Saved from the flood: Restoring the study at The Argory

painting the ceiling detail in the study at The Argory

In the early hours of 30th December 2010 a burst pipe in the attic of The Argory caused flood damage to a number of areas of this historic house, most notably the archive room and study which has remained closed to the public ever since.

We met up with Christina Taylor, House and Collections Manager for Mid Ulster, to learn more about the crucial restoration work that’s been happening at the property that will culminate with the reopening of the study in late March 2017.

'Staff at The Argory remember the event quite vividly,' she begins.  'In the days and months following the flood, a lot of emergency salvage work and first aid was carried out on our archives, books, furniture and textiles in order to minimise any damage to the historic collection. The carpets, which were sodden, had to be sent to a specialist conservation team to be dried out and cleaned and furniture was treated for water marks.

‘This rescue activity happened between 2010 and 2011,’ Christina continues. ‘Since then the walls in the room have dried out and the humidity levels and temperature are stable, so we are confident that we can put the collection back into the study and reopen it up to the public.’

Paint and polish

The restoration project entered the final ‘decorative’ phase in January with the arrival of JP Crossen, a team of specialist painters who cleaned and sanded the walls before filling the cracks in preparation for painting. 

Oak leaves
Placeholder Image
Oak leaves

Many of the paint schemes at The Argory had to be re-done when the National Trust acquired the house in the early 1980s leaving those areas painted by family ownership even more precious. Sadly one of those family schemes which had largely survived, in the study, was badly affected by the flood. The damage was irreversible so the decision was taken to repaint using a wonderful Farrow and Ball colour called ‘Folly Green’ that closely matched the original shade.

In homage to traditional painting methods, casein distemper paint was used to allow the walls to breathe and was brushed on rather than rolled. 

‘We didn’t want to lose all traces of the original paint,’ explains Christina, ‘so behind the bookcase we have preserved a square of the original paint for future reference.’

Prior to the arrival of the painters, the room had to be completely emptied by fine art handlers, Grallagh Studios, who stored the collection around the property. For practical reasons, some of the bigger items of furniture were kept in situ and covered to protect them from dust and paint.

The study as it looked before the arrival of the painters
The study post flood, ready for the painters
The study as it looked before the arrival of the painters

The dado rail, skirting and architraves were also covered to protect the painted woodwork.

With the walls painted, attention turned to the floor, a job for furniture conservator Fergus Purdy who was on site for several days to sand the floor and stain the outer border.

‘It will all look nice and new, but not so new that it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the house,’ explains Christina.

‘Following the completion of the floor we will turn our attentions to rehanging the pictures. At some point in the past the paintings in the Study would have been hung from a picture rail by chain. We know this because the existing picture rail brackets are still in-situ although the rail has long since gone. Prior to the flood however the pictures hung on the wall with wire over nail. Our plan is to reintroduce the picture rail and picture chain which will give the room a really smart look’.

By mid-March, using old photographs and inventory lists for reference, the walls will once again be adorned with pictures and paintings. Once hanging is completed the reinstatement of all the furniture begins – no simple task as Christina reveals:  ‘The first thing to go down will be the carpet, followed by the bigger pieces of furniture.  Over the years the study collection has been dispersed throughout the house so it will be really nice to identify those pieces and refurnish the space. The Argory has a lovely homely feel about it, but it’s overcrowded in some of the spaces so we’re looking forward to returning items to their original place in the study.’

Recreating the past

Inventory lists, old pictures and the knowledge of the people who work here will be used to recreate the room settings. Isobel Wright, one of the longest serving guides at The Argory, has worked for the National Trust for over 30 years telling visitors about the history of the house and the McGeough Bond family.

Isobel’s father, Richard Murray, worked for Mr Bond as his land steward and her mother, Florence Murray, was his housekeeper for most of her life. The Murray family were very close to Mr Bond and when Mrs Murray took sick, Mr Bond asked Isobel if she would come to work at The Argory as his housekeeper. From the early 1970’s until he passed away in 1986, Isobel Wright was not only Mr Bond’s housekeeper but a close friend.

Isobel recalls how the study was Mr Bond’s favourite room in the house:  ‘He would entertain people as well as do business in there. His friends would come for Afternoon Tea which would always be set out in this room and he also used the study to interview people coming to work at The Argory. Mr Bond felt it was the most homely place in the house and he always had the fire lit.  He would do business from the large writing desk and could also be found reading his books sitting by the fire.’

Furniture will be dusted, cleaned and waxed before being reinstated with guidance from Frances Bailey, curator for Northern Ireland. Frances along with Christina and team will look at the flow of the room and where the collection best sits to allow visitors to fully appreciate the contents.  A period of settling in will then be followed by a deep clean prior to the official opening.

The reinstatement of the room requires a team effort, with members of the Mid Ulster conservation team at Springhill and Ardress House assisting with the project.

‘It’s good for the teams to cross over, meet the conservators and see the restoration process,’ adds Christina. ‘It offers them an insight into what goes on in terms of the conservation required and provides valuable hands-on project experience.’

Before and after pictures will document all the key dates in the project timeline – from the painting of the walls, through to the furniture reinstatement and the official opening of the study is planned for late March.

A new visitor experience

‘We’ve adapted our whole visitor tour to incorporate the new room from then,’ says Christina. ‘The whole house will have a different flow around it, so even if you visited recently, there’s a reason to come back. Another new addition to the trail is the Cedar Bedroom, which will be showcased as a guest bedroom, frequently stayed in by the seafaring brother of Captain Shelton, the property’s second owner.

‘After such a long period of the room not being on the visitor route, it’s great to allow public access to these areas of the house again,’ concludes Christina. ‘We are using this as an opportunity to tell the story of The Argory and its inhabitants from a new perspective and we can’t wait to share that experience with our visitors in 2017 and beyond.’

Latest updates

02 Mar 17

Reinstating the furniture

Grallagh Studio reinstating the furniture into the study. Careful consideration goes into the placement of every item to ensure visitors can get a real feel for how the room would have looked in the days of Mr Bond.

22 Feb 17

Rehanging the pictures

Grallagh Studios are onsite at The Argory this week to rehang the paintings in the study using the picture rail and picture chain.

Rehanging the pictures in the study at The Argory

15 Feb 17

Staining the floor

With the walls painted, attention turns to the study floor. Furniture conservator Fergus Purdy is on site for several days to sand the floor and stain the outer border.