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Technical Case Study: The Large Library

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Two rooms

Realising the idea of returning Stowe’s Large Library to its original form was rather hard, since it was not originally one room but two when built in the middle of the eighteenth century. It was united, furnished, gilded and stocked as a library during the 1790s in anticipation of a visit from George III, whose fondness for books is today manifested at the heart of the British Library. But the king never arrived at Stowe, and the fortunes of the Temple-Grenville family waned in the coming decades, leaving the library without furniture, its great ceiling beneath layers of white emulsion paint, the plasterwork failing.

In 2008 a safety net spanned the library to enable its continuing function despite the ceiling’s unstable and falling plasterwork.

State Library. SE Wall and netted ceiling. Facing SE.JF 2009

Ceiling the deal

The ceiling’s paint was stripped in order to fully repair and replace the cracked and failed plasterwork, over which an oak trussed-roof was rebuilt to replace a leaking and sagging twentieth-century roof.

Elsewhere the floor was lifted and strengthened, including replacing a cracked beam, before new modern electric, lighting and heating systems were installed. The beautiful windows, doors and shelving were also restored.

DSC_0866 (Large)Paint analysis confirmed that the ceiling was extensively gilded in the 1790’s. Whilst the re-gilding process was time-consuming – utilising approximately 15,000 gold leaves – it has transformed the impression of the space.

The library is now open to public view.