Work has started to restore Warkton’s hidden treasure, Montagu Monuments, thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of £318k towards the £489k project. The monuments are four outstanding marble memorial sculptures of international importance which draw visitors from all over the world. Two of the monuments were created by Roubiliac and are considered to be surpassed only by his monument to Lady Elizabeth Nightingale at Westminster Abbey.
St Edmund’s Parochial Church Council and the Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust are leading the project, and have appointed The Prince’s Regeneration Trust (PRT) as project manager to oversee the conservation work. PRT will also manage the delivery of an ambitious programme of activities to improve access and heritage interpretation, create a new learning and outreach programme, and engage the local community.
Restoration work has now begun, starting with the cleaning of the most recent monument, dedicated to Lady Elizabeth Montagu Duchess of Buccleuch.
Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of PRT, says, ‘These monuments are a hidden gem in the heart of Northamptonshire, but the marble has now reached a worrying state of deterioration. It is a huge relief that the HLF has provided the funding and that the work can now start. The setting of these sculptures, a medieval church in a quiet Northampton village, makes the experience of seeing them even more special and unique. It is our responsibility to make sure these internationally-important monuments receive the care and attention they deserve.’
Vanessa Harbar, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund East Midlands, welcomed the works: 'These four monumental statues are considered masterpieces of exceptional significance, spanning the Georgian era from 1749 to 1829. Two of them are designed by Louis Francois Roubiliac, widely considered the greatest sculptor in England in the 18th century. Problems with the monuments were first highlighted in the 1970s, it is great news that appropriate preservation work has now commenced. HLF is delighted to play our part in ensuring Northamptonshire can share these magnificent pieces of craftsmanship with future generations.’
Restoration professionals at Skillingtons have been commissioned to carry out the work.
Conservation Manager, Paul Wooles, says that so far the cleaning on the first monument, dedicated to Lady Elizabeth Montagu, is going well, ‘I cannot believe how well the figures are coming out with just one application of poultice. In 49 cases out of 50 you’d find you’re left with areas where you have more stubborn ingrained dirt. But that’s not the case here. It might be something to do with the quality of the marble, but even so, it’s very surprising. Maybe when we come to the other monuments we’ll become unstuck, but this has been very successful.’
The team will face its biggest challenge when working on the oldest monument (dating back to 1752), which is dedicated to Sir John, the second Duke of Montagu. The iron work which supports the marble is corroding, which means Skillingtons will have to dismantle the monument carefully, repair its structural core and then reassemble it like a complex jigsaw puzzle.
The work on the monuments is estimated to be completed in December 2014.