Recreating the Gothic Cross National Trust, Stowe

Stowe Landscape Garden is being carefully restored back to its 18th century glory by the National Trust. Many of the lost temples and monuments will be reinstated including the Gothic Cross which has recently been rebuilt by Cliveden Conservation.

The Gothic Cross was proving to be one of the more puzzling structures due to lack of historical evidence and structural remains. The three-tiered monument had been destroyed by a falling tree in the mid-20th century. Apart from fragments of the cross later discovered in undergrowth in the 1970s, a date on the base panel showing the piece was made in 1811 and a few illustrations, little else existed.

Specialist conservation skills were needed to rebuild the Gothic Cross using Coade Stone, a rare material only produced by three Artisan companies in the country. The National Trust appointed Cliveden Conservation because of their expertise in heritage masonry and success in recreating historic structures.

Working with the National Trust, Cliveden Conservation carried out extensive research and conducted a detailed survey of the remaining pieces of the cross. Fragments were scanned and inserted into 3D CAD drawings. By forensically using those fragments, together with one drawn reproduction, Cliveden Conservation managed to recreate the Gothic Cross as an image. The drawings enabled the team to remodel the plaster patterns to produce the moulds for new sections which were then fired in a kiln.

Cliveden Conservation enlisted the help of Jez Ainsworth Terracotta Ltd to produce the Coade Stone. The recipe was sourced from a book ‘Mrs Coade’s Stone’ but it needed modifying as failures, cracks and contamination became an issue. These problems were solved by numerous trials and testing of various material combinations and firings to result in a successful finished product.

All the components which ranged from large pieces to much smaller jewel-like details were then carefully transported to the site and built on the existing original excavated foundations. Assembling the Gothic Cross was an extremely difficult process which required dexterity and patience as the cast mould for the top vault consisted of 120 separate pieces alone. Each of the upper tiers took an average of a week to build but then further time was needed to point the joints and fix the bosses and finials.

Using a wide range of skills, technologies and disciplines, Cliveden Conservation successfully recreated the Gothic Cross from virtually nothing and mastered the Coade Stone recipe. The National Trust is one step further in their quest to reinstate the lost temples and monuments that once ‘dressed’ the gardens like pieces of a theatre set.

“Cliveden Conservation have done lots of fantastic work over the years restoring Stowe to its former glory, but when it came to the reinstatement of the Gothic Cross, we were amazed at the skills shown by the craftsmen. From vague drawings and rumour, the conservators have created a masterpiece in Coade Stone for our visitors to admire for generations to come,” said Stephanie Poyton, Marketing Assistant, National Trust Stowe.

Client: National Trust, Stowe

Main Contractor: Cliveden Conservation

Other Similar Projects: The Crystal Grotto, Painshill

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