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.

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

02 Mar 22

Scoping external works

Using the outcomes of all the surveys that we have carried out over the past months, our project team have been working with Trident Building Surveyors to develop a scope of works to improve the rainwater goods and drainage surrounding the Drawing Room. This work will also include further repointing of the external masonry. The aim is to help prevent water from penetrating the building and causing the salts that have caused damage to the marble of the Drawing Room fireplace.

A drawing of the plans for the improvement to the drainage and rainwater goods at the House.

31 Jan 22

Drainage survey results

The results of the drainage survey carried out by specialists Hill Cannon are in. The report has shown that the historic culvert system is generally in good condition and sill working well, but they have identified works required to help improve its efficiency. This will help to prevent water ingress into the south wing of the house where the Drawing Room is located. These works will be included with the tender process for the plans to improve the rainwater goods and carry out further mortar repairs.

A view of Cragside House's roof on a misty day.

20 Nov 21

Surveying the roof and rainwater goods

This week we are carrying out a survey of the roof and rainwater goods. The drainage system is being assessed so establish the work needed to improve the guttering and downpipes and help manage the rainwater penetration into the building.

A roof and drainage survey being carried out by crane.