Hall Conservation were asked to restore two limestone figures decorating the St Mary School House on Church Street, Rotherhithe near the Thames in London.
The limestone figures were created in 1798 and show a boy and a girl each holding a book and dressed in Blue Coat uniforms.
The sculptures were found to be in generally good condition. There were a few minors loses on vulnerable areas like noses, fingers, and lapels probably due to weathering.
A detailed analysis of the painting layers showed that the statues had been painted at least twenty-four times. This meant on average they have been painted once every ten years since 1798. The accumulation of all the painting layers caused its own problems with cracking and also with its thickness hiding the details and delicacy of the original limestone carving.
Samples of the paint layers were taken from different places on the statues. The analysis showed that the sculptures were originally polychromed but not varnished. The analysis also showed us what colour they were originally painted.
The multiply paint layers were removed with a scalpel while working within an extraction system. Two coats of Primal were applied to all surfaces to create a barrier layer between the sculptures and the further polychrome layers. The figures were then carefully painted using the original palette as suggested by the analysis. In the 16th century, blue was the colour used for the uniforms of children attending charity schools because it was the cheapest dye available for clothing.
The sculptures were installed on their original placement, which was cleaned and painted. Both figures were given a more solid reinforced fixing.
After the figures were taken down we worked with St Peter’s School and London Bubble so that local school children and residents had the opportunity to see the two figures up close before they were restored. Likewise, when the blue coats returned residents had the chance to attend a free weekend event to see the figures and our restoration work.
On Thursday 24th March 2016 there was a grand parade from St Peter Hill’s school to St Mary School House to see the restored statues and welcome them back home.