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PROJECT RESTORAT UK conservation specialist, DBR (London) Limited, returns the Palace of Westminster’s iconic 1


The Palace of Westminster was built during the Middle Ages as a royal residence to a number of famous – as well as infamous – monarchs. Over time, it became a meeting place for the first members of parliament, and the first official Parliament of England, or Model Parliament, conjugated there in 1295.


During the reign of King Henry VIII, a fire ravaged through the royal apartments, followed by an even greater fire three centuries later, which destroyed the rebuilt Houses of Parliament. Only a few notable rooms and structures survived, including Westminster Hall, Cloisters Court, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft and the Jewel Tower.


When it came to restoring the affected areas, only the very best would do. Celebrated architect, Charles Barry, who was known for his use of Italianate architecture, was selected to bring the landmark back to its former glory.


He chose the talented Gothic Revivalist, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, to focus on the decorative elements, including the iconic encaustic tiles, the name of which derives from the Greek word meaning ‘burnt in’, or in this specific context, ‘inlaid’. As an iconic feature of the building’s interiors, looking after the Palace’s tiling became a constant task, and they were continually laid and changed as they became worn or damaged.


In 2010, UK conservation specialist, DBR (London) Limited, was commissioned to carry out a whole panel replacement trial in a section of St Stephens Hall using a mixture of salvaged and new tiles provided by Craven Dunnill Jackfield.


After the trial’s success, the company’s talented stone masons continued the encaustic conservation project throughout the Palace from 2013 until the end of May this year, when restoration of the entire 1500 square-metre space, comprising a staggering 50,000 tiles, was finally completed.


LAYING THE GROUND FOR SUCCESS Introduced at the beginning of the 13th century from France, encaustic tiles became popular in abbeys and royal palaces.


As principal architect on the current Palace, Barry had suggested the floors of several halls, galleries and corridors within the building be composed of this prestigious material, embellished with spectacular heraldic symbols.


As a public building, heavy footfall, mechanical issues and bomb damages from the second world war inevitably caused major wear and tear to the flooring over the centuries, leading to the loss of colour and grip. To add yet another complication, Thomas Minton & Sons, the renowned ceramics company and official producer of the encaustic tiles, ceased its production in the 1960s. This meant any tiles manufactured for repairs after this date came from various sources, which couldn’t match the originals. Therefore, a more permanent solution was needed.


RISING FROM THE ASHES, STRAIGHT


TO THE CHALLENGE When DBR was commissioned by Strategic Estates to undertake this monumental project, its heritage experts realised just how extensive the replacement of tiles had been over the decades.


In the late 1970s and early 1980s, as well as trial areas laid in 1998 and 2004, the inconsistency in artwork quality, and reproduction of the original designs, disrupted the continuity of pattern across the floor.


Further, replacement tiles used in the latter half of the 20th century were around half the thickness of the Minton originals. The original 25mm tiles were laid in soft mortar and could accommodate movement without cracking, whereas the 20th century ones, at 13mm thick, were designed to be laid on a hard mortar bedding as a floor finish and, as such, were less robust.


20 | SPOTLIGHT


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