Historic Totnes ceiling restored to its former glory
FIVE months of restoration work has seen a blackened and fire damaged 17th century ceiling in Totnes restored to its former glory.
The dramatic transformation at the former wealthy merchants house at 64 Fore Street has been brought about by the highly skilled fingers of conservator Rene Rice.
Rene has painstakingly restored the ornate ceiling, one of the most prized in the ancient borough, and returned it to pristine condition.
As one of the most ornate and historically important ceilings in the town it was a bitter blow when a fire just before Christmas 2009 destroyed the room it was in.
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South Hams District Council’s Senior Conservation Planning Officer Nils White was called in to help ensure the ceiling was restored to its original condition.
The first floor ceiling, decorated with the Town Arms, Prince of Wales Feathers and the initials CP was put up with money provided by public subscription following a visit by Charles, Prince of Wales in 1625 the year he became king. Large parts were destroyed in the fire.
It had an earth/clay base coat applied to oak laths and a stronger lime base coat over the top. Specialists examining the layers discovered it had been blacked, it is believed in the 1990 fire that destroyed the nearby East Gate Arch.
Rene, who lives in Radstock, Somerset, and trained at Weymouth College, was involved in the restoration of the rococo ceiling, again destroyed by fire, at one of England’s finest mansions Prior Park in Avon. Subsequent to this he produced a new hand modelled stucco ceiling for the National Trust in Sir Francis Drake’s Chamber at Buckland Abbey, Devon. This won an Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors conservation award.
He said: “The Totnes ceiling was very badly smoke damaged and four fifths remained intact and a fifth needed to be remade.
"Some sections I had to cast, some I had to template and some I had to model by hand and sculpture in situ.
"It was quite a difficult job – but I did have photographs to work from and salvaged pieces to provide a pattern guide.”
Nils White, who provided advice on the restoration, said: “It was a bit of an anxious time making sure this important and sensitive historic structure was properly restored – both agreeing the right methods of repair in the first place and then keeping up the momentum to ensure the work got done. So it’s really gratifying to see this wonderful ceiling restored so beautifully, especially having seen the craftsmanship involved at first hand.”
Councillor John Carter, South Hams Executive Member for Planning, Economy and Community, said: “This once again shows the versatility of our planning team in protecting and restoring some of the gems that we have here in the South Hams.”