Drawing Room Conservation Project at Cragside

 The Drawing Room with the Italian marble chimney

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 which is 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 was completed in March 2021 by Cliveden Conservators. The team carried out works on site to stabilise the marble and plasterwork. 

Phase 2 has also begun with rectified photography. Using a drone, we were able to capture highly accurate and detailed photos of the exterior wall of the fireplace which will then be overlayed with results of a thermal imaging survey. This will help us to detect cold spots and voids in the wall. 

The outcomes of the thermal imaging will determine our next steps for Phase 3 when we will be acting on the results of the survey to reduce the impact of salts. 

Finally Phase 4 will include a review of the effectiveness of interventions and 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 which was invented during the Industrial Revolution. This huge Axminster 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 would take place at a conservator studio, however due to the sheer size of the Drawing Room carpet, work took place on site by conservators from the Rug and Carpet Studio in June 2021. allowing visitors a glimpse at the work taking place. 

Discover more about this project in the timeline below.  

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.

Latest updates

27 May 21

Preparations for survey work begin

The next step in the Drawing Room conservation project took place this week as we carried out rectified photography with Building Surveyor, James Brennan. Using a drone, James photographed the exterior walls of the Drawing Room to create scalable images of the masonry. These highly accurate images will be used during the next phase of work. We will have the opportunity to overlay the images with the results of a thermal imaging survey which will help us find hidden voids in the wall and water ingress routes. These will also help us to identify areas of the wall that needs some work.

A drone flying over the House taking photos for survey work

22 Mar 21

Phase 1: Inspections and repairs to steel girders

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.

Alex Rickett inspects the masonry and girders behind the fire place

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.

Conservator Chloe Stewart repairing the damaged marble on the inglenook