Context 166 - November 2020

C O N T E X T 1 6 6 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 2 0 43 Work to the south front included masonry repairs to theWestern Pavilion and the adjoining State Dining Room, followed by reroofing the State Library, and internal repairs and redecora- tion of its ceiling. In the early 20th century this roof had failed, its trusses were removed and felt was laid on boards. Not surprisingly, it had failed on many occasions, damaging and loosening the internal plasterwork of the library. Fortunately, we were able to replicate the roof trusses on the matching pavilion to the west, and recover in lead before carrying out extensive repairs to the plasterwork. During this work we found many traces of gold leaf. A decision was made to reinstate the original decoration to spectacular effect. Re-presentation of the interiors continued. The work included the careful cleaning and con- servation of Valdre’s decorations of the Music Room, the recreation of the decorative scheme and imagery in the Egyptian Hall, and work to a smaller Blue Room, which was hung with new silk damask. Conservation of Kent’s ceiling in the North Hall was followed in 2019 by redecoration of the walls, and a new stone floor was laid to replace 1950s terrazzo tiles.The final and magnificent addition, the commissioning of a bronze replica of the Laocoön sculpture which stood here in the 19th century, has reinstated the grandeur of the entrance. All our work has been supported by detailed historical research, carried out either within our own team or alongside SHPT staff. The approach taken to uncovering and documenting the painted decoration schemes has followed analysis by Patrick Baty. An expert advisory panel has given considerable help, and critically reviewed all proposals. An early decision was made to bring back the exterior of the house to its state when completed around 1780–1800. To that end the trust com- missioned Cathy Fisher, a former colleague at Purcell, who now lives in Los Angeles, to spend many months in the Huntington Museum there, researching building records. Her work, which informed our approach and specifications, is now held by both the SHPT and the National Trust. Each project has involved detailed archae- ological recording, and the new information and reports from historians, archaeologists and conservators are extensive. All of the contracts have included work to meet the practical needs of the trust’s tenants, Stowe School. These have ranged from a careful upgrade of heating, wiring, fire protection and other systems, to repairs to joinery and the strengthening and repair of floors. At an early stage we installed a lift from the ground floor to the piano nobile. We provided a welcome reception for visitors with educational materials, later replaced and remodelled with a further HLF grant, to adapt the basement beneath the Marble Saloon. Programming opening-up works in school holidays; avoiding noise during exams; planning the contractors’ working site for deliveries and access without risk to school pupils; and design- ing scaffolds in the Marble Saloon and North Hall to give access for repairs while allowing the school and its visitors to function underneath: all of these have involved detailed negotiations with the school, the trust, the events team, consult- ants and contractors. The interior of the Marble Saloon after conservation (Photo: Will Pryce) The Laocoön in the North Hall (Photo: Andy Marshall by permission of SHTP) Some parts of this article were published in Stowe House: saving an architectural masterpiece, edited by Nick Morris, published by Scala with the Stowe House Preservation Trust (2018). Jane Kennedy is a senior partner with Purcell.

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