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Thomas Hardy reredos lost for 100 years restored by Cliveden

25 January 2018

Cliveden Conservation's work would have made Thomas Hardy proud.

An altarpiece designed by the novelist Thomas Hardy for All Saints Church in Windsor and only rediscovered after nearly a century in 2016, has been restored by Cliveden Conservation.

Cliveden Conservation is one of the country’s leading specialists in the conservation of stonemasonry, terracotta, plaster, wall-paintings and the decorative arts.

The highly decorative altarpiece (or reredos) is made up of various types of stone and required a range of techniques and conservation materials to restore.

The reredos was designed by the novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, who trained as an architect and worked as a draughtsman in the 1860s, contributing to designs for a number of churches.

It was uncovered by chance when a torch was shone behind a panel during a search for the foundation stone of the church.

Thanks to donations from the Thomas Hardy Society, Prince Philip Trust, Louis Baylis Trust and the general public, a programme of works to reveal the altarpiece was undertaken.

Cliveden Conservation was contracted to clean and repair the forgotten treasure.

The Cliveden Conservation team began by removing years of dust that had settled down behind the wooden panels on the front. Using soft artistic brushes, the team carefully removed stubborn dirt. A latex poultice was applied and peeled away to lift dirt off.

“The application of a latex poultice gave very satisfactory results, especially in more decorative parts of the altarpiece such as the carved elements of the arches of niches,” says Kris Zykubek, ACR (Accredited Conservator Restorer), a Senior Conservator with Cliveden Conservation. “It peeled every speck of dirt away and prevented the risk of dirt penetrating into deeper areas of the porous stones such as Caen limestone used for the main body of the altar.”

All the marble, semi-precious stone gems and the symbols of the Four Evangelists carved into pink and white alabaster were painstakingly cleaned using a specially formulated solution together with small cotton swabs on bamboo skewers. Other works included cleaning the gilded cross behind the Holy Lamb and small repairs and pointing with plaster and appropriate mortars.

Small areas of damage caused by workers when the wooden panels were installed after WWI were retouched using acrylic paints. Finally, the team waxed and polished the alabaster and marble elements.

During the works, the Cliveden Conservation team made a discovery of their own – a brass crucifix decorated with semi-precious gems that has been dated back to 1902.

Its rightful position on the stone altar was apparent from the marks left on the stone. They perfectly matched the decorative legs of the crucifix and had clearly been caused by them.

Fr Ainsley Swift, Rector of Windsor, says: “The uncovering, cleaning and restoration of the Thomas Hardy Altarpiece (Reredos) at All Saints, Windsor, has transformed the whole building. A new and arresting focus at the altar has been created, which enhances the beauty of the church. And its compelling history, covered up for nearly 100 years, can now be seen again in all its original splendour. The cleaning and restoration work by Cliveden Conservation has been the crowning glory on an amazing historical and spiritual find.” 

The raredos was rededicated by the Bishop of Reading, the Rt Rev Andrew Proud, last year (26 November).

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