Springhill Chair Restoration

Fergus, Regional Conservator repairs side panel of dining room chair

In late August, Fergus Purdy, Furniture Conservator for the National Trust visited Springhill to care for and repair four of the 16 dining room chairs that call Springhill their home.

As part of the guided house tour, visitors got to see some of the conservation work in action and Fergus at work. We owe our thanks to our generous visitors for donating via bookshop sales and donation boxes at Springhill to make this essential conservation work possible.

These chairs have been part of Springhill’s collection for over 300 years, therefore it’s of great importance that we care for them for generations to come.

Wood specialist expertise required 

Fergus repaired the delicate herringbone veneer marquetry (known as a splat) within the centre backrest piece of the furniture.

'Splat' delicate herringbone veneer marquetry within the centre of backrest
Splat
'Splat' delicate herringbone veneer marquetry within the centre of backrest

This was not only a great opportunity for visitors, but for our House and Collection staff at Springhill. This hands-on cleaning is a very specialist job and it was a great chance for the team to learn how to care for these chairs and learn new skills.

Back in the day

Over the centuries at Springhill, only a small selection of the chairs would have been used for formal dining by the family. All other chairs would have been hidden away and left in storage, occasionally brought down for special occasions. The condition of the chairs depended on the environment where they were stored and this could be a key indicator as to why they need to be repaired today. A damp storage environment over the years can quicken the process of veneer detachment from the main body of the chair.

Not a simple task

When asked about how difficult the task of reinserting the veneer and stabilising it was Fergus Purdy, National Trust Conservator replied:'This is not a straight forward job, these chairs were made to a very high standard and therefore a high standard of conservation repair needs to be met to fix them. This repair work is about as difficult a job as I would tackle in situ (not in studio)'.

A ‘G’ clamp is necessary at the footing of this chair to keep the upright and stretcher together after some wood glue has been applied.
A ‘G’ clamp being used on a dining room chair
A ‘G’ clamp is necessary at the footing of this chair to keep the upright and stretcher together after some wood glue has been applied.

Fergus explained how intricate and delicate the veneer design is on these chairs. He commented: 'because of the materials used and the construction techniques that make up the chairs they are prone to damage. Sections of the veneering run at different angles and directions all held together by hide glue, a natural glue that can be affected in changing environments'. Fergus went on to give us some good advice on being consistent in checking the environment where the chairs are situated.

See the finished inlay, also known as marquetry
See the finished inlay, also known as marquetry
See the finished inlay, also known as marquetry

Back to their former glory

The newly repaired chairs are currently located in the dining room at Springhill and can be viewed on a guided tour every weekend in September and October.