What was needed
The Adam rooms are the only major commission of his to survive in Ireland and the interiors hold a unique place in Ireland’s architectural history. Headfort is important also in that a valuable archive of drawings, correspondence and photographs survive. A set of the Adam drawings is housed in the Mellon collection in the US and other drawings are with the Sir John Soane museum in London. The remarkable archive is of great importance to architectural historians and being twinned with existing historic fabric is even more unique.
When it comes to investigating the work of an architect as well-researched as Robert Adam it is unusual for the results to be as exciting as those uncovered at Headfort. We revealed a decorative scheme of highly unusual detail and colour variation – unlike that seen in any of Adam’s other works – beneath the cheerful debris of a busy boarding school.
The results have stunned the heritage community, leading Eileen Harris, author of ‘The Genius of Robert Adam’ to describe the scheme as ‘unique, extremely interesting and very exciting’.
The six principal rooms at Headfort – the Stairhall, Eating Parlour, Saloon, Library, Chinese Room and Entrance Hall, make up the only suite of rooms by Robert Adam to survive in Ireland. However, long-term deferred maintenance due to lack of funds had caused problems. Severe water infiltration from leaky roofs and defective internal drainage had adversely affected the structure, and put the undocumented interiors at risk.
Investigating the colour scheme
The first priority for WMF Britain was the consolidation of the building envelope. We carried out structural repairs to the main roof and parapet coping as well as repair or renewal of all cast iron rainwater pipes and guttering. Scaffolding was erected in the main stair hall so that a condition survey of damaged areas of plasterwork could be carried out as well as subsequent emergency repairs. Thankfully the condition of the fine Adam rooms was found to be surprisingly good given their age.
For the next stage of the project we engaged the specialist conservator, , to undertake what was expected to be a relatively routine investigation decorative scheme of the Adam rooms. Drawings from the 1770s still exist and illustrate the original designs for the rooms. (These are now in the Mellon Collection at Yale, USA, and formed part of a RIBA exhibition on Headfort in 1973). It was thought that Richard’s findings would reflect the scheme shown in these drawings, but this was not to be the case. Our initial findings have astounded us with a much greater degree of colour and variation being discovered than has been identified in any other Adam interior.
This culminated in one of the most exhaustive examinations of an interior decorative scheme ever undertaken and which revealed the extraordinary and wonderful scheme in green and white that has now been restored in the Stair Hall and Eating Parlour. Since it is accepted that Robert Adam never visited Ireland in person, research continues in to 18th century working practices. The findings of the analysis also challenge assumptions about the ‘typical’ nature of similar types of interiors, and so will likely influence future work elsewhere.
Enhanced public access
The restoration of the Eating Parlour was completed in partnership with the Irish Georgian Society in their celebratory 50th anniversary year. We congratulate them and all our partners on this project. It is planned that the completed rooms can now be used by The Headfort Trust to enhance public access, raise the profile of the house more generally and to provide much-needed income for the ongoing restoration works.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the WORLD MONUMENTS FUND Robert Wilson Challenge To Conserver Our Heritage, The Samuel H. Kress Foundation, The Paul Mellon Estate and The Leche Trust who generously supported WMF’s work at Headfort.