Picture Gallery: Ten years to re-paint Holkham Hall’s windows

Ten years after it began, a long-running project to re-paint every single window frame at Holkham Hall is finally nearing completion.

It has been a monumental task of 'Forth Bridge' proportions – to repaint almost 400 windows at one of the nation's most prestigious stately homes.

So, as his painstaking ten-year endeavour nears completion, you'd think Maurice Bray would be looking forward to washing his brushes, putting his feet up and admiring his work.

But instead the 68-year-old is preparing to start all over again – as the first windows he started a decade ago are already due for a re-coat.

Mr Bray, who has worked at the Holkham Estate in north Norfolk for more than 50 years, has been painting and renovating the Earl of Leicester's famed Palladian mansion since 2001.

All the external windows have now been re-coated with the estate's own brand of environmentally-friendly linseed paint, and only the interior courtyard windows of the Grade I listed hall remain unpainted.

Mr Bray said he had lost count of the number of sashes which had been removed, repaired, scraped, oiled and re-painted during the seemingly-endless project.

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'They say there are as many windows in the hall itself as there are days in the year – but whether that's right I don't know,' he said.

'We have done the hall all the way around, and once we have finished we just go round again. It is very satisfying to know we have done it the first time and the next time it should be much easier, as it just needs a coat of paint.'

The project could take another 12-18 months to finally complete, and Mr Bray said he was not certain he would see it through before retiring.

'I am not sure whether I will go another year and a half, but I have seen the outside of the hall done so that's fine,' he said. 'I feel fit and well at the moment, but I suppose I shall have to stop some time.'

Mr Bray said the biggest challenge was removing the large upper-floor windows using a scaffold tower, before each pair of sashes were taken to his workshop in the bowels of the hall.

Working with his colleague Adam Lovick, it would take three weeks to remove and re-paint a medium-sized window – first with a coat of linseed oil, then with three coats of Holkham Linseed Paint, which is made in Sweden from pure linseed oil and natural pigments.

External surfaces have been painted with a 'Sea Mist' shade, complementing the pale stone architecture of the building, while the insides are coated with a linseed wax.

'The paint lasts up to 14 years, but after about 8-10 years it dusts over and you have to refresh it with another coat of linseed oil or paint,' said Mr Bray. 'But it is very long-lasting, so you save on re-painting costs.'

Mr Bray joined the estate in 1958 at the age of 15 as an apprentice joiner, working his way up to the position of foreman eight years later, which he continued doing until 1988 when he took over as clerk of works.

'My father was a tenant who worked on Holkham's land,' said Mr Bray. 'It was one of the main employers in 1958. I think there were about 30 on the buildings department alone, and they had their own sawmill.

'I think the biggest difference is mechanisation. A lot of things were dealt with hands-on, whereas now there's a lot of machines and mechanical tools. We used to have a brace and bit, whereas now we use a battery drill.

'I have enjoyed everything I have done. I have never wanted to work anywhere else. My wife loved her job at the pottery here too, before it closed. It is like a big family here.'

Mr Bray lives with his wife Jane in a cottage at Model Farm on the estate – where he is close a neighbour of Lord Leicester – and his son has carried on the family tradition by working on the estate's farm.