March 2015

Old Royal Naval College completes ‘utterly exemplary’ stonework conservation project.

The cleaning and repair of the south front of the King William block (facing Romney Road) is one of the most complex conservation projects to have been undertaken by the ORNC in recent years. This magnificent stone elevation was completed under the direction of the Clerk of Works, Nicholas Hawksmoor in c. 1705 and is distinguished by the variety of different stone employed in its construction. This variety appears to have been forced upon Hawksmoor by a shortage of the preferred (and most durable) building material, Portland Stone. Making a virtue from necessity, Hawksmoor substituted honey-coloured limestones (such as Ketton Stone) to mark out the north and south pavilions of the famous west front of King William, and also to distinguish individual elements such as window surrounds and console brackets. 

Over the centuries, these different materials have decayed at different rates, leading (in the 20th century) to some unsympathetic repairs using cement mortar - repairs that have hastened the corrosion of the stone beneath causing elements to crack and break away.

The conservation work, carried out the ORNC term-contractor DBR Ltd, under the direction of Martin Ashley Architects, involved the careful replacement (indenting) of lost stonework and the removal (where practical) of cement repairs. The stonework was gently cleaned using steam and (for the more robust elements) a fine compressed air spray with lime particles. Some of the more decayed elements were then coated with a natural - and carefully coloured - lime shelter coat. 

The result of this ambitious conservation project - described by English Heritage as ‘utterly exemplary’ - is a magnificently bright and re-unified elevation.

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