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Leighton House

Conservation of the mosaic floors at Leighton House

Conservator Jenny Granville discusses her treatment of the mosaic floors of the Arab Hall, Narcissus Hall and staircase hall. 

Mosaic floor detail from the staircase hall at Leighton House

As part of ongoing conservation works at Leighton House, Jenny Granville was recently commissioned to treat the mosaic floors which stretch across the Arab Hall, Narcissus Hall and staircase hall within the historic house.

Originally designed by Leighton House architect, George Aitchison, the floors were made by Burke & Co. of Newman Street, who were pioneers in the Victorian revival of mosaic production in Britain. Completed between the late 1870s and early 1880s, records indicate the creation of the mosaic floors cost Leighton an approximate total of £1,000.

Aitchison’s designs in contrasting black and white marble (and pink and grey marbles in the Narcissus Hall) were designed to be read in the context of each space as well as establishing continuity across the whole of the ground floor.

Watch our short video about the conservation of the mosaic floors and read the full interview below.

What techniques and materials were involved in the conservation cleaning of the mosaic floors?

The mosaic floors were first cleaned with melamine sponges (which have a light abrasive in them) and then rinsed with deionised water (demineralised water where most of the ions are removed).

Areas of damage where the tesserae (individual marble pieces) had become lose or detached had to be consolidated and the pieces then reattached with adhesive, and areas where the grouting had come away was replaced using a mixture of marble dust, brick dust and Portland cement. The floors were then given three coats of a reversable protective coating.

The fountain also needed treatment, due to a build-up of limescale from the hard London water. The limescale was removed using a scalpel and wet and dry paper.  

Conservationist Jenny Granville treating the mosaic floor in the Arab Hall

What would you say is the worst nightmare for a mosaic conservator?

A situation that can cause the most damage for a mosaic floor is where events and functions are held. This can cause different types of damage due to the wearing of high heels, any red wine that is spilt and also if cables are stuck down to the floor.

Conservation of the mosaic floors in the Arab Hall, Leighton House

Having spent so much time inspecting the floors, is there a motif that you particularly like?

I particularly like an area of the mosaic floor by the staircase. It’s a very fluid, classical design, and it’s a lovely contrast to some of the more intricate panels.

Mosaic floor detail from the staircase hall, Leighton House

The cleaning and repairs took approximately seven days, for one person, and is usually carried out every two years. Between these two years, the floors are very well monitored, so if there are any small areas of damage, I am notified and can come in to rectify those areas before it gets any worse.

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