Behind the scenes conservation work in the Manor

The house team at Hughenden have been hard at work making sure Benjamin Disraeli's home is looking its best. We've been touching up the staircase, replica carpets are back from their annual wash, paintings have been surveyed and floors freshly waxed.

Hughenden stair care

Disraeli’s staircase and ‘Gallery of affections’ receives some love for the first time in 30 years

It’s amazing that we get to share Hughenden Manor with as many as 150,000 visitors a year but it’s no wonder that some of the interiors were looking a bit tired. The decision was made to close the Manor for 2 weeks in January to give the house team a chance to repaint the staircase, restore the portraits and give Benjamin Disraeli’s home some much needed TLC.

When Queen Victoria climbed Hughenden’s staircase to Disraeli’s study after her favourite Prime Minister’s death in 1881, she would have experienced the stair’s Gothic arches and oak banisters in their gleaming heyday. She’d have risen past walls lined with glittering, gilt-framed portraits.

It’s all still there, including the ‘Gallery of affections’ – the portraiture on the staircase depicting the people who helped Disraeli through his career. They start at the bottom of the stairs with those that aided his early career and end at the top with associates from his later years.  It’s a concept Disraeli borrowed from Queen Victoria herself, who also had portraits upon the stairs of those close to her.

Hughenden Manors Gallery of Affections
Hughenden Manors Gallery of Affections
Hughenden Manors Gallery of Affections

To prepare the staircase for painting the House Team removed all the portraits from Disraeli’s ‘Gallery of affections’. This involved very carefully unhooking the paintings from their wall chains, carrying them up the stairs and storing them using specially made T-bars and lots of bubble wrap and acid-free tissue paper. We also took the time to give the picture frames a light dust with a pony hair brush and also dust the staircase skylight and walls with an ostrich feather duster.

Scaffolding was then erected to reach those high out of reach areas and so we could get up close and personal with our Disraeli bust which sit at the top of the stairs.

Conservation cleaning of the Disraeli Bust at Hughenden
Conservation cleaning of the Disraeli bust
Conservation cleaning of the Disraeli Bust at Hughenden

David Herridge and his team of specialist heritage painters and decorators arrived to begin filling in the damage to the staircase walls and applying that all important matte red paint to the walls.

The team began by filling in the chinks and chips, caused by years scratching by the portrait chains as visitors move up and down the stairs, with new plasterwork to repair the existing damage and create an even surface for the paint to be added to.

They firstly applied a buttercup yellow underlay. This colour was a surprising look for Hughenden’s staircase, making it seem fair more Georgian than Victorian. But this underlay is an important part of the painting process as it helps to bring out the warm red colouring of the paint as well as providing a protective layer that ensures the paint will last for many years. Lots of lights were used to ensure that the underlay had been applied evenly and thickly enough so that the previous paint and any new plaster work would not show through.

Lastly working from the top of the staircase down, the painters slowly added several layers of the famous Hughenden red paint over the yellow undercoat.

Buttercup coloured paint used on the stairs at Hughenden
Buttercup paint used on the stairs at Hughenden
Buttercup coloured paint used on the stairs at Hughenden