Corpus Christi College Chapel, Oxford

Cliveden Conservation was appointed by Kingerlee Ltd ( Principal contractor) and Gray Baynes + Shew (Architects) to carry out specialist conservation work to Corpus Christi College Chapel Oxford, as part of a major refurbishment project. The restoration of the Chapel (1512–17) has now been completed in time for the College’s 500th-anniversary celebrations.

Due to the historic nature of the building which is Grade I listed, specialist conservation skills were required for various parts of the major refurbishment project. Work included: plaster repairs, cleaning of all timber surfaces, bosses, polychrome and gilded ceiling ribs, repairs to the flooring; repairs to decorative timber screens and panels and repair to stone monuments.

Cliveden Conservation carried out initial trials which involved cleaning and condition surveys for each of the elements including the monuments, walls, woodwork, stained glass, stone floor tiles and over 40 beautifully decorative ceiling bosses. Because of these trials, Cliveden Conservation could produce a detailed report outlining all the specifications.

With its trusted network of the UK’s best sculptors and conservators, Cliveden Conservation was able to pull together a talented group of experts to work on the project including Alan Lamb and his team from Swam Farm Studio Ltd.

Starting from the top of the Chapel, Cliveden Conservation painstakingly cleaned the ceiling and the moulded ribs with beautiful bosses carved with foliage, instruments, and emblems. The team then worked their way downwards to clean and restore the historic wood panelling. Ornate features such as the carved screen, pediment and wooden cornice which runs around the chapel were all repaired and cleaned.

The previous repair works to the roof of the Chapel had resolved the problem of damp but work needed to be carried out to mend the damage. Cliveden carefully stripped all the paint from the walls and repaired the plaster work behind. The walls were then redecorated using a special breathable emulsion to help elevate any remaining damp.

The conservation team then turned their attention to the stonework such as the stone window surrounds and memorials. Work involved repointing open joints and carrying out mortar repairs where necessary. Lastly, the team repaired and replaced damaged marble floor tiles. The whole floor was then carefully cleaned and given a protective wax coating.

In addition to being contracted to carry out specialist conservation work to the Chapel, Cliveden Conservation was appointed by the college to clean and repair the Pelican Sundial situated in the main quad. This iconic symbol built in 1581, features 24 different dials with signs of the Zodiac, phases of the moon, and a gilded pelican sitting on an armillary sphere; a hollow framework of rings symbolising planets orbiting the earth. Cliveden Conservation re-gilded and cleaned the Pelican as well as repointing and touching in the lettering.

As well as being a fascinating project to work on the conservation team enjoyed the experience of being involved from start to finish; right from the initial trials through to the final waxing on the floor. The project enabled everyone involved to gain more understanding and feel for this special historic building in its repair. Cliveden Conservation is thrilled that the Chapel will be seen in all its splendour for the Colleges celebrations and for many years to come.

For Mr John Harrison, Bursar of Corpus Christ College Oxford, the project’s success was evident in the reactions of those entering the newly restored chapel.

“We re-dedicated the chapel with the Bishop of Oxford conducting the ceremony on precisely the date we intended, having delivered the project entirely to budget. It was a great delight to me as I sat in stalls that night, watching people just gazing at the roof and the beauty we had revealed,” says Mr Harrison.”

“The chapel was once again as our Founder had perhaps intended; a place of calm reflection, and of elegant beauty. For me, the appearance, contentment and delight of the those attending the service that evening stands as testament to the sensitivity and thoughtful execution of the entire project. There was a great sense of comfort with what had been achieved, and I was delighted to observe our Chaplain’s obvious pride in leading worship in both a context and style that befits our history and our purpose.”

Client: Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Architect: Gray Baynes + Shew Architects

Main Contractor: Kingerlee Ltd

Principal Conservation Contractor: Cliveden Conservation Workshop

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