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The Conservation of Reigate Stone at Hampton Court Palace and HM Tower of London

Robin Sanderson and Keith Garner

Published in the Journal of Architectural Conservation, Volume 7, No3, November 2001

 

Abstract

This paper describes a research project into Reigate stone, which has been undertaken by Historic Royal Palaces over the last four years.  Reigate stone was used extensively at the Royal Palaces from the medieval period, and is famously non-durable. Reigate stone was replaced with more durable stones, such as Bath stone in the nineteenth century, but more recently there have been efforts at conservation. To date the HRP’s project has concentrated on gaining a more complete understanding of the nature of the stone, which is unique in the British Isles. The project has involved re-entering the abandoned underground quarries in East Surrey to take core samples, which have been analysed by various techniques. Results are incomplete at the present time (June 2001) but much useful new information about the stone has been gained. Some comparative treatment trials have gone ahead in recent months, in collaboration with US-based researchers. Further discussions with academics and practitioners are planned.

Journal of Architectural Conservation

Introduction

Reigate stone occurs in the Upper Greensand beds at the foot of the North Downs in East Surrey, between Brockham in the west and Godstone in east; a distance of some 18km. The stone was used as a building material mainly during the medieval period from just before the Conquest up to the time of the Tudors, being the closest available freestone to London. The stone was extracted from underground quarries and transported north to London, and beyond by river transport. Reigate stone was used extensively in the Royal Palaces and in many other medieval buildings of the Thames valley area from Windsor to Canterbury. It is a fine-grained, homogeneous freestone, near yellowish grey when dry, green grey when wet. It is well adapted to receiving finely detailed sculpting, and during the early medieval period was used in conjunction with Caen stone, imported from Normandy. Examples of fine carved work in Reigate stone still survive; for example the Annunciation Door in the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey.

Reigate stone is however highly susceptible to decay on exposure to the atmosphere, and in consequence has been the cause of much concern to custodians and conservators of those historic palaces, mansions and older parish churches in which it features. In 1713, Wren described the behavior of the stone: “That which is to be most lamented, is the unhappy Choice of Materials, the Stone is decayed four Inches deep, and falls of perpetually in great scales. ”

Availability

Copies of the Journal of Architectural Conservation, containing the full paper, can be obtained from:

Donhead Publishing Limited, Lower Coombe, Donhead St Mary, Shaftesbury, Dorset SP7 9LY. Telephone 01747 828422

www.donhead.com

e-mail: jac@donhead.com

 

e-mail: keithwgarner@btinternet.com

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