April 2008: still chaos - but I think I saw a painter the other day!

Throughout January and most of February the area around the Mansion reminded me of archive footage of battlefields during the Great War. All that was needed was duckboards and the faint smell of mustard gas to complete the picture. I escaped without trench foot but for a while it was touch and go.

At today's date (11 March 2008) this is roughly where we are:

  • Emerson Lodge has been demolished!.
  • The new boiler is now connected to the distribution pipework, tanks and control panels and the basement is full of big, gleaming copper pipes hanging below the ceiling.Galleries
  • The main roof is now 98% complete. The Kitchen and Dairy Roof about 75% complete.
  • The dumb waiter has been installed.
  • The installation of electrical cables and heating pipes is about 80% complete.
  • The intrusive beams in the Morning Room and the Surman bedroom have gone and the floors have been reinstated.
  • The pointing to the exterior brickwork is about 90% complete.
  • Paint stripping to panels, windows, shutters, etc is about 60% complete and the 2nd and 1st floor windows are being undercoated prior to putting them back into the sash boxes.
  • Plastering to the 2nd floor is 75% complete.
  • The new toilets in the Quadrant areas have been built and the roof structure is now waiting for its lead coverings.
  • The car park is 60% complete.

Archaeology

Not much else of note has turned up except evidence of a door opening between the Drawing Room on the 1st floor and the Servants' corridor. The floor plan of 1848 shows a double flight stair rising from the ground to the first floor and this could have come up just in front of where this door opening might have been. This would have predated the single flight Servants' stair that we are reinstating. Obviously much of this, like most of the archaeological evidence, is speculative.

The roof

The main roof is now virtually finished and all that remains is completing the leadwork and putting lead on the new housing for the lift over-run. The roof overall looks fantastic and although few people will ever see it, it is great to know that we have proper slates and lead up there now instead of 'pretend' slates and asphalt.

The Boiler Room and Cellar

This was always going to be the main space for locating all the new services and although public access will be available it is impossible to disguise the presence of pipes and cables and the new electrical boards and computer panels. However, the vaults at the far end will be restored and painted (they already have new gates) and I'm sure the public will find these of interest. At least we're putting quarry tiles on the floor so the whole area will feel nicer. And, of course, access by lift will be possible too.

Structural work

The steel beams have finally gone and the floors to the 1st and 2nd floor rooms are now in place. The beams were cut out with a torch - everything was damped down and 2 firewatchers were on duty for 2 days. Work to make good the ceilings will start soon and once they are re-plastered no one will ever know that the beams were there.

Elsewhere, the first and second floor structures are being tied into the new lift shaft and enormous steel beams have been inserted to support the huge timber beams that hold up the floors. Once this is done, all the big structural work will be complete.

Dairy Wing ceiling

We have decided to remove the ceiling in the first part of the Dairy Wing to allow views of the old Orangery arches.

Services

Wiring for the power and lighting supply is almost finished. Computer data cabling is going in at the moment and the wiring for fire and intruder alarms is getting on for complete.

We have selected a simple antique brass wall and ceiling light from a North Essex supplier and these have now been ordered. They will come with glass shades. It would have been nice to wire up old gas or oil lamp fittings but cost was against us which is why we have gone for something simple, elegant and fairly unobtrusive.

Colours for the redecoration

We all know that the success of the whole project will be judged on the quality of the finished product and the most obvious element of this will be whether people like the colours we have painted the rooms.

You'd think that choosing colours would be pleasant but on this scale it has been an immense job. However - we are nearly there. Certain areas, which logically go together, will be grouped for colour. For example:

  • the Kitchen and all of the Dairy Wing
  • the Entrance Hall (with Vestibule), Servants Hall, and both ground and first floor of the main stair.

I am not going to publish a list of colours with this article. It would spoil the surprise. However, rest assured that we have gone for period authenticity and my natural inclination for a full palette of psychedelic colours has been kept well in check.

Money and time

We have now spent nearly all of the Contingency Sum (all with the agreement of the HLF Monitor, of course). Things will continue to be tight but I am certain that we will have enough money in the end to achieve everything we need to.

It is predicted at the moment that the contractor will complete about 8 weeks late. I always thought that a 50 week programme was too tight but there is a bit of slack built in to the programme so it should not affect what we now plan as the date when the Mansion will actually be open for business. This is now going to January 2009. I appreciate this is later than we wanted but a total of an 18 month close down is well worth it when you think of the result.

What's next?

The next three months will see:

  • external painting (1st floor upwards) finished
  • the temporary roof come off and the scaffolding come down
  • the Kitchen and Dairy roof complete
  • re-pointing finished
  • plastering (large areas and patching) complete
  • light switches, sockets, lights, radiators, etc being installed
  • internal decorations well underway
  • car Park finished and some of the planting in place.

And finally

Things continue to go pretty well and the quality of the work is good.

The Park scheme is getting on for finished - new signs, interpretation boards, seats, bins, etc are now installed in the 'greater' park. The Alcove Seat is nearly done and the Dovecote is getting on well. Planting is going into the Kitchen Garden and elsewhere in the Park. We have also now appointed a Valentines Park Manager, Simon Litt, to look after the formal gardens and he should start the job in April.

It is likely that our "Grand Opening" will now be in December. This gives us enough time should there be any further delay.

Valentines Mansion Project Director, Nigel Burch

Postscript

Friends of the Mansion will be saddened to hear that Jim Hetherington, the Council's Conservation expert, is leaving Redbridge and moving to Cornwall with his family. Jim has been an invaluable source of advice and guidance to me over the last nine years or so and it is no exaggeration to say that without him the prospect of getting the Mansion restored would have been a lot more distant. His common sense and pragmatic approach, together with his conservation expertise, have earned him the respect of all those who have had dealings with him. His affection for the Mansion and his attention to detail helped inform the design of the restoration scheme and it is a shame for him that he is leaving before the contract is finished. I will, of course, make sure he comes back to London for the opening events in December.

Jim's last day with the Council is 18 April and I am sure all the Friends who know him will join with me in wishing him well. He is a rare good fellow and I shall miss him.

Nigel Burch

I'd like to second all that Nigel has said and my own thanks to Jim for enabling me to understand so much more about the building. The Friends are also very grateful to Jim, not least for allowing us to include his work on our website.

Georgina Green