The contractors who will be working on the Through the Roof Project for the next 46 weeks or so have arrived on site. They have begun the preparations for the project which will see a glazed secondary roof inserted into the heart of the Mansion to protect the leaking John Nash cast iron roof over the Picture Gallery. Their storage compounds are being set up (luckily the sun is out for them) and they will begin to move materials into selected areas of the Mansion from tomorrow. This will be a small feat in itself, as acess to the site where they will be working is limited – we can show you next week how they are going to do it !
Activity has really begun as preparations continue, ready for the project to go ahead. The presence of builders, surveyors and architects around the Mansion can make us think of how Attingham would have been when the Picture Gallery was originally built 1805-07 for Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick. We can imagine it would have been a busy place with workmen and materials everywhere, all working to get the ambitious project finished within two years.
We are lucky that our archives hold many of the details of the men who actually constructed the Picture Gallery. We even have two lists of the names of the “country Gallery Bills” and amounts paid which tell us the local craftsmen who worked on the project.
We know from these bills that John Simpson of Shrewsbury and his team were responsible for the brickwork and construction of the Gallery. They would have also been involved in taking down the exising Grand Staircase behind the current Entrance Hall which once stood where the Picture Gallery now is. One bill dated 6th April-18th May 1805 includes
6th April 1805: “At Attingham Hall Taking down Parapatt Walls, Taking down Stair Case, Cutting out Banisters &cea”
From other bills and accounts we can know for example that from 5th April 1806 to 16th August 1806 John Simpson charged a total of £48.12.6½ mainly for his men’s lodging and labour and some bits of materials.
From the bill above we can see that John Birch charged £75-14s- 8d for the painting work done to the Picture Gallery “under the directions of Mr Nash”. This included,
“Inside of skylight to grand staircase. 2 Cts white”. 5/6.
“Painting Iron work to Ceilg in Picture Gallery. Labr & Materials”. 7/0.
“French Painters Bill for Colours for the Picture Gallery”. £2.8.6½.
Other documents of bills and recipts show us that carpentry work was provided by John Lee; plumbing work by Robert Hill; the glazing by John Betton; the smaller wrought iron components and related labour were provided by John Farnall and plastering by John Whitford. These documents are fascinating sources of information for us and a real insight into how the Picture Gallery was constructed and by whom!
In its day the construction of the Picture Gallery at Attingham would have been an ambitious project and not only because of its innovative use of cast iron to light the internal space. Nash intended to alter not only the Ground Floor through taking away the Mansion’s existing Grand Staircase and adding the Picture Gallery and his own Grand Stairs, but also structurally altering the First Floor rooms used by Lord and Lady Berwick. The bills also show that “extra works” were carried out throughout the project and extra costs were incurred, but with such a big project it could be expected.
We can keep this in mind as we start our own Through the Roof Project, as the contractors and craftspeople move on site and start work. Just as it would have been when the Picture Gallery was constructed from 1805, some areas around the Mansion may look different for a while but this will be an exciting time in the history of Attingham. We would like people to come and see what our contractors are up to, and how we are working to look after the Picture Gallery which was constructed by the builders and craftsmen of 200 years ago.