The fireplace weighs a reputed 10 tonnes and is held in place by ferrous steel girders. This week Cliveden conservator, Alex has climbed behind the fireplace to paint the girders with marine paint to protect them from rusting further as a result of the water ingress.
Drawing Room Conservation Project at Cragside
The Drawing Room at Cragside is undergoing a major conservation project over the next few months to conserve two major features in this grand room; the marble fireplace and chenille carpet.
About the Drawing Room
Cragside House sits aloft a rugged, craggy cliff at the heart of a 1000-acre estate in Northumberland.
A comfortable residence, Cragside House was an elegantly decorated home, filled with world-leading technology. Wonders included a hydraulic jigger-engine passenger lift, a water-powered rotary spit in the kitchen, one of the earliest dishwashers, hot and cold running water, Turkish baths and an enviable collection of arts and crafts. This house was a home that its guests could only dream of.
In contrast to the homely interiors of the rest of the House, the Drawing Room was created as a showpiece, with its colossal marble fireplace, elliptical glass ceiling - to party by moonlight - and lavish chenille carpet. A grand space to entertain important guests and the clients of Armstrong’s armaments companies. Its ostentatious, Italian-renaissance-inspired features were made using the finest materials and latest engineering techniques.
Armstrong harnessed the power of water using engineered lakes and a Siemens dynamo making the House the first in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity. Guests flocked to Cragside from all over the world drawn by tales of the ‘modern magician’ palace, filled with lavish gadgets, intriguing inventions and electric light. In 1884 the Prince and Princess of Wales - the future monarchs, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra – stayed at the House during their tour of the North. They disregarded the region’s castles and royal homes, to explore this home of a Geordie genius.
Why work is needed to the fireplace
Over recent months the marble fireplace that dominates the Drawing Room, has been experiencing significant occurrences of salt efflorescence - when salt crystals appear on the porous surface of stone and plasterwork. It’s caused by moisture moving through the stone and then evaporating, leaving the salts behind. When the salts build up in the ‘pores’ of the stone, it gradually pushes the material apart causing it to crumble.
If untreated, this deterioration of the marble and plasterwork will cause parts of the fireplace to fall off. We need to make sure work is carried out to conserve this dramatic piece of history for years to come.
Work to conserve the fireplace will take place is phases:
Phase 1 – stabilisation of the marble and plasterwork
Phase 2 - survey work to understand how water is moving through the building
Phase 3 - acting on the results of the survey to reduce the impact of salts
Phase 4 – reviewing the effectiveness of interventions and carrying our aesthetic repairs
Why work is needed to the carpet
This chenille carpet is one of the first carpets in the world to be woven using engineering techniques, invented during the Industrial Revolution. This huge carpet fills the room.
The carpet has succumbed to some damage over the years as a result of historic moisture leaks that has caused the deterioration of the wool pile and underlying woven structure. This has led to large breaks in the pattern where the weft is broken. If left, these patches will get much bigger, damaging this historic carpet further.
Usually works to tapestry and carpet takes place at a conservator studio, however due to the sheer size of the Drawing Room carpet, works will take place on site by conservators over the summer.
The £100,000 conservation and repair of the Drawing Room and its fireplace and carpet and has been made possible thanks to generous donations from the Wolfson Foundation, a grant from the government's Culture Recovery Fund administered by Historic England, and support from a private donor.
22 Mar 21
Phase 1: Inspections and repairs to steel girders
08 Mar 21
Phase 1: Repairs to marble fireplace commences
Phase 1 of the conservation work to the fireplace began today. Cliveden Conservator Chloe, has been carrying out repairs to the marble using lime mortar. To ensure that repairs are less noticeable, Chloe has been mixing an aggregate using coloured sand to get as close to the colour and texture of the fireplace as possible.
01 Dec 20
Funding awarded from DCMS, Wolfson Foundation and private donor
By December £100,000 funding was secured for the conservation and repair of the Drawing Room and its fireplace and carpet. This work has been made possible by the generous donations from the Wolfson Foundation, a grant from the government's Culture Recovery Fund administered by Historic England, and support from a private donor.