Window on the past

Temple Newsam House is a Grade One Listed building, and therefore has a very high heritage value. Its care, conservation and interpretation are driven by curatorial, conservation and education priorities, as important as the priorities applied to items in the collections. Indeed, Temple Newsam is the largest object in the collection, and the building, perhaps seen as a backdrop for the collections, the portable stuff, is in fact crucial for all aspects of service delivery. The Red Corridor top floor, west wing, has been the focus of attention for remedial works after plasterwork started coming loose. Excavations to see what the problem was also revealed an earlier window, possibly from the Tudor house, that had been filled in. Also revealed was some very early painted plasterwork applied directly to the brick, from the Tudor period, beneath a later layer of plaster laid on to laths. From visual records of the house it would appear that the window was filled in some time in the first half of the 18th century, before 1740, when there were a lot of alterations taking place elsewhere around the house.

The basic principles of repair and restoration to Listed buildings are straightforward, a primary one being repairs ought to be done on a “like for like” basis, materials and techniques, unless there are very good reasons not to exactly replicate the damaged parts. To maintain heritage value, therefore, in historic building repair and maintenance, quality control over the works is essential. The idea was suggested of leaving part of this wall exposed, for interpretation purposes, showing the various layers that have built up over time. Conservation and planning officers were consulted. Their enthusiatic support and guidance were the green light for the site team to develop, with corporate property management, a precise specification for both repair and for a “window on the past”.

Unstable bricks were taken out, cleaned, and labelled so that they could go back in the same location they came from. The oak lintel had deteriorated so badly from Death watch beetle that it had to be replaced.

This is a picture of the plastered and painted window reveal, from Tudor times, one of the features that was going to be left revealed. The next picture shows the wall re-instated to within approximately 30 cm of the window, but leaving the various layers exposed, all behind plate glass. There is interpretation still to be done, but the installation is finished.

The next feature of display development in this area of the house is to create a small display using some of the artefacts from the Jacobean Chapel, a room that was turned in to kitchens in the late 18th century. These artefacts are the remnants of the pulpit, in oak, and very similar to the pulpit at St. John’s Church, Leeds (right behind the St. John’s shopping centre) and the painted softwood panels depicting the Old Testament prophets. These will form the core of this display; sadly there is not room for all the prophets, so it will be a selection of perhaps half a dozen. Along with these artefacts it is planned to display also the stone heads of the two larger-than-life Templar Knight sculptures, by Thomas Ventris of York, carved in the 17th century. They once adorned the pediment over the courtyard entrance to the Great Hall.

These sculptures were taken down in the 1880s. Perhaps their condition was poor, or they were unsafe. The torsoes of the sculptures are being searched for, and a lead is being followed up.

Remnants of the Jacobean pulpit now on display. It was given to Halton Methodist Church in the 19th century and heavily modified. Brought back to Temple Newsam in 1990 once all the Victorian additions were removed (and there were a lot!) all that was left was five oak panels.

Posted by Ian Fraser

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