The £10 million house

The north east corner of Ightham Mote covered in scaffolding

Lasting 15 years, and costing about £10 million, the conservation project at Ightham Mote is considered to be the largest undertaken by the National Trust. But why was it necessary and what did it involve?

" You could see the moat through the floorboards in Charles Henry Robinson's bedroom."
- Bernadette Gillow - General Manager

After Charles Henry Robinson left Ightham Mote to the National trust in 1985, Stuart Page, Architects, made a detailed study of the structure and condition of the house. The report, completed in 1998, showed that substantial repairs were needed, both to the masonry and the timber framework.

Eaten away
Rotten oak beams before the conservation project

Reviving traditional methods

The aim of the conservation programme was always, wherever possible, to use traditional methods and materials, reviving the techniques that were used to build Ightham Mote.

Where the stonework had become dangerously eroded, stone masons carved replacement blocks of Kentish ragstone by hand, taking care to avoid excessive smoothness. Handmade bricks and tiles were chosen to match the colour, size and texture of the surviving originals. The old lime render was analysed in the same way for colour and consistency, and both as far as possible were reproduced.

When it was necessary to cut away sections of the timber frame, where the wood was damaged by moisture, deathwatch beetle, woodworm or dry rot, the new oak, cut from neighbouring woods, was fitted to the old by imitating medieval carpentry joints.

 

Detailed study

Archaeologist Peter Leach, was on site at all times, recording the different layers of the house as they were peeled away during the conservation. His series of detailed reports and drawings can be seen in the archaeology room, providing an insight into the hidden details. It was in effect, archaeology on a standing building.

 

Award winning project

The project was completed in 2004, and the sympathetic programme of work carried out by the craftsmen received numerous awards including:

  • 1995 Stone Federation, Natural Stone Award
  • 2003 Stone Federation Award: The Gate Tower
  • 2003 Wood Awards: The Great Hall Roof
  • 2004 Wood Awards: South West Quarter

 

TV broadcasts

So important was the conservation of Ightham Mote, that in 2000, Fred Dibnah filmed part of his 'Magnificent Monuments' series here. Later, during the final year of the conservation programme, Channel 4's 'Time Team' filmed a special edition programme, broadcast in 2004. You can purchase a copy of the DVD, with 3 hours of additional features, from the shop.

You can find out more about the conservation work in the Exhibition at Visitor Reception.