Combermere Abbey, Shropshire

Combermere Abbey is a Grade 1 listed residential country house located in the market town of Whitchurch on the Cheshire/Shropshire border. The extensive project of the Library, undertaken as a member of the Hare & Humphreys team, included the conservation of the decorative 16th century plasterwork ceiling including the medieval dais canopy and the 27 heraldic shields located in the coving beds. The primary project aims and objectives were to stabilise and conserve significant detail, halting further deterioration, and to restore the decorative scheme to specified standards, with appropriate consideration to the historical integrity of the interior and suitable application of ethical awareness. A brief summary of works undertaken is as follows:

 

  • Accumulated dirt and debris was cleared from the reverse of the plaster ceiling, to relieve excess weight exerted upon the lath and plaster support and to prevent the on-going formation of moisture trapping organic matter

 

  • Deteriorated paint layers were removed from the ceiling and coving and a conservation-grade fungicide applied to the exposed plaster surface to treat active mould growth and inhibit future attack. Extensive structural plaster repairs and redecoration were carried out using traditional materials and techniques. 

 

  • Flaking and friable paintwork on the heraldic shields was consolidated and the painted surfaces cleaned. Cracking and minor losses were filled and larger losses to the decorative relief were re-modelled by hand. Retouching of replacement elements and sympathetic retouching of lost original paintwork was undertaken and replacement pieces gilded using  24ct gold leaf. A reversible coating was applied to the painted surfaces, to protect and re-saturate colours. 

 

  • Painted surfaces of the figurative coving enrichments, ceiling bosses and marouflage and paper inserts were cleaned, flaking and friable sections were re-adhered and losses retouched . 

 

  • The painted surfaces of the dais canopy panel beds and tracery were cleaned to remove accumulated surface dirt and residues. Areas of failing and flaking paintwork were removed and cracks filled prior to repainting. 
     

 

THE CEILING - CONDITION PRIOR TO CONSERVATION

CONDITION - Past movement had led to extensive cracking across the entire ceiling and coving areas. The plaster had suffered numerous areas of loss and, in some cases, had fallen away to expose the laths and roof cavity behind. The decorative surface was in poor condition and was in various stages of deterioration and detachment. The decorative scheme currently in situ at the time of inspection was a stencilled imitation of a previous hand-painted design. The colours, placement and form of this later scheme were not faithful to the original and largely inferior in artistic quality. The combination of damp and moisture ingress had resulted in severe biological attack forming between the plaster and original distemper layers. The failure of these base layers had resulted in the deterioration of all overlying paint schemes, visible by extensive cracking, flaking and loss. The entire ceiling and majority of the coving bed was subject to extensive black mould and fungal growth.

 

Both the paper and marouflage (painted canvas) inserts had become desiccated and friable with age. This deterioration had resulted in cracking, flaking and loss to both the painted surface and substrate. The original adhesive had failed and many of the canvases were detaching from the plaster support. The decorative surface was obscured by accumulated surface dirt and some had additional disfiguration caused by blooming of the red paint and the application of a varnish coating, which had yellowed. Two of the triangular border inserts were missing and had been replaced with brown painted paper, which were peeling and disintegrating as a result of the underlying mould growth. 

 

 

AFTER TREATMENT

Left - Dais canopy after conservation treatment

Above - Dais canopy shield before and after cleaning

Ceiling after treatment

Close up of stencil scheme

Heraldic shield before and after conservation treatment

For further information on this project please visit the Comberemere Abbey website and conservation blog at: http://www.combermere-restoration.co.uk