Flood revealed hidden treasure

With intricately-painted Celtic knots, flowers and birds, it was the height of Victorian fashion.But by the 1930s tastes had changed and the ornate 19th-century ceiling in Blicking Hall's brown drawing room was covered and all but forgotten.

With intricately-painted Celtic knots, flowers and birds, it was the height of Victorian fashion.

But by the 1930s tastes had changed and the ornate 19th-century ceiling in Blicking Hall's brown drawing room was covered and all but forgotten.

Now, thanks to a leaky fire hose and a dash of mould, the ceiling is being restored to give visitors a flavour of what Blicking would have looked like during Victoria's reign.

The rediscovery of the 19th-century ceiling followed disastrous flooding at the hall in 2002 when water gushed into three rooms from a leaking fire hose in the attic.

During the conservation work that followed, extensive mould growth was found in the drawing room and the 1930s ceiling was removed for ventilation - revealing the older Arts and Crafts-style ceiling beneath.

But the discovery posed a tricky question.

Most Read

Which ceiling should be restored, the one commissioned by the 8th Marquis of Lothian in 1861, or the 1930s ceiling preferred by the 11th Marquis in the 1930s?

The decision went in the favour of the Arts and Crafts ceiling and now, after £25,000 of conservation work by Bristol firm Bush and Berry, it will soon be ready to go on show to the public.

Mike Sutherill, regional curator for the National Trust, said: “It is one of those things. You either love it or you hate it. Lord Lothian didn't like it, but it is part of the history of the house and it now seems appropriate to leave it exposed.

“We were aware it was there, but we had no idea of what condition it would be in or what it would be like.

“It was very exciting to see it all there together, its full wonders. It was more or less the same as when it had been originally painted.

“Although the repair work was not about restoring it, the work we had to do to make the ceiling stable has meant it has been enhanced.”

Covering nearly the entire ceiling space of the room with brightly coloured motifs, including birds, flowers and Celtic knot work, it gives some idea of the Victorian style of the room before Lord Lothian updated it to a more modern 1930s style.

Uniquely, the panels between the painted beams on the ceiling are strips of painted canvas glued to the ceiling.

The canvas panels, 52 in total, also suffered from being covered in plaster dust and have had to be carefully cleaned.

There was an additional cornice around the ceiling but Mr Sutherill thinks this was probably removed when the 1930s ceiling was put in.

Decorator and architect John Hungerford Pollen designed the ceiling between 1859 and 1861 when he was closely involved a number of decorative schemes at the hall.

He also experimented with the paints he used - sometimes going back to redecorate parts of the house where his own paintwork had faded quickly.

What will be done with the room in the long term has yet to be decided. One option could be to restore the rest of the room to match the ceiling. But for now, everything but the ceiling will be left as it was.

The house, which has been closed to the public over winter, will re-open on March 17. For more information call 01263 738030 or go to the website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk.