The Building Conservation Directory 2024

142 THE BUILDING CONSERVATION DIRECTORY 2024 CATHEDRAL COMMUNICATIONS FULL RESTORATION All Saints Church, Fleet The Grade II* listed, 19th-century church was severely damaged by fire in 2015. The 1860s polychrome decoration by William Burges on the chancel arch and brickwork in the nave was altered and blackened by heat and soot. In the chancel, the painted decoration was more extensive, but had been covered in the 20th century by layers of limewash and modern paint. These covering layers were weakened by the fire and flaked away exposing the original decorative scheme. Burges is considered one of the significant Victorian architects and relatively few of his decorative schemes survive. As such, the painted schemes at All Saints Church are of particular arthistorical importance. However, they are not figurative and are easily reproducible architectural decorative finishes. Work to restore the church was led by conservation architects with input from Historic England, the Victorian Society, and Cliveden Conservation. The PCC and parishioners from All Saints were devastated at the damage to their church and participated in the decision-making process regarding design and planning of the restoration. There were also specific financial considerations: insurance would cover restoring the church to exactly the condition it was in before the fire but not, for example, for conserving the chancel’s decorative scheme to an acceptable state whereby it could be presented. Due to the many and diverse stakeholders, there were several requirements and opinions to be accommodated. This necessitated a combination of approaches to be followed. In view of ongoing loss to the painted scheme in the chancel – and in the absence of a timeline for re-roofing work, or decisions regarding presentation – work began here to protect the scheme with a covering layer that could be reversed but could also function as a ‘blank canvas’ for whatever finish was selected. Conservators planned the approach around the fundamental principle that the original decoration should be preserved so that it could be revealed and conserved or restored in the future. Conservation was carried out to stabilise the substrate and paint layers to prevent further loss of original materials. Documentation was undertaken using both photography and tracing of each decorative element. Finally, covering layers of Japanese tissue paper and cotton fabric were applied using reversible adhesive. In the end, the project team selected to leave the chancel with a plain, white limewash finish similar to its appearance prior to the fire. In the nave, a more restorative approach was followed in respect of the polychrome decoration. The original paint was analysed to aid the selection of paint type and colour for restoration. Remains of the original scheme were documented and stencils made to accurately recreate each decorative motif. Barrier layers of reversible adhesive were then applied above the original scheme, so that it could be recreated with its original, vibrant appearance. As this last example shows, more often than not a combination of approaches will be selected which will be guided by a range of criteria. Some of those criteria might be fundamental principles of conservation – to undertake reversible or ‘re-treatable’ interventions that do not prevent the painting from being revealed/conserved/ restored by future generations and to document thoroughly. These criteria speak to the issues of stewardship, responsibility to future generations and how to balance the need for public access to cultural heritage with the preservation imperative. Other criteria might be the equally fundamental questions of who owns or uses the space, and what are their needs? To what extent should conservation practices be influenced by cultural values and who gets to decide these values? These are particularly difficult issues which Cliveden Conservation’s decorative arts section endeavours to resolve on a case-by-case basis to deliver the most appropriate conservation intervention and establish best practices. Working to find solutions which satisfy the stakeholders, the paintings, and the particular parameters of a project is what keeps the work so diverse and interesting. POLLY WESTLAKE is Senior Conservator, Cliveden Conservation (https:// After her MA at the Courtauld in the conservation of wall paintings, she worked in Crete for seven years conserving excavated wall paintings. The fire-damaged interior of All Saints’ Church, Fleet: the 1860s polychrome decoration on the chancel arch and brickwork in the nave had been altered and blackened by heat and soot. Intended function of the space: unchanged Cultural and historical significance of the painting: moderate – high Condition of the painting: extremely unstable Requirements/wishes of owners and other stakeholders: strong desire to return the church to its appearance before the fire William Burges’s colourful decoration of the restored interior (Photo: Acanthus)