July 2007: restoration starts at last!

The last few years have been like a very long tunnel, sometimes with only a very faint light at the end of it but we are finally there. And - on Monday 2 July the restoration contractor (Crispin and Borst) took possession of the Mansion.

What passers-by will see first is scaffolding going up all around the Mansion so that the contractor can gain access to the roof and the windows. After that there will be loads of noise from time to time, delivery vehicles trundling in and out and the odd crane lifting materials over the roof of the porte cochere. Most of the work will be going on inside the house.

It's hard to describe the extent of the works in words so I'll just give one example of how complex it will be. We are putting in a lift which will take you from the cellar to the top floor. The lift is going in roughly (but not exactly) where the western fire escape stair is now. Most of you will not be aware of this stair since it has never been a part of the public routes through the building. So we need to build a lift shaft where there is currently a stairwell. The floors are supported by the stairwell so they will need to be temporarily propped up from a solid base when we take out the stair structure.

What we then have to do is to excavate to about 3.5 metres below ground floor level a 3 metre square hole in which to build the lift shaft. Can you imagine about 30 cubic metres of soil being hand-dug out of ground that hasn't been touched for nearly 300 years? Once the main hole is dug, a secondary excavation continues to connect the lift shaft by a passage to the cellar. More soil! Naturally we will have archaeologists on standby in case we discover any pots, jewellery, tools, bits of bone or complete skeletons!

Of course it's all much more complicated than that but I hope you get an idea of how much fun it's all going to be!

The programme for the whole job is below.

  1. Demolitions finished by end August 2007
  2. Installation of lift by February 2008
  3. Beams in Morning Room and Surman bedroom removed by end September 2007
  4. Roof work complete by end January 2008
  5. Electrics and heating from January to April 2008
  6. Decorations March to May 2008
  7. Contract completed 16 June 2008
  8. Setting up of displays, room sets, furnishings, IT equipment, offices, etc., July to September 2008
  9. Mansion open Autumn 2008

The key date is the one in Item 7 (16 June 2008). We always thought that the job would take 15 to 18 months but Crispin and Borst reckon they can do it in 50 weeks. So we are having to bring forward our planned opening date from Easter 2009 to sometime before Christmas 2008.

I'll provide updates in each of the Newsletters that you'll get while the job is on site and more information will be available in the Notice Board near the cafeteria.

In the meantime, fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly - it never does, of course, but you never know!

Valentines Mansion Project Director, Nigel Burch