Exactly how do you knock down a wall in a grade I listed heritage home, not to mention it being an accredited museum to boot, without anyone noticing? This is the big challenge that’s faced the contractors working to restore William McEwan’s bedroom at Polesden Lacey.
The demolition is part of the wider Unlocking Polesden project, an ambitious five year plan to open an additional 40% of the house, including rooms that have never been open to National Trust visitors before.
Storage, office and living space
McEwan’s bedroom has a chequered history. Following the great fire at Polesden Lacey in 1960, his suite was divided into several smaller rooms, including one large block partition wall dividing his bedroom in two.
Since then the rooms have been used as storage space, offices for the National Trust’s regional team, and even a residential flat. Now work is underway to restore these rooms to their former glory and unlock the doors to visitors in September for the exhibition entitled Beer to Champage: the rise of a sparkling socialite.
Hitting the wall
The building project involves various different aspects of renovation. But when asked what their biggest challenge was, contractors Alex and Dudley had no doubt:
“Taking down the wall. It’s really hard to break down a wall quietly so we’re not disturbing the visitors and that’s not to mention what it took to get all the rubble down to the skip.”
McEwan’s bedroom is directly above Polesden’s famous Gold Saloon and hanging in the centre of its ceiling is the baccarat chandelier boasting 4000 crystals. Naturally this is a very popular room with Polesden’s visitors too, risking an impact on visitor enjoyment on top of everything else.
Barney rubble spells trouble
With this in mind, the men undertook the painstaking process of knocking down the wall with mallets and handing down the rubble piece by piece. They then had to store the rubble in plastic sacks with no more than 20 kilos in each, distributing the bags along the lines of supporting walls below so as not to put any stress on the Gold Saloon ceiling.
Then they faced the question of how to move approximately 100 20 kilo bags of rubble out of the first floor and into a skip. After toying with the idea of winch and pulley system or perhaps a chute going down to the south lawn, the men decided it would be safest simply to walk the bags down to the skip themselves.
Hard manual labour
It took two fit and healthy men 61/2 hours in 32 degree heat to manually remove all the rubble from the first floor south side of the house to the skip on the ground floor in the garden on the north side.
“The work was hard,” said Alex. “We walked them out one by one down the servants stairs and out through the basement to avoid the visitors. We had to wear these paper booties to protect the floors and try not to brush by anything so as not to spread the dust.”
Building a vision
Now the wall has come down, Alex and Dudley can focus on the wider aspects of the McEwan bedroom project, such as preparing the walls to be painted a vibrant shade of red ready for paintings to be hung.
“I can’t wait to see the paintings on the walls, I can see it all in my head,” says Alex and when asked if he’d return to see visitors enjoying his work, he replied: “Of course, I’ll bring my son and show him what we’ve done here.”
You can explore Mr McEwan’s rooms yourself when they’re unlocked for the very first time in September in our exhibition Beer to Champagne: the rise of a sparkling socialite.