The PMSA'S Marsh Award for Excellence in Conservation 2017

At a ceremony in central London last evening, Sally Strachey Historic Conservation Ltd. carried away the prestigious award for Excellence in the Conservation of a Public Fountain for their painstaking work on the Perseus and Andromeda Fountain for English Heritage at Witley Court, Great Witley in Worcestershire.

Based in the South West, Sally Strachey Historic Conservation Ltd. are award-winning ICON accredited specialists in the conservation of historic buildings, archaeology, monuments and sculpture. Sally Strachey, who was originally a founding director of Nimbus Conservation, set up Strachey & Strachey in 1997 and SSHC Ltd. in 2010. The company regularly carries out work in the cities of Bristol and London, the South, the Midlands and even further afield. The business has grown organically, building on a passion for heritage and putting time and energy into developing a strong ethos of working with its clients.

Their work on a wide-range of churches, monuments and historic sites provides a full service from conservation reports to onsite work by its highly-skilled team of consultants, masons, carvers and conservators. SSHC undertake repair and conservation of historic fabric on projects that incorporate architectural stonework, archaeological sites, museum pieces, church monuments, historic plaster and render, sculpture polychrome and decorative surfaces. They have worked in this capacity for the Historic Royal Palaces, the National Trust, CADW, English Heritage, Historic England, Places of Worship and the Corporation of London.

Their work on The Perseus and Andromeda Fountain was commissioned by English Heritage. Set in the centre of the gardens at Witley Court in an ornamental shaped pool, the fountain was designed by the leading landscape gardener, William Andrew Nesfield (1793-1881), in the 1850s for William Ward, Ist Earl of Dudley. It was carved from Portland stone by James Forsyth (1826-1910) in his London studio and transported from there to Witley, where it was installed c.1860. The central group represents Perseus riding Pegasus, rescuing Andromeda from the Dragon. The bases are encircled by alternating grotesque fish and shells.

The fountain is fired on the hour throughout the summer, but is not used in the winter. Over time, a large build-up of organic growth had developed on the statues. This organic growth has been a persistent problem. Historic photographs show that the growth has disappeared and reappeared quite regularly, which suggests that there have been a number of previous phases of cleaning. The SSHC contract included cleaning and conservation of the entire Grade I listed fountain and stone replacement, which included the carving of a new hand for Andromeda.

A scaffold was erected around the fountain to allow access for the work and access platform was also constructed, which allowed the public to view the work taking place. A number of cleaning trials had taken place previously and it was proposed that the fountain should be cleaned using a steam cleaning method. The areas of thick moss that was too thick to be removed by steam cleaning were removed by hand, gently releasing the thick coating from the stone surface. Once the main bulk had been taken away a second pass of removal was achieved with the use of wooden spatulas and small tools. The moss was removed in dry conditions to ensure that the disposal was contained in a controlled manner, in order not to create excessive matter to contaminate the fountain’s mechanical system.

The next cleaning procedure was achieved by the use of the ThermaTech system. Unlike a conventional hot water pressure washer, the ThermaTech system combines continuous high temperature and pressure and lower water volume. It achieves this by using less water, high heat capacity and specific nozzle design and specification.

There were different types of organic growth and staining over the surfaces. Following the initial cleaning trials, it was decided that the most advantageous approach was to develop the clean in stages, leaving an interval or dwell period between. This period often acts to soften or release deposits more readily. The overall visual was of utmost importance and care was taken to clean to a uniformed level across all surfaces of the sculpture.

The use of biocide was investigated, it was not proposed as a wholesale treatment, instead, several areas of open joints were identified and scheduled to be treated. Vegetation within joints was carefully dug out as deeply as practically possible and treated with biocide, formulated to kill the root structure. The repointing of open joints was undertaken and great care was taken to ensure the arrises of the stone were not further damaged by the raking out. Sound pointing was retained.

Areas of stonework that required mortar repairs needed to be sufficiently robust to withstand the continuous bombardment by water from the fountain. As such, a combination of polyester-based resin, Lithomex repair compound and larger dowels were specified. Individual stones, as identified in the schedule of works, were repaired by piecing-in new natural Portland stone, worked and finished to match existing. The extent of masonry required was re-evaluated in the inspection once the surface of the fountain had been cleaned.

Prior to this project, Andromeda’s hand had been removed. The hand was scheduled to be repaired and refixed. The masonry sections of the hand were taken from storage and assessed. The hand had previously been conserved; it had been dowelled, repaired and refixed to its original location. This had been unsuccessful since it had fallen off again. Following the assessment, it was decided to replace the hand and wrist with a new section of carved stone. The fragments were refixed together to indicate the original detail and this was then used to scale the building of a clay maquette, which became the template for the carving of the new hand and wrist off site in the workshop. The carving was completed on site to allow final measurements to be exactly in proportion with the original. The section was then refixed.

For the process of stone indenting, the area due to be replaced was cleaned back and assessed to establish the best approach to ensure that all the damaged stone had been removed, but aiming to leave as much of the original stone in place. A template of the stone indent profile was made. This was achieved by moulding clay to the area, and sculpting it to replicate the surrounding profiles. Then the stone cutting list was prepared to allow oversized stone for the areas, this excess was required as the extent could not be guaranteed until the removal had been completed. The indents were then started in the workshop, to waste the bulk of the stone. The partially worked sections of stone were pinned into place using dowels and resin. The final profile was then carved to replicate the surrounding.

Main image: 1. The Perseus and Andromeda Fountain with water flowing, after conservation (photo: Roger Vlitos)

Aurora Corio