RESTORATION AND CONSERVATION PROJECTS
Funds raised through admission tickets, retail, accommodation and catering are reinvested into vital and ongoing projects.
In recent years, over £2 million has been spent restoring the Castle’s outer stonework; an ongoing project that requires funding raised only through our hospitality, accommodation, catering, retail and visitor ticket sales.
During the late 19th century, it was common practice to use cement based mortar on many heritage buildings, and again for post-war repairs during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Unfortunately, these ‘repairs’ did more harm than good, and in addition to centuries of general weathering, the cement mortar is to blame for the erosion on the Castle’s stonework today. By using cement mortar instead of lime mortar, the stonework’s breathability was blocked; trapping moisture inside the stone. Inevitably, the damp stonework would then freeze during the winter, causing broken and spalling stone to appear on the Castle’s exterior.
As a result, major restoration projects were undertaken on the Castle exterior, the Maiden’s Tower, Gate Tower, Moat Bridge and the Gloriette. In 1995, the work began with a series of smaller repairs to the walls and doors of the Castle. Further work was then undertaken to remove loose stonework, and in 2007, extensive maintenance began on the string courses, walls and windows. Other restoration projects include the removal of moss and plant growth around the walls, and the preservation of historic corbel stone remnants.
To uphold tradition, we aim always to use Kentish Ragstone to reflect the original appearance of the New Castle. Future plans include conservation of the Barbican and Fortified Mill, alongside this current restoration of the Castle turrets on the front elevation.
Despite invaluable revenue from admission tickets and events at the Castle, there are never enough funds raised to carry out all the important conservation work required, please consider giving the Leeds Castle Foundation a charitable donation by visiting: leeds-castle.com/donate
The New Castle (2018/19)
This project took place on the front elevation of the Castle and was completed from October 2018 to March 2019. This vital project cost the Foundation over £360,000. The work was being carried out by PAYE Stonework and supervised by conservation architect Ian Angus of Carden & Godfrey.
The order of works included the replacement of stones using only Kentish Ragstone, lime shelter coating and the repointing of the walls with lime mortar. The team cut out existing mortar joints and replaced them with a lime mix to ensure moisture was not trapped behind any previous cement repairs. In addition, they replaced the lead roofs in the main turrets, roof parapet gutters, and made repairs to the timberwork. There was also a redecoration on the metalwork and window glazing, of which ‘Richemont Bleu’ stone was used for the restoration of the detailed window masonry.
The Yellow Drawing Room (2017)
The Yellow Drawing Room was first used by Lady Baillie as a Luncheon Room, and was originally decorated with grey oak panelling by her first designer Armand Albert Rateau. In 1938 she and her new designer Stephane Boudin introduced a new decorative scheme which reflected the French 18th century style. It was a magnificent effect with yellow silk damask on the walls and the coveted painting by Tiepolo hanging above the fireplace. It became Lady Baillie’s favourite room, and was the only space in the New Castle that she retained for her own use during the Second World War.
By 2017 the decoration had degraded badly. Whilst the yellow wall silk had survived largely intact for nearly 80 years, it had suffered from light and other environmental damage, resulting in areas of severe wear and degradation, as well as water staining, ingrained dirt and discolouration. The original curtains which had been made from the same yellow silk as the walls, had at some point been sacrificed to repair large areas of the wall hangings, and had been replaced by a sub-standard cotton damask.
The lambrequin – a decorative pelmet positioned below the ceiling cornice and across each window heading – was in better condition, suffering mainly from ingrained smoke and dust. The cornice itself was in good structural condition, but was marred by a thick layer of dirt that had settled on the high relief design.
Research was carried out to identify the original manufacturer of the silk, and fortunately it was found to be Tassinari and Chatel – a company that is still in existence today and able to reweave the silk to the original design and colour. The process took four months and when it was installed, it was done using traditional techniques to stretch and tension the silk over wooden battens.
Paint research was carried out on the cornice which identified it as a distemper paint which required special method of cleaning using triamonium citrate. This had to be done by hand and was carried out using in house expertise within the Heritage team at Leeds Castle.
The lambrequin was sent away for conservation At Zenzie Tinker Conservation in Brighton and involved wet cleaning using solvents to remove ingrained dirt from the tassels, and also some areas of conservation stitching to stabilise light damaged areas.
The Castle Dining Room (2015)
This room was initially used by Lady Baillie as a Servants’ Hall and divided into three separate spaces. In 1938 she and her designer Stephane Boudin decided to transform it into a formal dining room decorated with 18th century tapestries and Chinese porcelain. The new scheme was nearly finished when the Second World War broke out and the Castle was used as a field hospital. The new dining room was used as a hospital ward where injured servicemen could recuperate.
After the war, the room was finished and Lady Baillie continued to entertain her guests in it right up until her death in 1974. During the last decade of her life, she had redecorated the room with a new designer, Claude Mandron, in a scheme that satisfied 1960s tastes.
In 2015, the room had become faded and tired, with the curtains in need of replacement and the set of five tapestries in dire need of conservation treatment. The carpet had become threadbare and the parquet floor was scuffed and marked. In order to return the room to its original splendour extensive research was carried out to identify the original 1930s wall colour, reweave the specially designed curtain fabric and to decide how best to treat the tapestries.
The paint colour was revealed to be a special dragged-effect ‘water green’, which was a trademark of Stephane Boudin and signified that this was perhaps one of his most significant interior schemes that still survived under later layers of paint. The colour was carefully reinstated by a team of historic paint experts from Crick Smith and once completed, complimented the Chinese porcelain on display.
The tapestries required extensive treatment to clean them, repair light and other environmental damage, and to support the weight of them once they were rehung. The process took two years and involved a specialist wet cleaning technique in Belgium and many hours of conservation stitching at The Textile Conservancy in Kent.
The Castle Library (2015)
Used as a small dining room by the Wykeham Martin family from 1822, this room was redesigned by Lady Baillie in 1926 as a schoolroom, where her daughters received their very early education. In 1938 Lady Baillie and her designer Stéphane Boudin reorganised the use of rooms in the New Castle, and the schoolroom was transformed into a Library.
During World War II, the Castle also served as a field hospital run by 10 Company Royal Army Medical Corps to treat wounded servicemen, and the Library was used as a ward for recuperation. The room was emptied of its fine furniture and the bookcases were boarded over with the books still in place - the faint nail markings left on the front panels of the bookcases can still be seen today.
With its beautiful, cream-white paneling picked out in a rich red Moroccan glaze, the Library still houses hundreds of books from Lady Baillie’s personal collection and from the library of her father, Lord Queenborough. However, by 2015, the condition of the Library’s original décor had aged and deteriorated considerably. The Leeds Castle Foundation launched an extensive restoration project in the same year, with the aim to return the room to the full splendor of Stéphane Boudin’s decorative schemes of the 1930s and 1940s, a time when the Castle was at its peak as a party house for the influential and famous.
Detailed historic paint analysis was carried out to ensure that the correct colour palette was chosen to recreate the original scheme. Executing the project with meticulous precision, expert craftspeople then redecorated the walls, ceiling, woodwork, shelving and fireplace to return the room to its former glory. A variety of fixtures, fittings and furnishings were also conserved, such as repairs to windowsills, reupholstery of seating and an extensive treatment to a fine early 18th century bureau bookcase.
With cream and ochre tones, the decorative scheme of the Library is now beautifully harmonised with the neighboring Dining Room, which was restored in 2015 during the same restoration project.
Thorpe Hall Drawing Room (2015)
From 1926, Lady Baillie and her designer Armand-Albert Rateau transformed the Castle rooms from the high Victorian style of the previous owners, to the refined interiors of a luxurious country house. One room in particular, The Thorpe Hall Drawing Room, provides visitors with a glimpse into the glamorous lifestyle enjoyed by Lady Baillie and her many weekend guests.
The room was created with exquisite pine paneling, large doors and an Italian chimneypiece acquired from the great parlour at Thorpe Hall near Peterborough, who had sold the furnishings to pay death duties. The paneling, which dates from 1653, first arrived at Leeds Castle painted in a shade of pea green. This paint was painstakingly removed and the panels had to be reassembled like a large jigsaw puzzle. To accommodate the panels, the room’s ceiling had to be lowered and a new door was cut through the wall at the bay-window end of the room. In 1937, Lady Baillie’s new designer Stéphane Boudin redesigned Thorpe Hall once more and altered the room’s soft furnishings.
By 2015, the original sofas, damask and other soft furnishings had suffered from decades of light and environmental damage, resulting in severe wear and deterioration. It was then, in 2015, that the Leeds Castle Foundation embarked on a mission to restore Thorpe Hall to its former glory.
Throughout the restoration, we made it imperative to preserve the soft furnishings and interior design features first introduced by Lady Baillie. Therefore, the first task was to track down the original manufacturer of Thorpe Hall’s damask. Thankfully, extensive research carried out by the Curator led to the discovery of Lady Baillie’s archived receipt from the original manufacturer; Tassinari & Chatel. The French company (who also manufactured the silk in the Castle’s Yellow Drawing Room) still exists today, and fortunately they were able to reweave a damask to the exact same design and colour.
In addition to the restoration of the silk damask, the Heritage team is currently leading extensive object conservation in Thorpe Hall. A writing desk from Lady Baillie’s collection has been carefully conserved and displayed for the public to see, the room’s wooden flooring will be entirely reconditioned and the team will also be enhancing the room’s lighting scheme.
The Bath House (2016)
In spring 2016 a major project in conjunction with Oxford Archaeology has been undertaken to drain away the moat waters within the bath house, dredge several feet of silt from the floor and fully reveal the architecture of the great chamber for the first time in 750 years.
A dam was created across the inlet from the moat to allow water and silt to be pumped out and enable a scaffold to be built on a firm foundation. The dredging team worked very hard in difficult conditions to clear the chamber and they, with Curator Annie Kemkaran-Smith, pulled a significant amount of finds from the mud, including a Victorian fishing tackle box, an anchor, coins and medallions, but sadly no medieval artefacts.