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Our work at The Argory

The acetylene light in the West Hall at The Argory, County Armagh
The unique cantilever staircase at The Argory. | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Discover some of the important conservation work that has taken place at The Argory, including conserving rare acetylene lighting fixtures and fittings, a restored study after a flood, and the transformation of the Tack Room.

Acetylene lighting

Installing the acetylene gas system

The Argory was built between 1820 and 1824 for the McGeough Bond family and until the early 1900s was lit by firelight, oil lamps and candles. In 1906 the second owner, Captain Ralph Shelton, made one of the most significant changes to the property with the installation of the acetylene gas plant in the laundry yard.

Easily maintained

Gas lighting had become a popular new technology in cities and major towns throughout the UK and Ireland. A major advantage to the acetylene gas was that it could be easily maintained by those who worked in the house.

The Argory’s acetylene gas was installed for £250 by the Sunbeam acetylene gas company. Along with the range of fittings and fixtures it’s now a rare survivor of a form of domestic lighting that enjoyed a short period of popularity during the last decade of the nineteenth century until the 1920s.

A risky fuel

While country houses adopted new technologies such as electricity, The Argory continued to use the acetylene gas in the main house until the 1980s when it became too dangerous to continue. It was lit for the last time in July 1981, the day the house opened to the public.

The acetylene lights in Captain Shelton's Bedroom at The Argory, County Armagh
The acetylene lights in Captain Shelton's Bedroom at The Argory, County Armagh | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Restored lighting in Captain Shelton's bedroom

Delicate silk shades

The Argory also has two impressive Argand lamp chandeliers that were installed when the house was built and later converted to acetylene. These were removed for restoration as part of the conservation project.

Over 110 years of use

The conservation of the light fittings began in 2013 when a small pink silk lampshade from the Drawing Room was sent to Blickling for conservation. These delicate little shades had suffered from 110 years of light damage and dirt and were no longer able to support their own weight.

Generous donations

Thanks to kind donations one shade was restored and enough silk purchased to restore all 14 shades. The transformation of the first shade was an amazing visual aid to help raise money to complete all 14 shades.

At a cost of £1750 per shade there was quite some work to do to raise enough funds.

Acetylene fixtures and fittings

Cleaning the fittings

The biggest part of the project was to clean the collection of acetylene light fittings from the ground and first floor of the mansion house.

Rupert Harris, National Trust metalwork advisor, first came to the property in May 2016.

Rupert removed the light fittings from the first floor and over the following three years each of the fittings in the mansion was removed, cleaned and polished before being lacquered and reinstated

Scaffold installation

The large double height chandelier in the West Hall was also restored as part of the project. This required the scaffolding of the inside of the main entrance hall so it could be taken down, packed up and taken to Rupert Harris’ studio in London.

An ornate three-arm gasolier with pink flushed, etched glass shades in the Study at The Argory, County Armagh, Northern Ireland
Gasolier in the Study at The Argory | © National Trust Images/W.Anderson-Porter

Saved from the flood: Restoring the study at The Argory

In 2010 a burst pipe in the attic of The Argory caused flood damage to a number of areas of the house, most notably the archive room and study.

A a lot of emergency salvage work and first aid was carried out on the 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.

Inventory lists, old pictures and the knowledge of the people who work here were used to recreate the room settings. It was used as an opportunity to tell the story of The Argory and its inhabitants from a new perspective which is what you will see on your visit today, with the rooms having reopened in 2017.

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. Specialist furniture conservator Fergus Purdy helped to transform the Tack Room from a dull, damp space into a shining example of a splendid early 20th century harness room.

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. 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 restored the hooks to their original bright blue shade.

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.

Regional textile conservation: The Drawing Room

In March 2023, the delicate 19th centuary lace curtains were removed from the Drawing Room at The Argory. Carefully packed away by regional conservators, the curtains are undergoing vital remedial work in conservation studios in England. This project is made possible by your support, which helps keep these places and objects beautiful for everyone to enjoy.

The Clock Tower

Tower clocks have been a part of human history for centuries and have played an important role in communities around the world. This is what makes the clock tower at the Argory more than just a timepiece. Clock towers were known as a symbol of community and identity, and they served as landmarks and gathering places for people. The Clocktower is curently being restored so that it's bells can be heard in The Argory Courtyard and beyond. If you would like to donate to this restoration project, you can purchase a pin badge in visitors reception or make an online donation below.

Visitors in the garden of The Argory, County Armagh, Northern Ireland


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