Two Follies of the National Trust
Chinese House at Stowe and the Modern Maori House at Clandon Park
Rory Cullen, Nikita Hooper and Christine Sitwell
The National Trust
is responsible for the maintenance of around 30,000 buildings across England,
Wales and Northern Ireland, including a great variety of garden structures.
Amongst these unique buildings are the Chinese House at Stowe Landscaped
Gardens in Buckinghamshire which has recently been conserved, and the
Maori Meeting House at Clandon Park in Surrey which will be subject to
repairs in future.
Chinese House at Stowe after restoration, with sensitively restored
painted surfaces and
new finials (Photo: Christine Sitwell)
Chinese House is a highly decorative small timber framed structure which
can be found in the Pheasantry near the Palladian Bridge at Stowe Landscape Gardens, Buckinghamshire. The first reference
to the structure can be found in the archives of the Huntingdon Library
in California which dates the building to around 1738, making it
the earliest recorded Chinese pavilion in Britain, and a landmark in the
rising fashion for ‘chinoiserie’. It is believed to have been designed
by the architect and designer William Kent (c1685-1748), who worked on
several garden buildings at Stowe during this period.
accounts of the building illustrate its exotic form, as a rectangular
structure of small size, which sat on a base held up by piles driven in
to the bed of the pond. Access was gained by crossing a footbridge adorned
with ‘Chinese’ vases. B Seeley’s engravings reveal two stylised dolphins
at either end of the ridgepole, on a gambrel roof. It is believed that
the original scheme on the exterior was by Sleter based on the account
of 1742 where it is noted: 'it is a square building with four lettices
and covered with cloth to preserve the lustre of the paintings: [inside,
a statue of] a Chinese lady as if asleep, her hands covered by her gown… the
outside of the house is painted in the taste of that nation by Mr Slatea:
the inside is japann’d work'. Although none of the original paint survives
intact, the attribution of the decoration to Sleter (or ‘Mr Slatea’) is
plausible because it is known that he painted scenes in both the Grotto
and Stowe House.
The Chinese House
did not remain in the gardens of Stowe for long, and it had certainly
disappeared by 1751. There is evidence that Richard Grenville, the heir
to Stowe, moved it to Wotton House, which he also owned, about 20 miles
away. Most probably he wished the grounds at Stowe to follow the classical
themes that were adopted throughout the landscape. An account of 1779
records that a pair of painters spent three days each working on the structure.
Even here it was moved around, and a 19th century wash drawing shows the
pavilion standing on an island in middle of the lake, and later it was
moved closer to the main house.
In 1950 the principal
house was used as a preparatory school for boys, who often passed their
time by adding their own ‘designs’. Its journey continued in 1959 when
it was purchased by Major Michael Beaumont and moved to Harristown House,
Kildare, Ireland. Here it stayed, with two further moves around the Estate,
until its origins were identified by Dr Patrick Conner, provoking interest
from the National Trust who had taken over the Stowe Estate in 1989.
In 1992 the owner
offered the structure to the Trust following concern over its deteriorating
state. Funds for the purchase were raised through grants from the Monument
85 Trust, the Pilgrim Trust and from the Alex Clifton Taylor bequest.
An appeal in memory of Gervase Jackson-Stops subsequently collected funds
that paid for its complete restoration (1).
So it was that in
1997 the National Trust was able to embark on a major conservation and
restoration programme to conserve this unique building.
with many conservation projects undertaken by the Trust, the project involved
crossdisciplinary working between conservators, curators and the Building
Department. The treatment involved wood and paint conservation disciplines,
with the specialists liasing over different aspects of the project to
ensure a holistic approach. The structural conservation and restoration
would be primarily undertaken by Tankerdale Limited, specialists in the
conservation and restoration of historic joinery and furniture, with a
contract value of just under £150,000. Bush and Berry undertook the conservation
and restoration of the painted surfaces.
north elevation panels in the studio, before and after conservation.
The faded top panels (top) were protected from the weathering by
the eaves and retain much of their original paintwork, but those below,
which appear much brighter in the ‘before’ image, had been repainted
several times, most recently quite crudely. Compare the small vase
of flowers in the second row on the right, before and after. (Photos:
House is constructed of flush-faced panels of softwood applied to both
sides of an oak frame. Each of the four sides of the building is an individual
unit, joined by pegged mortise and tenon joints at the corner, when assembled.
These exposed corner joints are then covered with pilasters constructed
from softwood. There are lattice windows to each end and in the double
doors of each side. The roof was originally elaborated with a pair of
stylised dolphins, one at either end of the ridgepole, but by the time
of the restoration all that remained were the two small gablets set into
the roof. The approximate dimensions of the structure are 3.8 metres in
length by 2.8 metres in width, and 3.4 metres in height.
Both the structure
of the building and the painted surfaces were in poor condition. The lower
sections of the structure and the corner pilasters had suffered from extensive
rot and insect infestation and from the splitting and shrinkage of the
softwood panels. The use of inappropriate repair materials had led to
further damage. The exterior painted surfaces were badly cupped and flaking,
and weathering had caused extensive paint loss on two sides of the building.
The interior surfaces were in better condition but had been damaged by
vandalism and water staining.
The brief for the
project had the overarching aim of returning the structure to a decoratively
and structurally stable condition to allow it to be safely displayed once
again in the landscape of Stowe. It was stipulated that the repairs must
be carried out according to established conservation principles: retaining
original timbers wherever possible; replacing timbers with those matching
the original in species and moisture content, profiled to match the original;
and using traditional adhesives. The entire process was to be recorded,
in photographs, notes and drawings, at all stages of the work, and on
The work was carried
out in close accordance with these principles. As the work progressed,
it became obvious that the attachment between the inner and outer layers
of the walls on the longer sides was much less robust than anticipated.
The rot damage and old repairs were also more extensive than expected.
This in turn led to more dismantling of these sides than originally anticipated.
Where sections were rotten, these were treated for rot and woodworm and
consolidated with ‘Bencon 20’ epoxy resin after appropriate stabilisation
of the painted surfaces.
The majority of pine
timber replacements were undertaken with re-used 18th century Baltic pine,
of similar grain and moisture content. The new oak sections were generally
constructed utilising new English oak, similarly matching grain and moisture
content to the original. Joints which had originally been bonded with
hot animal glue were treated in the same manner. New splices and patches
were joined with ‘West System Epoxy 105’ resin and 205 hardener.
Where nails had been
inappropriately used, restricting the movement of the wood, damage had
been caused through expansion and contraction. Less harmful methods were
introduced to prevent further damage. This was carried out with the use
of non-ferrous fixings, softwood buttons and ‘biscuit’ joints (a discreet
modern jointing technique in which a proprietary-made oval biscuit of
beech is glued into slots cut in each meeting face, like a traditional
floating tenon). The majority of the fixings employed were stainless steel
screws, counterbored below the surface of the wood and pelleted to cover
the heads. Any original nail fastenings which were rusting were replaced
with screws as above, or with stainless steel nails, panel and moulding
pins, covered with small softwood pellets or diamond shaped patches.
detail of one corner before restoration, showing one of the worst
areas of paint loss (Photo: Christine Sitwell)
detail of one of the vases of flowers partly scraped back to reveal
elements completely lost in the later scheme. Sufficient information
was discernible to enable an expert restoration of the original. (Photo:Christine
To allow for the effects
of changeable humidity once the building was re-erected outside, some
shrinkage cracks were retained. This would avoid compression of joints
as the moisture content of timbers increased and would safeguard the restored
decorative finishes. The cracks would be monitored over a year of changing
humidity to ascertain how much they should eventually be filled to maintain
the necessary room for fluctuations.
The extent of decay
in the roof of the building meant that it was impossible to effect a conservation
repair, and a decision was therefore taken to construct a new roof to
a design by Fraser Brown, an architect from Inskip & Jenkins, in consultation
with Tankerdale. It had been intended to retain the gablets, which were
believed to be original. However, close examination revealed that they
were of questionable date and in poor condition, so exact replicas were
created and installed. The new roof, which was framed in oak and clad
externally and under the eaves with treated tongued and grooved softwood,
was constructed in Tankerdale’s workshop and then transported in sections
for re-assembly on site. Fraser Brown also designed a new elm floor, which
was made and fitted by Joe Shingfield of the National Trust’s Park Farm
Workshops in its Thames and Chilterns Region.
The painted surfaces
proved to be an interesting challenge as the existing paint layers on
the exterior were in poor condition and on two sides were either partially
or wholly missing. Paint analysis and x-rays revealed a history of paint
loss and re-decoration, with the existing scheme being a complete alteration
of the decorative design. Cleaning tests indicated that the two 20th century
restorations could be removed to reveal the underlying 19th century decorative
scheme which was relatively intact. Analysis of the interior indicated
that the existing scheme was early 19th century so the decision was taken
to remove the restorations on the exterior so that the house would present
a decorative scheme of the 19th century on the interior and exterior.
On the two sides of the house which suffered extensive paint loss, existing
paint was cleaned to reveal the 19th century decoration and total losses
were recreated based on photographs taken for Country Life in 1949. Although
the house had been restored in 1937, the restoration appeared to recreate
the 19th century scheme.
A number of synthetic
and traditional varnishes were tested for appearance and durability, and
after consolidation and cleaning, small losses were re-touched with dry
pigments in Paraloid B72, a synthetic resin. Recreations of the missing
sections were painted in traditional lead-based oil paint. The use of
lead paint as opposed to a modern synthetic paint was chosen on the basis
that its visual appearance and ageing characteristics would be more in
keeping with the original.
with any conservation/restoration programme, the protection and maintenance
of the structure must be considered. The primary concern for the Chinese
House is its exposure to the elements, owing to the inherent fragility
of its structure and decoration. To mitigate this, canvas sheeting is
suspended under the eaves from new hooks, attached to fixings in the ground.
Such sheeting provides a measure of protection against water and frost,
and echoes the canvas awnings with which the building was provided in
the 18th century. Moisture levels inside the building are controlled to
a degree by the provision of new ventilation between panel skins and within
the structure. The canvas used externally is also ventilated (2). A yearly inspection of the house is undertaken to record its condition
and where necessary to undertake minor conservation treatment.
between various departments of the National Trust and high standards of
conservation repair have ensured that this unique pavilion has been returned
to a stable condition reflecting its exotic appearance after numerous
journeys in its 266-year history. With appropriate maintenance it should
remain in the landscape at Stowe for the enjoyment of everyone for many
years to come.
MAORI MEETING HOUSE
National Trust has responsibility for another building that has travelled
even further during her lifetime: Hinemihi, a Maori meeting house, at
Clandon Park in Surrey.
Hinemihi o te Ao
Tawhito, which is the Maori name for this building (meaning Hinemihi
of the Old World), is referred to here in the third person as female because
the Maori people believe she has living qualities based on their ancestral
origins, and today the building retains both immense cultural significance
and historic importance owing to her rarity.
has received conservation/restoration work in the past, the Trust is again
starting to plan for a programme of conservation repairs to address mistakes
made in earlier restorations and to ensure her long term future. Again,
the importance of the cross-disciplinary approach will be key to the success
of this future project, which will involve input from the Property Manager,
the Building Team, and the Curatorial, Conservator and Archaeology Sections.
Consultation with the Maori community is crucial to ensure the cultural
significance of any work is fully appreciated, and involvement
by Maori artists and craftspeople will also be essential.
Maori Meeting House, Hinemihi o te Ao Tawhito and, below, a
detail of the gable decoration.The building originally had a roof
of wood shingles, not thatch.
was built in 1881 and stood in the village of Te Wairoa in New Zealand’s
central North Island, in a district of hot volcanic lakes. On 10th June
1886 Mount Tarawera erupted, destroying the village and killing 153 of
its inhabitants. Hinemihi was one of the few surviving buildings, and
had provided shelter to numerous people during the eruption. Te Wairoa
was abandoned and Hinemihi stood empty for six years. She was purchased
by the 4th Earl of Onslow, who was Governor of New Zealand from 1889 to
1892. Hinemihi was dismantled and shipped with instructions for reassembly
to England in 1892. Since that date she has stood within the grounds of
the Onslow’s seat, Clandon Park in Surrey, which became a National Trust
property in 1956. Hinemihi was presumably reassembled by Lord Onslow’s
estate labourers. At some point during dismantling and reassembling (Hinemihi
has stood at two sites at Clandon) the building was shortened and some
of the carved elements were reaffixed incorrectly.
In 1978 Hinemihi was
repaired by English craftsmen/builders and re-roofed with thatch which
turned out to be a misinterpretation of a contemporary photograph showing
her after the eruption covered with thick ash. Until then, whilst at Clandon
Park, Hinemihi always had a traditional reed roof, whereas in her original
position at Te Wairoa she had a wooden shingle roof, which Maori were
using at that period in imitation of new European style buildings
side wall of the porch and (below) a detail of one of the carved posts
Whilst Clandon Park
remained in the ownership of the Onslow family, Hinemihi was an important
reminder of the 4th Earl and his family’s links with New Zealand. Clearly,
in being removed from Te Wairoa, Hinemihi has lost her original cultural
purpose. However, during World War One she was cared for by recuperating
Maori New Zealand soldiers and over the past 15 years or so Hinemihi has
increasingly become a focus of Maori culture in the UK.
Hinemihi’s roof is
failing and there will be a discussion as to which material will be most
appropriate: traditional reed or totara wood shingles. The excellent photographic
and documentary records of Hinemihi means that the original form of the
roof can be accurately reconstructed.
have passed since the last major repair work on Hinemihi, and the English
climate has taken its toll. The insect-infested birch bark saplings that
form Hinemihi’s internal roof covering may need to be replaced or repaired.
The front of the building, which is the most decorative elevation, has
twin carved pilasters or ‘Amo’. These have been raised on concrete bases
to protect them from damp ground conditions. However, these plinths retain
their original grey colour, impacting on the visual amenity of the building,
especially in contrast to the painted red ochre of the pilasters. A proposal
to paint these in an appropriate colour so that they are visually toned
down may be put forward following further research and consultation.
There is a need to
protect the building from water ingress, insect, plant and animal damage.
One of the most notable defects, especially to the rear of Hinemihi, is
the decaying elm planking which is rotting from the ground up, some of
which is holed. The appearance of salts on the interior would suggest
that this is due to ground moisture. This has in turn caused the traditional
matting hung on the interior walls to discolour and deteriorate. In many
places this planking may need to be replaced with appropriate timbers.
A damp course was inserted in the 1970s but this no longer seems to be
wholly effective and the ground levels will need to be investigated. Boards
are also being affected by rusting nails, which are failing and causing
staining. Appropriate alternatives will also need to be investigated.
is unique not only to the National Trust, but also as the only Maori meeting
house in the United Kingdom, and one of the few to be found outside New
Zealand. Her huge significance makes it important that she is conserved
and restored to the highest possible standard, so that she may continue
to be enjoyed by visitors, and to fulfil her role in the ancestral traditions
of the Maori people.
- Alan Gallop, The
House With the Golden Eyes – Unlocking the Secrets of Hinemihi, the
Maori Meeting House from Te Wairoa (New Zealand) and Clandon Park (Surrey,
England), Running Horse Books, Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex, 1998
- The National Trust,
Clandon Park, West Clandon, Guildford, Surrey GU4 7RQ
- The National Trust, Stowe Landscape Gardens, Buckingham, Buckinghamshire
(1) G Jackson-Stops,
'Forgotten but not Lost', Country Life, 13th August
(2) Information from
Stowe: The Chinese House, Woodwork, Structural Condition Report and
Conservation Recommendations, January 1997, Tankerdale Limited (by kind
article is reproduced from The Building Conservation Directory, 2004
RORY CULLEN, Head of Buildings, the National Trust; TINA SITWELL, Paintings and Painted Surfaces Conservation Advisor, the National Trust; and NIKITA HOOPER, Administrator, Historic Properties, the National Trust.
The authors and the publisher wish to thank Tankerdale
Limited for providing technical information and for their kind permission to use
their images of the Chinese House.
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