All this recent weather has reminded us here at Attingham of some of the main reasons why we are undertaking the Through the Roof Project. With a roof that has leaked for almost two hundred years above some of the most precious items in our collection it can be understood why the weather can make us all a bit nervous.
When John Nash constructed the Picture Gallery here at Attingham he was useing cast-iron, a material that although it had been around for a long while, was relatively new in the context of building and especially domestic architecture. This bold use of a material in an exciting way was characteristically Nash who didn’t shy away from innovation in his projects. It was however a material he was using and perhaps not understanding completely. A similar scheme of Nash’s for lighting a room at Corsham Court in Wiltshire proved this. The ceiling of the room collapsed soon after completion and after reinstatement still caused problems, eventually being demolished by the family. Our roof is still here! But it has leaked and signs of water ingress are visible on the ceiling and walls.
The worry of the weather is not a new problem either as the account of John Lucas who lived at Attingham and worked in the Mansion as a house boy during the 1930s shows,
“With the outbreak of war 1939 all our lives changed, for myself I started my first job as House Boy to Attingham Hall, then under control of the administers [sic] for Edgbaston Girls College. Whenever there was a deep snow we had to prepare for removing this from the valleys of the picture gallery roof as the thaw would leak through the glazing”.
An attempt by the National trust to stop this water ingress was made in the 1970s. Gerald Noel, the National Trust agent, wrote to the warden of the Adult Education College, which rented part of the mansion, on 28th December 1973 saying,
Alan Miller [of Edmonds Gooding Miller & Appleby] has been asked to put a new outer roof to the Picture Gallery and the present outer skin will be removed.
I hope this new roof will be waterproof (!) [his exclamation mark] and it will enable us to keep the ceiling lights much cleaner.
I do not think he will need to gain access through the house at all but, of course, it will mean builders working outside as is now all too usual”.
This secondary roof above the Picture Gallery and the secondary glazing above the dome of the Nash stairs also have proved problematic with the cold weather and snow. In 2010 with all the cold weather snow built up on top of the secondary glazing. The heat of visitors in the Picture Gallery below caused condensation to form in the space between the two glass roofs. This then dripped down, through small holes in the ceiling and onto the floor below. Although this only happened on one day and in certain areas it shows how vulnerable the Nash roof would be if the 1970s roof stopped doing its job properly.
The survival of our Picture Gallery and cast-iron skylight here at Attingham makes it all the more special and by protecting the whole structure with a new secondary roof we can take the water away from the vulnerable fabric and protect it for years to come.