Making an Entrance
Facing south, the large oak doors at the front of Sandham Memorial Chapel bear the brunt of the English weather – come rain or shine.
To protect them from the elements, the original doors were resurfaced with oak in 1957. In his Management Committee Chairman’s report for that year, John-Louis Behrend notes that the oak had been bought and stored for the purpose 25 years previously.
Whilst the original doors were virtually flush, with panels simply defined by a slight stepping of the fielding, the 1957 facings have proud panel mouldings and clapping strip. Although committee records tell us that Mr Head (the builder who originally built the chapel and almshouses) was paid £10.7.6 for the work, unfortunately there is no indication as to why the design was changed.
Minor conservation work was undertaken on the doors as part of our centenary project, but by 2019 it had become clear that the only way to safeguard the chapel from climatic damage and water ingress, was to replace the 1957 facings.
In doing so, we were keen to reinstate the original design; drawings, sketches and archive photographs were examined to ensure a design which mirrors the original. New facings were designed and commissioned; made of English oak, the new facings will have minimal treatment, allowing them to age and weather over time as both the original doors and the 1957 facings have done.
The original doors, along with their 1957 facings, were removed from the chapel in early 2020 - a set of temporary doors, made in softwood, were installed in their place to protect the chapel and paintings whilst the original doors were being conserved. At the same time, the original lock, handle and door furniture were sent to a specialist conservator in mid-Wales for careful cleaning, renovation and restoration.
At a conservation studio near Southampton, specialist joiners removed the 1957 facings from the doors, giving us the opportunity to see the original door fronts for the first time in over 60 years. The painstaking research proved to have paid off and we were delighted to discover that the design of the new facings closely reflects the appearance of the original doors.
The specialist joiners used English oak to construct a new set of facings which were fitted to the original doors before they were brought back to Sandham to be reinstated in early February 2020.
As they start to weather in, the new facings are already playing an important role in protecting the chapel and paintings from the English weather.