Re-discovered Goes Through the Roof

Our Through the Roof project to rescue and restore the stunning Nash Roof over the picture gallery has now been completed and the Picture Gallery has been fully restored. Discover how our ambitious project unfolded.

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 was 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 had reached the end of its life. Our Through the Roof project saw us invest 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 is 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.
 
The project also gave us the opportunity to get up close to the damage; closer than we ever had before.  We were able to carry out some much needed conservation work on the roof and upper levels of the Picture Gallery and the Nash Staircase, where we cleaned the delicate stained glass panels in the dome above the staircase and cleaned and repainted over 10,000 "fishscale" tiles.
 
In the Picture Gallery itself the team worked hard to re-gild, clean and repaint the ceiling and the Nash roof to ensure its durability.

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 we saw 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.
 
7. Finishing the restoration 
 
On 5 March 2016 we celebrated the reopening of the Picture Gallery. The team had worked so hard over the past three years, as they captured the visitors’ imaginations and involved them at every stage. After adding the finishing touches over the winter months, the team were really thrilled to see their hard work come together as we unveiled the restored Picture Gallery. 
" The highly complex and innovative Attingham Re-discovered Goes Through the Roof project has been a Curator’s dream as well as a huge challenge. It has been amazing and rewarding to have the privilege and responsibility of working on such a high profile project and share the journey in a transparent way with committed colleagues, volunteers and the general public. Over the total lifespan of the project (5 years), dozens of skilled conservation professionals have put their compelling craftsmanship into direct contact with the general public, thus demonstrating the organisation’s cause, the meaning and value of heritage and encouraging our visitors to become our supporters. The final re-instatement of the Picture Gallery is an emotional moment and makes us realise how much we have achieved and how much time and painstaking effort it has taken."
- Sarah Kay, Project Curator, in March 2016