As usual, our builders have been carrying our numerous works in various parts of the mansion and wing. The reconstruction of the roof to the northern part of the wing has been advanced with most of the brickwork rebuilding now complete, together with the casting of 14 concrete padstones to support the ends of the varioussteel beams. The steelwork and all the timber has been delivered and is awaiting the crane to hoist it up into position. Our original fund for the project of over £24,000 has been supplemented by grants of £5,000 from the Grange Farm Trust and £20,000 from the Pilgrim Trust. We are very grateful for these grants.
Above: The new floor in the southeast corner of the mansionBelow: Constructing the hearth in the drawing room, photo: Peter Gamble
We have constructed one side of the double timber partition between John Conyers’ dressing room and his bedroom in the south part of the first floor. Visitors can now appreciate how the two rooms were arranged. At the same time our excellent bricklayer has completed the complex rebuilding of the chimney breast in John Conyers’ dressing room. The flue within has been successfully cleared by our sweep. Clearing flues often involves the removal of 10 feet of compacted twigs together with a great number of bird skeletons. The birds seem to fall down head first to die tight up amongst their decomposing colleagues – so that anyone who looks up the flue will see row upon row of bird skulls packed together. We did think of selling these complete bird skeletons for use in horror movies but thought better of it. Sorry to have to tell you that!
On a brighter note, the floor structure at ground-floor level in the southeast corner of the mansion has largely been installed. This is the last room at ground-floor level to receive its floor. We have left gaps in the floor to enable the volunteers to lift out the earth and debris that made up the ramp from the cellar below. This ramp was constructed by the volunteers about 12 years ago as a means of barrowing up the vast qualities of debris from the cellars. No doubt there is a certain fondness amongst the volunteers for the ramp. The lifting work is now done with an electric hoist – we have to move with the times! The clearance of the ramp material should take to the end of May. Once this cellar is cleared, an electrical intake room will be constructed against the east wall to receive a new 3-phase supply which we hope to have installed within a year but, of course, that depends on funding. An improved electricity supply will please some of our visitors who may have experienced the lights going out on certain visits due to our present limited supply.
Several skilled volunteers have joined recently who are proving very committed to the project. One is a specialist installer of fire detection systems. He has so far installed a system for the stairwells – we are grateful to him. His wife works in the Walled Kitchen Garden – and we are grateful to her as well! Another gentleman is a highly skilled retired plasterer who loves plastering and is starting to replaster walls in the wing where the old plaster has failed. These works really help the project.
We have for a long time wanted to reconstruct the housekeeper’s room to demonstrate to visitors and children how the housekeeper lived and worked. An anonymous donor has come to our aid and given £16,000 (plus gift aid) towards this dream. We are enormously grateful for this donation and work will start as soon as possible.
Recent visitors may have noticed that the first-corner landing for our stone staircase has been installed (see it being hoisted into position in the photo below). We are now fundraising for the next flight; we have already received funding for three of the nine treads, with interest shown in two more – see Wish List.
Photo: Peter Gamble
We have started to reinstate the principal staircase in the mansion (pictured below, photo: Peter Gamble) This stone staircase survived the fire in 1917 but was smashed out in the 1950s. Fortunately, there is sufficient evidence to restore it accurately. We have completed the first seven steps which include both the special bo0om step, with its curtail, and the large quarter landing. We are now fundraising for the next flight: nine steps and one quarter landing. Each step costs £2,000 and the landing costs £4,000. Any contribution will be most welcome.