Restoring Kedleston's Hermitage, a room for gloom.

Kedleston's restored hermitage

Over the past few years the team here at Kedleston along with heritage experts and skilled craftspeople have painstakingly brought Kedleston’s Hermitage back to life.

The Hermitage was one of the original 'incidents' (stopping points) on the long walk - designed to be a sombre and gloomy, a place for contemplation, away from the glitz and glamour of the house.

Many great 18th century houses had buildings like this in their grounds, taking their idea from the secluded huts of religious hermits of an earlier era. Some places even hired a hermit to act out the part of a recluse!

Sadly over the years Kedleston’s Hermitage had fallen into severe disrepair and without action it was in danger of falling down completely.

It is a very important building in itself, not only because it's the only surviving built 'incident' on the Long Walk, but also because many buildings like this haven't survived.

The Hermitage before restoration
The Hermitage on the Long Walk at Kedleston in Derbyshire

We hope that our efforts restoring this little building will enable you to experience the Hermitage just like an 18th-century visitor. Once landscaping works around the Hermitage have finished (hopefully by the end of summer) it will once again be a place to stop and relax on your walk and to contemplate what wonders may lay ahead.

How the Hermitage might look after landscaping
Artist's impression of Kedleston's Hermitage as it might look in the future

The Hermitage restoration is part of a wider project and is the first step towards returning the Robert Adam-inspired Long Walk to its former glory.

Starting the restoration process

Before beginning restoration a small team of archaeologists, excavated some trial pits around the Hermitage. Unfortunately, they didn’t find any buried treasure; just a lot of soil, bricks and roots...

Soil excavated from the interior of the Hermitage
Large amount of soil excavated from the interior of the Hermitage

 These trial pits allowed the structural engineer to see what was causing the Hermitage to collapse.

The biggest issue was damage caused by roots from a nearby Plane tree. The tree is important in its own right, so we had to be very careful not the damage it.

 Protecting the trees

As the Plane tree grew, its roots had spread – including around and inside the Hermitage, damaging the building. After careful excavation inside the building, the team wrapped up each root they found.

We're taking great care to avoid damage to the Plane tree's roots
The roots from the Plane tree underneath the Hermitage

Wrapping in this way allows room for the roots to grow in the future without damaging the structure of the building. It’s a win-win situation, the roots are protected from the new heavy stone floor and that the floor is protected from the roots – simple but ingenious.

The Hermitage had been left untended for many years and as a result the parks and gardens teams spent time clearing overgrown shrubs and undergrowth before work could begin.

To prepare for the buildings works at Kedleston's Hermitage, we had to clear some of the shrubs.
The area around the Hermitage at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, has been cleared for further work

Taking down the old scaffolding

In an earlier attempt to slow down the decline of the Hermitage, the structure had been put into protective scaffolding and covered by a shed. We needed to remove all of this in order to start work on the building. 

However, the large stone blocks forming the doorway into the Hermitage had shifted, resting on the old scaffold giving us quite a challenge to remove it.

 After removing the corrugated roof and with the help of a winch attached to the top of the scaffold, the stones were carefully removed.

A new temporary support was then built around the Hermitage to prevent it collapsing whilst we repaired it. A temporary roof was constructed to stop rainwater gathering inside the Hermitage and to protect the new wooden roof structure during construction.

Choosing the right building materials

As much of the original building was damaged or simply missing the architect and curator had to decide which building materials would work best and were most accurate historically. From the width of the lead for the windows to the colour and consistency of the lime mortar used to secure the bricks and stones, every little detail had to be decided.

Materials being used as part of the restoration of the Hermitage
Materials being used as part of the restoration of the Hermitage, Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire

 We had samples of remaining stones analysed to find exactly which quarries to contact to replace the damaged or missing ones.

Visitors were able to see the work as it progressed and see the building materials used in ‘Show and tell’ sessions with foreman Colin on hand to answer questions.

Getting the public involved
The site manager for the Hermitage restoration project discussing the work with a visitor

From historic building records, we knew that there was crown glass in the windows in about 1790. Archaeological evidence has showed that the windows were leaded, meaning that small glass panes were used.

 Crown glass is hand-blown and varies in thickness, the thinnest parts of the sheet are the edges and this was regarded as the highest quality and most expensive glass.

We need to make sure we get the right glass for the Hermitage at Kedleston
Crown glass sample for the Hermitage at Kedleston

 Because we are trying to use materials that we know were used in building the Hermitage, we had to find a manufacturer who still made the glass by hand rather than machine which looks too polished and modern. Luckily, our architect found one company that still makes the glass the traditional way.

 A lot of research goes into historic building projects like this one because we need to make sure we get it right!

Building the walls and floor

In the eighteenth century, the Hermitage would have had a proper stone floor, but over time this was removed and replaced by wooden slats and most recently, simply compacted earth. Because we were restoring the building to how it would have looked originally we opted to re-instate a stone floor.

We installed a limecrete floor to go underneath the final stone flags. It took alomst a month to set, but in the meantime the team set about repairing the walls. It took weeks to point the brickwork and build up the wall of the Hermitage to its original height.

Although the team tried to keep as much of the original structure in place, some unstable stones had to be removed. All of the stones were individually marked so they could be put back in the right place.

Creating a floor for the hermitage
Creating the floor slab inside the hermitage at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire

Mark the joiner prepared the walls ready for the plastering by fitting the vertical posts to support the lath and plaster a traditional building technique.

It seemed a shame to plaster the beautifully pointed brickwork, but that’s how it would have been when the Hermitage was first built, just over 250 years ago.

A new roof for the Hermitage

The new oak roof structure was constructed in a workshop offsite and brought to Kedleston in pieces. The joiner then fitted it all back together again on site.

The team have finished the roof structure of the Hermitage. Next stage is putting on the thatch.
Finished roof structure of the Hermitage at Kedleston

Roger Evans our master thatcher was on hand to cover the roof, first with a layer of reed and then a second layer of straw to make the building watertight.

The new thatched roof really transformed the Hermitage and we're really excited about what a lovely little building the Hermitage turned into. The edges we intentionally left scraggly, supposed to fit in with the rustic look of the stone and gypsum.

Next steps

We are currently re-landscaping around the Hermitage, getting the levels right for drainage purposes and dealing with some of the humps and bumps caused by the plane tree roots. We have also commisioned a new planting plan so that new shrubs can go around the building later in the year.

The Hermitage will be open to enjoy by this Easter, with planting and re-lanscaping continuing further into 2017. We will also be putting a proper path back at the same time as we resurface the whole of the long walk path.

Without the support of members and visitors we simply wouldn't be able to complete conservation projects like this, we hope you can come and see the Hermitage's progress soon but most importantly, thank you.