Meet the Berkshire conservation company that is helping to restore the Elizabeth Tower – the home of Big Ben

The Elizabeth Tower conservation project is due to complete next year

25 Oct 2021

The Elizabeth Tower conservation project is due to complete next year, with the time fast approaching when the world-famous chimes of Big Ben will be heard once more. Whilst much of the work has taken place in London, teams from across the UK have contributed to the restoration – including a company based near Maidenhead in Berkshire.

© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

 

Cliveden Conservation in Taplow, founded in 1982 for the preservation of National Trust buildings and collections, has used traditional craftsmanship and conservation skills to help restore one of the UK’s most iconic buildings to the splendour envisaged by its Victorian architects, Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin.

The award-winning company, which has been independent since 1990 and also has workshops in Bath, Somerset, and Houghton in Norfolk, has applied its expertise in stonework, gilding, plastering and other traditional techniques to aid the biggest ever restoration project on the Elizabeth Tower.

Using skills similar to the methods used when the bell tower was built in the 1850s as well as modern conservation techniques, a team of 27 craftsmen and women ranging from apprentices and new graduates to highly skilled conservators with decades of experience, have been working on the project for four years. With the project nearing completion, key members of the team will share some of their experiences in a free, online talk on 27 October.

Lewis Proudfoot, Managing Director, said:

Our work at Elizabeth Tower has been a wonderful experience for all of us – our investigative research into previous paint schemes gave us an insight into the history of this iconic building. Then came a challenging period throughout a bitter winter where our hardy team worked through snow, ice and high winds to remove more than 20 layers of hardened paint from the clockfaces and surrounding masonry. Stone which was previously black with paint was carefully cleaned to reveal its original beauty, allowing the exciting process of gilding and decorating to start. It’s been a privilege to work on this project, which has been delivered in a real spirit of collaboration by all involved.

 

It has been over 32 years since the last extensive works were carried out to maintain the clock and Elizabeth Tower. Essential conservation work is now underway to:

  • Repair problems identified with the Elizabeth Tower and the Great Clock, which cannot be rectified whilst the clock is in action. This includes deterioration to the masonry, leaks, erosion, and severe corrosion of the metalwork.
  • Conserve significant elements of the Tower, as designed by architects Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin. This includes returning the colour scheme back to the original design.
  • Repair and redecorate the interior, renew the building services and make improvements to health and safety and fire protection systems.
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

 

Alexandra Miller, Senior Projects Manager, said:

The cross-disciplinary skills of our team involved with this truly monumental restoration project has resulted in the breath-taking results we see today. Traditional conservation and decorative crafts have blended seamlessly with state-of-the-art technologies to ensure this ground-breaking project will serve as a paragon of what this generation can achieve.

The team’s work involved a careful excavation of each historical paint layer, through to the original carved stone. Working with archivists, architects and paint analysts, Cliveden Conservation helped to produce the most detailed account so far of the Elizabeth Tower’s decorative past.

Both Parliament and its teams from across the country are delighted to gradually unwrap the Tower over the coming months, returning the iconic landmark to its former glory – and ensuring the bells of Big Ben can be heard once more.  

For more information, visit Parliament’s website.

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