Back to its best: The Tack Room at The Argory
Tired, damp and far from looking its best, the challenge was on to restore the Tack Room at The Argory to its former glory in time for the start of the new season.
Specialist furniture conservator Fergus Purdy works closely with the National Trust in Northern Ireland, having been commissioned to work on a number of high profile projects, including the restoration of the Congress of Vienna Chairs at Mount Stewart.
Most recently you’ll have found him at The Argory in Moy where he’s been transforming the Tack Room from a dull, damp space, into a shining example of a splendid early 20th century harness room.
A job for a wood specialist
‘My involvement with this project started when I was asked to write a report on the condition of the tack room and the adjoining stalls,’ Fergus begin. As a wood specialist, I was consulted because it’s predominantly a fitted wooden interior with a large piece of freestanding furniture – the tack room table.’
The materials, style and construction technique for the interior of the room appeared to match that of the table. Fergus picks up the story: ‘The lovely thing is that the table has the makers label on it ‘Musgrave & Co Ltd, London, Belfast, Manchester and Paris.’ We believe they were a Belfast cast iron foundry that specialised in the fitting of tack rooms and stables. I would strongly imagine that they came and fitted out this interior around the early 1900s.’
Featuring a stone floor, match board panelled walls (tongue and groove) and a decorative match board ceiling, the room was showing signs of damp and was in need of attention.
Damp, woodworm and other problems
‘Unfortunately the room had a bit of damp problem from the stone floor,’ explains Fergus. ‘The skirting board had gone missing and was replaced by a concrete plinth which was a completely inappropriate material, acting as a bridge between the damp of the floor and the wood. That concrete plinth has now been replaced with a salvaged pitch pine skirting board and a small gap has been left between the board and the stone floor to allow for ventilation.’
Little bits of woodworm and rot damage needed treated and ‘out of character’ features’, such as screws, nails and blu-tack added over the years, were removed.
Fergus also worked his magic on a beautiful display cabinet, refitting an original glass pane that had fallen out, but thankfully never broken. Inside the cabinet, a metal conservator will restore the hooks to their original bright blue shade.
The room also features a wall of glazed cupboards in which to display harnesses. Due to the damp the wooden doors had become stiff and hard to open, so this was addressed and new display keys were made for the locks.
‘The wooden surfaces of the interior were also very dull and dirty,’ adds Fergus. ‘They had been varnished on a couple of occasions but there was a lot of work needed to make the wood look its best. I was kindly assisted by one of the National Trust conservation volunteers Lisa Dugan and conservation intern Rachael Garrett who helped to clean the surfaces down. Finally a lovely sheen was given to the wood with a wax polish and a buff.’
The team also discovered a name painted onto the varnished wood panelling, ‘J.R. Crozier’. It is likely that this belonged to the person who gave the panelling its most recent coat of varnish. We are unable to date the work but we believe it predates when the National Trust took on the house in 1979.
The final stage - room dressing
With the walls now gleaming, the final step was to redress the room with saddles and harnesses, giving visitors a true feel for how it would have looked back in the early 1900s.
‘There’s no doubt that this would have been an impressive tack room in its day,’ adds Fergus. ‘The fitting out firm, as their label suggests, was quite high class and the overall look would have been very smart and unified. It’s a room that oozes character from floor to ceiling and it’s great to see it looking its best again in time for the new season.’