Work is now well under way to conserve original Victorian decorations as part of the Heritage Lottery-funded restoration of Delapre Abbey in Northampton.
A specialist team from Hirst Conservation has been hard at work for the past six weeks returning some of the highly significant painted interiors to their former glory.
Elizabeth Hirst said: “In addition to the finely painted portraiture and figurative work to ceilings there is a great variety of applied decoration.
“The sumptuous interiors comprise ornate painted finishes and plaster enrichments, marouflaged canvases, painted paper, gilding and early examples of Lincrusta and Anaglypta.
“Work commenced with an in-depth investigation to include architectural paint research to allow an understanding of the original intention, so the interiors can be appropriately restored and conserved.
“Many will be amazed to see the transformation as designs are represented, having been so long obscured by later overpaints.”
The work includes sensitive cleaning, repair of damaged plaster and enrichments, recreation of missing elements including 19th-century wall paper, gilding and wood graining. The work is expected to take about six months to complete.
It is concentrated within the abbey’s library, entrance saloon, drawing room, dining room and billiard room, all across the building’s south range. The latter will soon be reconnected with the complex by a new conservatory.
The abbey started its life as a Cluniac nunnery in the twelfth century and has since been added to by successive generations. But its history extends back even further, with Roman artefacts being discovered earlier this year.
Once brought back into use, as well as becoming the UK’s latest heritage tourist attraction, it will be available to hire for weddings and conferences.
The first tranche of work, being carried out by Woodhead Heritage, started a year ago and is expected to be completed later this year. Delapre Abbey Preservation Trust (DAPT) will then continue raising funds for future phases.
DAPT operations director, Rachael Boyd, said: “These beautiful and ornate rooms will be at the heart of our new exhibitions and displays as we share the stories of 900 years of human history.
“The newly restored interiors will also be the backdrop to some very special and precious moments as we’ll also be offering people the chance to get married here at Delapre Abbey.”
The £6.3 million project will see the Grade II* listed site transformed from a derelict building into a nationally-significant tourist attraction.
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has pledged £3.65 million for the project, which will be rounded up by Northampton Borough Council and other sources.
Councillor Tim Hadland, the council’s cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and planning, said: “We’ve always known these paintings were beautiful, but we’re only now getting a sense of just how stunning they are.
“The detail is exceptional, the individual figures almost seem to stand out from the ceiling. We really can’t wait to open this to the public, so everyone has a chance to enjoy them.”