Conservation on a grand scale

Every five years, the entire Guildhall building is given several coats of lime wash as part of our work in looking after this special place.

Many visitors are keen to know more about the limewash treatment we apply to the exterior of the building and in particular the finish this gives to the timbers. East Anglia is fortunate in having a wealth of timber-framed buildings, many of which, like the Guildhall, were built with exuberant carving to display the carpenter’s skills as well as the owner’s wealth. These carved timbers were intended to be seen, while others were covered by a skin of lime render.

To protect the wood from the elements, exposed timber frames, were in later centuries painted with a ‘wash’ of lime that acts as a preservative against pollutants and other destructive elements in the atmosphere. The lime becomes ingrained into the beams, preventing the penetration of moisture whilst allowing the wood to breathe – and bugs definitely don’t like it! Two or three coats are applied, after which any excess is brushed off.

During Victorian times, it became more fashionable to use oil-based paints, or to darken the timbers with black emulsion. But, in keeping with the history of the Guildhall we continue to use the limewashing method. We limewash the Guildhall around every five years, and over time the weather removes the lime, showing the weathered oak as a beautiful silver-grey colour.

It’s a major undertaking as part of our conservation of this special place and great care is taken to preserve the original nature of the building by using authentic and original quality coatings and products. 

The local Community

We work with local producers and contractors for both the lime wash itself and the application and execution of the project, although we have to use a small quantity of imported coloured paint for our adjacent cottage property at No.1 Lady Street.

A project on a grand scale like this takes a lot of planning and managing, and being an exterior job, is subject to the vagaries of the weather.
The work takes between eight and ten weeks, and with around three coats of the limewash to apply it’s no small undertaking. 

Lime washing in action at Lavenham Guildhall
Lime washing taking place at Lavenham Guildhall
Lime washing in action at Lavenham Guildhall

Scaffolding is of course unsightly on a building such as the Guildhall, but it’s the safest and most efficient way to not only get up close to the surfaces for the initial inspection, but also to be able apply the lime wash thoroughly, whilst at the same time ensuring the safety of the workforce and people nearby. 

Scaffolding at Lavenham Guildhall
Scaffolding at Lavenham Guildhall
Scaffolding at Lavenham Guildhall

You might imagine we spray the lime wash onto the building, but in fact it’s all done by hand. Only that way can we ensure the lime wash is thoroughly ingrained into the fabric of the building to take it forward for future generations, preserving its heritage and continuity, and making it weather and pollutant proof for the next five years.

The Guildhall was last limewashed in the autumn of 2017 and is due for its next visit from the decorators in 2022.

Lavenham Guildhall front in market square in the sunshine

Conservation and Limewashing at Lavenham  

Conservation is a key part of what we do at the National Trust and is based around six principles. Whether its annual maintenance or a key project, these six principles play a vital role. Discover more about our Limewashing and why it is so important for timber framed buildings like the Guildhall.