The restoration of the library bookcases at Rose Castle

The library at Rose Castle was installed in 1835 under the instruction of Bishop Percy. The Bishop made a variety of alterations to the castle during his tenure, including major renovations to the chapel, entrance and staircase.

Over the last 200 years, the library has been somewhat neglected – it’s covered in dirt and soot from the fireplace, the finish had also faded and perished. I was asked by the owners of Rose Castle to restore a small sample area of woodwork in the library to show how it could look again. Happily for me, they were impressed and I was commissioned to refurbish all of the library bookcases.

The work was fairly straightforward but time consuming. Rather than strip the bookcases, we decided to wash the woodwork with alcohol to keep the patina, character and age. Several repairs had to be made to the bookcases where the timber had come apart due to the weight of the antique books – this issue had also caused several of the cupboard doors to become jammed. We altered the cupboard doors to allow them to open freely again, as the hinges had moved over time.

Once we’d completely washed the oak bookcases back, we treated them to several coats of Shellac. We used a polisher’s mop, them smoothed them out with a polisher’s rubber and left them to dry over night. The following day we cut back and waxed the bookcases with a dark wax paste of my own recipe.

It took three weeks to complete the project but the difference was stunning. We’ve transformed a grubby, neglected library into a grand reading room fit for another 200 years.

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