Past projects and proud moments
A collection of some of my favourite restoration and conservation projects throughout my 30-year career.
St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney
I spent a year of my life in St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney, Australia. I worked on all aspects of restoration there and it’s one of those places that feels like it’s become a part of me, because my blood and sweat has woven its way into the fabric of the building.
Initially I was brought in to remove the wooden frames and ceramic memorials to past bishops. Then in typical Australian style I was asked, “Hey mate, what you like with ceramics?” And then later, “What you like at art conservation?”
In the end I worked on the painted ceiling, lifted all the Minton tiles (I became one of the first people to lift a Minton mosaic in the Southern Hemisphere), I discovered the lost paint decoration around the east transept window, and I was put in charge of rehanging the memorials.
One of the best parts of this project was discovering and saving the only remaining section of wall tiles. The client thought they had been lost forever but the small remaining section had been hidden for 60 years behind the reredos (an ornamental screen covering the wall at the back of the altar).
John Murray Publishing, London
One of my favourite jobs was restoring ‘The Room’ at John Murray Publishing, 50 Albemarle Street, Piccadilly, London.
While working for Hornsby Restorations in South Kensington, I restored all the furniture in ‘The Room’ and the adjoining office. I also restored the parquet floor.
Initially I was completely unaware of the historical importance of ‘The Room’ but I did wonder why the book shelves were full of first editions by the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Austen, Herman Melville, and Charles Darwin. Also in ‘The Room’ was a portrait of Lord Byron, a display cabinet containing the quills of Shelley and a waistcoat belonging to King George IV.
It was a bit of a surprise to be told by the caretaker that not only was it the room where Byron and John Murray II first met and became best friends, but also the possible birthplace of one of the most intense and important literary relationships ever known- that of Byron and Shelley.
The list of important authors who had spent time in ‘The Room’ is endless. Darwin’s Origin of the Species was edited here and the fireplace is where John Murray II, along with four others, tore apart and burned the handwritten memoirs of Byron, because they felt the scandalous details within might harm his reputation.
The building is not open to the public, so it was wonderful privilege to be able to work in such a special place.
Queen Victoria's Piano
Queen Victoria owned several pianos and I was asked to restore the Broadwood Rosewood piano which was bequeathed to Laura Annie Bishop when Victoria died.
The restoration was fairly straightforward – lots of veneers were missing which had to be replaced, I also washed back the woodwork and refinished the French polish.
The piano was made by Broadwood in 1845 and was rented out as a concert piano which was played by a variety famous pianists of the time. Around 1850, it was bought by Clara Schumann the virtuoso pianist and wife of Robert Schumann. It was later sold back to Broadwood and purchased by Queen Victoria.
It was a pleasure to sit at the keyboard wondering who had touched the keys before me. The guys who dropped it off and picked it up were the best piano shifters I’ve ever seen and they turned up in some interesting attire.
George Ryiard's cobblers bench
Sometimes, certain pieces make me drop everything. I have to work on them because they compel me to do so.
I found this bench when I was picking up items that had been removed from a shoe shop in Workington called Ryiards. The shop had been owned by a father and a son, both called George, that had been established since the 1870s.
I kept tripping over a broken table, so I asked the owner what it was and he told me it was an old cobblers bench from the shop. I bought it off him straight away.
I began work on restoring it the moment I arrived back at my workshop. The joints had to be re-pegged, the drawer fixed so it ran properly again and it was black with dirt, so I slowly washed away the grime to show the original finish and character. As I was cleaning it, I found a date – 1898 and the name of its maker – a J Richardson. I then sealed the timber, cut back and waxed it.
In the drawer, I found a load of cobblers tools rusted together as one. I left the congealed mass in a bucket of spirit over night. The next morning, I was able to clean them all up. Remarkably, all the tools were there – including a needle treader, a leather hand strap and strange antique tool for giving pills to sheep and pigs.
It was a wonderful vernacular item. I put it on sale in my shop and on my website alongside a description and everyone that saw it found it fascinating.
A month had gone by when I received a phone call asking about the provenance of the cobblers bench. I explained to the caller how I knew of its history. He responded by telling me he was the great grandson of George Ryiard.
He bought the bench without hesitation. I told him that it would come complete with all the tools I had found, including the antique sheep pill tool. He chuckled loudly and said that he’d discovered his great grandfather had done a couple of months in prison for poisoning sheep on the fells of Cumbria. The bench now sits in his hallway, alongside a photo of his grandfather and great grandfather.