Restoration of Historic Panelling

Sawston Hall

The ongoing restoration programme includes treating timbers to stop insect damage and the repair and replacement of water damaged panels in the Long Gallery, Great Hall, and East Stairs. The team has also been working on the structural repair of the C19th Jacobean style formal staircases and the reinstatement of the Queen Anne Room.


A Brief History

Burned to the ground in 1553, this late-medieval manor house was extensively rebuilt by Sir John Huddleson between 1557 – 1584. It is one of only a few Elizabethan houses built of stone.

Notable features are the wood-panelled Long Gallery and Great Hall, as well as priest holes built by the renowned Catholic carpenter and English Saint, Nicholas Owen. The staterooms of Mary Tudor, a close friend of the original family, are also highly regarded.

Restoration Programme

The restoration programme, which started in 2014 and has now covered a number of important areas, is split into 3 phases over 5 years.

Working with architectural consultant Katie Thornburrow, whose relationship with the house dates back to 2006, the Goodbody & Co. project team has completed a series of works to help maintain and restore the original details.

The restoration of historic panelling is part of the second phase, which focuses on some of the principal reception rooms.


On purchasing the house in 2014, the present owners found that significant sections of the wooden panelling throughout the house had been very badly damaged by years of water penetration, and was in desperate need of restoration.

Panelling of this type was traditionally used to reduce drafts in old houses and is assembled from a series of horizontal oak rails and vertical 'stiles' held together at their joints by wood dowels.

The plain oak panels, which make up the bulk of the visible joinery are then inserted before being fixed at strategic points to the wall.

Sadly, over the centuries the technology developed to reduce uncomfortable drafts has also allowed moisture to become trapped in the void between panel and wall, and in areas of more extensive water ingress this has lead to very destructive rot and wood decay.

By carefully taking the screen apart piece-by-piece the joinery team were able to replicate the original Tudor details using a combination of reclaimed oak board and new English oak before reassembling the screen and French polishing it. The result is a close replica of the original that reveals the skill and ingenuity of the Tudor craftsmen.

The image above shows a portion of the new panelling - before it was French polished.

French Polishing

The French polisher was presented with two distinct challenges in restoring the panels at Sawston Hall. His first task was to carefully match the deep shades of four hundred year old Tudor panels. The second was to copy more recent Victorian panelling with its rich golden hues, in other parts of the house. The result is both striking and confusing - bright new oak deceptively melts into the surrounding woodwork without trace.

While there are several subtly different methods that experts use, the process involves building up layer after layer of thin shellac varnish with a soft pad to create a deep, smooth patina. The topcoat can then be burnished or treated with a traditional wax finish depending on the desired level of sheen.

The science behind it is precise: each application requires a certain degree of wetness, an exact amount of both oil and solvent and then several hours drying time between coats, all of which can adds days to small scale project.

For more on restoration, see the first edition of our newsletter, Sketchpad.

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