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Our work at Rufford Old Hall

The house and garden in June at Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire, showing the beautiful Tudor building surrounded by Victorian and Edwardian gardens.
The house and garden at Rufford Old Hall | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

In a house as old as Rufford Old Hall, there’s a lot to preserve and protect. From preventative conservation measures such as monitoring daily light levels to major initiatives to ensure the house itself is in the best possible condition, our work at Rufford Old Hall is all about making sure that this special place and its collections can be enjoyed and learned from by future generations.

Repairing Rufford's timber and glass

In late 2022/early 2023, essential conservation work was carried out to repair parts of the Great Hall, the Lantern and the bay window on the south range. Scaffolding was placed inside and outside, and every room was affected as we had to move or cover up many objects to keep them safe during the building work. This work meant that we were fully closed from 28 November until 10 February 2023 whilst the work was carried out.

The Lantern and Great Hall

The Great Hall has been standing for five centuries, but it needs constant care. Rainfall had damaged parts of the Hall over the years, so the historic guttering was improved to better protect it. The Lantern, an 1820s addition to the roof, also received some TLC. Parts of the frame were repaired and glass panes straightened and re-leaded so that it could continue to illuminate the Great Hall for many more years to come.

The bay window

The dramatic two-storey bay window was added in the 1720s, reusing 16th-century timbers from nearby Holmeswood Hall. It’s an excellent example of the craftmanship that makes Rufford Old Hall such a special building. Its structure had become unstable in recent years, so some parts of the timber frames were repaired. Also, some of the glass panes were straightened and re-leaded to preserve the view of the south lawn for future generations to enjoy.

Two visitors in the Great Hall at Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire. They are looking up at the ceiling.
Exploring the Great Hall at Rufford Old Hall | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Preserving the Great Hall

The Tudor Great Hall is a magnificent timber construction, yet the original wattle and daub panels were no match for the longevity of its 500-year-old timber. As a result, concrete and brick were used to replace these panels during the mid-20th century.

Increasing knowledge

While these were no doubt lovingly installed at the time, as our conservation knowledge has grown, we’ve learnt that this solution is detrimental to the original timber frame of the Hall as its ability to flex and move has been reduced.

In 2016 and 2017, we replaced these panels with natural materials sympathetic to the building so that the Tudor Great Hall can breathe once more.

The wider project

The first phase of this project saw parts of the north wall of the Great Hall replaced with traditional wattle and daub by heritage building specialists.

In the more extensive second phase of the project, the north wall was completed, alongside the gable end and south wall of the Grade I-listed Tudor hall.

This building work was part of a larger project which included restoration of the leaded windows in the house.

Conserving the tapestry collection

The 17th-century tapestries of wool and silk in the Ante Room bring to life beautiful landscapes. Many years ago, they were highlighted with coloured thread which unfortunately has faded through the ages, though you can still see some traces today.

Tapestries were not just pretty wall hangings created to decorate a room, but were also practical, used to help keep out the cold and draughts in buildings such as Rufford Old Hall.

They were also symbols of power and usually owned by the very rich due to the labour intensive process and expensive materials used. The larger and finer the collection, the wealthier and more powerful the owner.

The conservation process

The tapestries at Rufford Old Hall are cared for in a four-year conservation cycle; the first to receive the magic treatment in May 2018 were the Flemish Tapestries in the Ante Room.

Thanks to a generous donation from the Bolton National Trust Association we were able to purchase scaffolding which means we can now leave the tapestries hanging when cleaning them.

Specialist tools for the job

  • A museum vacuum cleaner is used for the work to ensure the delicate tapestries are not damaged by providing a continuous flow of air; any dirt loosened from the fibres is immediately drawn away.
  • A pliable plastic net is used on top of the tapestry to protect any loose threads from being sucked into the vacuum cleaner.
  • Pink 100% cotton tape is used to make a grid on the tapestry. Cotton is used to ensure no impurities are transferred to the tapestry.
  • Metal pins with coloured tops are used attached the pink tape. The coloured tops make them stand out on the tapestry, and new pins are used for each session to avoid any rust forming on them.
  • A brush made from soft, white goat’s hair is used to move the dirt from the tapestry into the vacuum. The brush is then cleaned in a solution of water and sensitive washing up liquid.
The study at Rufford Old Hall in Lancashire, showing period furniture and ornaments.
The study at Rufford Old Hall | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Shining new light on Rufford's collection

Re-discovering Rufford

Beginning in 2018, we have embarked on an ambitious Collections Review project to take a closer look at the objects in our care. There are over 4,000 items on display and in store at Rufford, but of these, no more than 250 are indigenous to the Hall.

The review is helping us to understand how all these objects came together to form the unique and diverse collection we see today.

Sharing stories

A 500-year-old house is bound to have some hidden histories and amusing anecdotes about times gone by, and every object has a story to tell. The more we can learn about these collections the more engaging and informed stories we can share with visitors.

It’s all about increasing our knowledge of our collections; what we have, why we have it, where it has come from and why it’s so significant.

Creating collections

The collecting habits of two men in particular have shaped the Rufford of today. The 7th Baronet was a gentleman follower of Victorian fashion with a love of the neo-Gothic, while Philip Ascroft was a local man passionate about preserving the rural past.

Conservation in action

Conservation in action can be anything from the small jobs to the very large. From cleaning family portraits with a brush and a low pressure vacuum to monitoring daily light levels, there’s a lot of work, thought and planning that goes into caring for every object in Rufford Old Hall’s collection.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

A stained glass panel showing the Hesketh coat of arms at Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire


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