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Thu 8 Aug 2019
Conserving the Chapel
Philippa Wood // Curator
Philippa Wood
A History of the Chapel - and the threats that face it
 The story of worship at Burton Constable is a long and complex tale full of defiance and secrecy. Today, the Chapel at the Hall faces very different threats!
The History of the Chapel
The family previously prayed in a remote room at the top of the south tower, at a time when Catholicism, following the Reformation, was not only illegal but also highly dangerous. Lady Margaret was arrested on several occasions for her obstinate refusal to conform to the new Anglican religion.

The room that we now know as a chapel, therefore, was not originally designed as such. When William Constable commissioned Thomas Atkinson to design it in 1774, it was intended as a billiard room. With its grand Ionic colonnade and apse, it would have been a very stately space for this leisurely pastime! By 1775 William appears to have changed his mind, and the new room appears on a floor plan as a Coffee Room instead.
Part of Atkinson's domed ceiling from above

As time passed restrictions on Catholic worship became less strict, but anti-Catholic feeling remained strong. As late as 1780, St Charles Borromeo in Hull was destroyed and Burton Constable fortified against a mob in the Gordon Riots. Nonetheless, a gradual process of Catholic Emancipation resulted in the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, passed by Parliament in 1829.

In celebration, the Chichester Constable family began creating a chapel in one of the key rooms of the house. An original plan to extend the North-West of the hall to form a purpose-built chapel was abandoned, and the old coffee room was repainted. It was a long process.

A new mullioned window was installed, re-using earlier stained glass that most probably came from the chapel at Tixall.


Artist Taylor Bulmer's striking paintwork inspired by the French ecclesiastical style was only finished in 1844. Latin inscriptions were painted round the walls and on the pillars, but as many vowels were omitted translation is quite difficult! For example, “Beati qui habitant in domo tuo domine in saecula saeculorum laudabaunt te” (Blessed are they who dwell in your house, for ever and ever they will praise you from Psalm 84: 4) becomes “Beati quihabitnt n dmo tu dne n scula sclrm ldbnt te”!

The Chapel at Risk

Unfortunately, the paint scheme in this beautiful room has suffered somewhat over the intervening years. Despite the Constable family organising a period of restoration in the 1970s, and the various periods of repair shown by areas of ‘patching’ on the walls, the situation had suddenly deteriotated over the past two months.

The housekeepers had noticed patches of paint in one of the alcoves flaking away. Dark drips also appeared on the paintwork, with their composition (and possible impacts) uncertain. Lincoln Conservation's specialists in the conservation of historical paint schemes, and urgent quotes were acquired. due to the urgency of the situation, it was decided to progress as quickly as possible.


Due to the expense, the Friends of Burton Constable (funded entirely by donations, memberships and events) kindly agreed to pay for the work to be carried out.

Conservation Begins

The kindness of the Friends in providing such quick access to funds meant that conservation work could begin within 10 weeks of the problem being noted.

The initial phase of the work saw Rhiannon Clarricoates of Lincoln Conservation set up a base in the chapel for a day of initial analysis and consolidation. Rhiannon was able to to determine that the drips of residue are likely to be size, a liquid sometimes applied to plaster to fill the pores of the fibers and seal the surface to make it less absorbent before it was painted. As this size was not solvent based it is soluble in water – to our relief, initial cleaning tests indicate that they will be removable.

Rhiannon has also been working to consolidate the scraps of paint, with ‘bridges’ of Japanese tissue placed across the flakes and painted with a methylcellulose adhesive solution to not only support the flakes and also to make them more supple. This not only provides a temporary facing to prevent any further paint losses, but also allows the newly supple flakes to be bent once more to fit the shape of the alcove and to be re-fixed to the wall surface.

The result of the initial consolidation work is not pretty, with the white tissue unavoidably very visible. However, it is extremely necessary, and well worth its temporary impact on the space! This temporary measure will hold the paint securely and safeguard this delicate interior, meaning that no more historical paintwork is lost.

The next phase in mid-September will see Rhiannon's colleague Ali join us on site to carry out further work using longer-term acrylic adhesives to further consolidate the surface across a wider area.

After this, the area will need to dry for 6 months before future action can be taken, and the potential for retouching the lost areas of paint can be assessed.

Temporary Facings to Prevent Further Loss
A Previous Area of Repair
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