November 2013

Over the last couple of years minor but careful repairs have gradually been carried out to the remarkable marble flooring of the Painted Hall. The elaborate geometrically patterned floor of the Lower Hall was originally laid out in veined white marble, sourced from the Apennine Mountains above the town of Carrara near Pisa in Italy, a marble frequently used in fashionable ‘black and white’ geometrical floors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In this case the Carrara was unusually contrasted with a dark Wealden marble known as ‘Winkelstone’ (perhaps due to the quantities of winkle-like shell in the marble) formerly quarried from Petworth and nearby villages in Sussex.

No doubt heavily worn, the flooring has previously been much repaired, significantly so after the National Gallery of Naval Art, housed in the Painted Hall from 1824, was relocated to the National Maritime Museum in 1936. The Vestibule floor has been totally replaced in contrasting veined Carrara and a Belgian - or possibly Irish - black marble.

In the Lower Painted Hall, a number of the original Winklestone paviours were also replaced in black marble, which was inadvisable as they ‘stand out’ from the Winklestone. Around the geometric border to the floor, the border pattern has been jumbled and completely lost in some positions, and the pavings have been carefully re-laid and supplemented to re-establish the geometric border.

In the most prominent areas of the Lower Hall, the most obviously alien darker pavings have been replaced, and fractured and damaged Carrara, which is a softer stone, have been repaired or in some cases replaced in new veined Carrara from Italy. For the darker pavings, and in the absence of the wonderfully characterful Winklestone, which is no longer quarried, a shelly Purbeck marble has been sourced from the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, which is a good match as long as it is the most shelly Purbeck possible. Shelly Purbeck is rarely obtainable, and Haysoms quarry have kindly set aside their most shelly marble for use in the Lower Painted Hall as and when they come across it in the enormous blocks extracted out of the quarry.

Differingly, the Upper Hall floor is laid in ‘chequerboard’ pattern and is in better condition than in the Lower Hall. Interestingly the floor of the Nelson Room is also marble paved, but break-jointed rather than in a geometrical pattern, and apparently in Scandinavian mid-grey paviours, with an area of buff-coloured pavings around the door to the Upper Hall.

It has long been the wish to repair a previously badly damaged marble ‘nosing’ to the Upper Painted Hall steps, and a small break to one of the Lower Hall steps. The grand steps to both the Lower Painted Hall and the Upper Painted Hall are in Bardiglio marble, a blue dove-coloured marble which is also from the Apennine Mountains surrounding Carrara. The original Bardiglio has a slight greenish tinge and the veining is relatively straight.

However, twentieth century replacements next to the handrails, at either side of the Upper Hall steps, are slightly more blue-grey and are of a more ‘characterful’ veining. A sample recently received from the Bardiglio quarry is exactly this same colour and character and seems entirely suitable for a further replacement to the Upper Hall step, whereas the straight-veined original broken Upper Hall step can be used for a ‘piecing-in repair’ to the similarly straight-veined and original broken Lower Hall step. Complicated – but crafted with precision – the final effect to both Upper and Lower Hall steps will be all but invisible unless one is specifically looking for the repairs!

Subject to Scheduled Monument Consent, and to delivery of Bardiglio from Italy (there was a considerable wait for the sample to arrive this summer due to the Italian shutdown for holidays) it is hoped to undertake craftsman repairs to the steps soon, as well as gentle on-going repairs to the Lower Hall flooring to further reinstate the design integrity of the remarkable floor of this outstanding interior.

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