Gatehouse School War Memorial Conservation and Relocation

For the last few months Inspire Conservation have been conserving and repairing a timber WWI memorial in the new workshop for an independent school in east London.  The monument was salvaged from the church of St James the Less in the borough of Tower Hamlets in the second world war due to bomb damage and hastily fixed in the adjacent school building with nails and other DIY fixings.  The fixings were makeshift and the whole timber monument was subject to varnish and stain application.  The school appointed Inspire Conservation to remove the monument from the current location and restore it, later returning it to the new extension in a much more prominent position, the main foyer.

The timber monument is a little short of 4m tall and 2.5m wide with a carved timber projected canopy.  It was clear that there was a lot of painted decoration including the servicemen’s names and other military badges.  The monument was removed from the original location in the service corridor at the back of the building and located in the workshop.  It became clear that the decoration included gilded badge and other fine emblems which would be reinstated.  Unknown to the client the reverse of the monument was also highly decorated indicating that it could have been viewed from both sides originally or was reused timber from an earlier scheme.

Tests were conducted to ascertain the best method for removing the varnish and it was concluded that delicately scrapping it away from the surface with scalpel blades was satisfactory.  The method was painstakingly slow and meticulous but as the varnish was brittle it successfully detached from the painted decoration leaving it intact and not damaged.  The whole monument was treated as such and the gilding reinstated on the necessary areas.  Repairs were made to missing elements and holes filled, with retouching to disguise the repairs.

The monument was wrapped, protected and transported to the new extension on the school and fitted in the new position.  We used new fixings which were consistent with the original method and few others to reinforce it, which were hidden and can be reversed if necessary in the future (no nails this time).  It now has a new home where it can be enjoyed by the school and any other enthusiasts and visitors.  The conservators worked diligently to meet the deadline and the renewed life in the monument is a credit to all that worked on it.

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