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Restoring the Central Hall floor at Mount Stewart

A family with small children talking to a volunteer room guide in Central Hall at Mount Stewart, with its stone floor, statues and chandelier visible
Family exploring Central Hall at Mount Stewart | © National Trust Images / James Dobson

As part of a major restoration project to return Mount Stewart to its pre-1960s glory, we restored the original sandstone flooring in Central Hall. Discover how we uncovered this hidden floor, the traditional method we use to clean the stone, and how Heritage Lottery Funding helped us to share knowledge, skills and experience of stone conservation with local craftspeople.

Restoring the original sandstone floor

In the final phase of an £8million conservation project to restore this family home to its former glory, the modern monochrome floor tiles in Central Hall were removed in 2016 to reveal the original stone floor, which dates to the 1840s.

Originally laid in the 1960s

While an iconic feature of the hall, the black and white linoleum floor tiles were laid by Lady Mairi in the 1960s. The sandstone floor beneath came from nearby Scrabo quarry which was owned by the Londonderry family, and complements the recently restored stone-coloured walls, completing the project to bring the hall back to its heyday glory.

A radiating pattern restored

The original flooring is now completely restored, revealing the centre stones laid in a radiating pattern, with the stones at each end laid in a pattern of octagons and squares.

An aerial view of the Central Hall floor during a restoration project, half of the original stone floor uncovered, the other half covered with black and white linoleum
The Central Hall floor during a restoration project | © National Trust / Peter Muhly

Lifting the linoleum

Before the team of conservation experts could get started on the floor, it was essential to protect the collections and the rest of the hall, which meant removing the sculptures and protecting the walls and columns from dust and impact damage.

Removing the bitumin

It was then time to lift the linoleum tiling and remove a thick bituminous levelling compound beneath. At this point, the original sandstone became visible. We cleaned and re-surfaced the stone, making repairs to any broken stone paviours. Some areas of stone needed completely replacing, particularly around doorways which have seen the most wear in the past, so we sourced and cut new stone in-keeping with the original.

Taking out the skirting boards

During the process, we also had to remove the skirting boards, which were embedded behind and beneath the floor. The old varnish was removed and revarnished to match the columns and pilasters.

‘This sympathetic restoration of the stone floor in the central hall is the final chapter of an ambitious project to bring this family home back to its former glory and truly showcase the history of this special place.’

– Jon Kerr, General Manager

After revealing the newly restored floor, the project was awarded the building conservation award at the 2016 Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Awards.

Keeping the floor clean

Before the house was handed to the National Trust, Lady Mairi lived at Mount Stewart with two maids, who struggled to include the scrubbing of the stone floor in their daily tasks. In response, Lady Mairi had the linoleum floor laid instead, which was the height of fashion at the time, and could be easily mopped.

Using traditional methods

Today, a team of four volunteers spend 624 hours or 37,440 minutes a year cleaning the restored sandstone floor using the traditional method – by hand. They start by hoovering the whole floor, then sponge clean the areas with damage, using a toothbrush for stubborn spots, applying a circular motion so as not to leave an indent in the stone.

‘We all know the floor intimately and follow a detailed map, where each stone is numbered and can be monitored individually.’

– Karen, Volunteer, Mount Stewart

With thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund

Funding for the project came from donations and legacy gifts, including a grant of £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund through their Sharing Heritage Programme, which aimed to support an exciting project focused on developing skills and understanding of conservation techniques.

Sharing knowledge

The grant allowed us to engage with local construction and heritage communities, as well as National Trust staff and volunteers, to share knowledge and gain hands-on experience in stone conservation techniques.

‘The National Trust has come up with an imaginative project to allow people to learn from their stone floor restoration work. The project will give up to 100 local crafts people and volunteers an opportunity to better understand heritage stone conservation by providing hands on sessions to improve their professional skills.’

– Paul Mullan, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund, Northern Ireland

A summary of the work

14 Nov 2016

Conservators reveal the original floor

The conservators did a fantastic job uncovering the floor and were ahead of schedule. We’ve been able to reveal the original stone for the first time.

Visitors sitting on a bench beside another visitor using a mobility scooter, admiring the view of the lake in the garden at Mount Stewart


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