The Big House Reborn lands on TV this Monday!


The Big House Reborn follows the story of our £7.5 million restoration of Mount Stewart House and Gardens and starts this Monday 22 June at 8pm on UTV and UTV Ireland.

Produced by Evergreen Media and supported by the BAI Sound and Vision Fund, the series will run for six weeks and will consist of six half hour programmes.

We can’t wait to see the documentary and we’re looking forward to you all seeing the highs, lows and huge challenges that we faced during the project!

Take a look at the trailer below:


A quick update

Hi folks!

Just thought I would put together a short blog post. As I write this I am thinking it might be better if I keep them short and regular as the delay between posts might not be as long.

Well, this is a brief post to show some of the finer work we have been doing. Patrick and Callum have been working away on repairing the window sashes from Lady Londonderry’s sitting room. These are the windows which date from 1804 and they are in amazing condition. I hope I’m in as good a condition when I’m that age. Although if I am I would probably be as a man once said, ‘I don’t know where I will be then, but I sure won’t smell too good!’

Callum and Patrick have proved they are no dozers when it comes to fine joinery work, I have taught them well! Ha! They say, ‘You have taught us all you know and we still know nothing!’ Oh the cheek!

Anyway! Below are a few snaps and I will (after I stop being in a huff) write a few words of explanation! I can’t guarantee they will be flattering after that insult!

First up the work I did!

Would you guys be quiet! They’re laughing at me saying, ‘What can you show them? Sure you don’t do anything!’

Folks, what you are now about to read is how good managers deal with subordination; ‘Here guys, there’s a penny each, away and phone your friends!’

Folks, in my defence you don’t see me working as it is I who is behind the camera! Showing the world or whoever cares the work these guys do! Ungrateful lot!

Ok, here is the work I did, yes! Me! David! The boss! Yes that’s right you guys, the boss!  Ha! That shut them up!

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This section of the glazing bar had to be replaced as the window has a peculiarity in that the external face of the glazing bars is metal. The problem arose in that oak and any metal which has iron in it will react. The oak will turn black and if water is present the tannic acid will corrode the metal.


Patrick was tasked to replace the rotten meeting rail which you saw in a previous blog and it made sense that he was the best man to replace the section of glazing bar.

Now before Patrick could replace the section of glazing bar, I had to run a new section out on the spindle moulder. Any comments lads? No? That’s good! Anyhow, it was tricky one as I had to make a cutter which means matching the existing profile.

As I was the one machining, no photos could be taken, so you will have to trust me on this!

What I can show you, is Patrick fitting the piece of glazing bar.

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The next photos are the glazing bar fitted. Good job Patrick! See, I don’t hold grudges!

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Now for Callum’s job!

I would just like to point out that I trained Callum! Just pointing that out so in the future when he’s famous which he will be judging by all the attention he gets here I won’t be forgotten. I know what you’re all thinking, and no! I’m not one bit jealous!

These photos and film are of Callum and I making a Pitch Pine dowel. Now this is a secret method so don’t tell anyone!

Oh and sorry about my commentary, as you can appreciate this was extemporaneous so no script was available. I really need a manager, you know that!

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Callum needed to make a new section of a damaged meeting rail. This is tricky as the section he is replacing is bevelled and won’t be the easiest thing to secure as the timber section it is fixed to is not huge. But Callum is as good as any apprentice anywhere in the world, if not better! And was there any doubt in my mind he would not succeed? Don’t be daft! Absolutely not!

The section with masking tape and no, It’s not the method we use to fix timber; it’s just there to hold it in place until the next day or in case Oak stealing fairies are about. I don’t mind them stealing Oak, but if they even think of touching my Pitch Pine I will set traps!

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Trevor and James

James is dong great! He is making steady progress and is showing he can work on his own. He is gaining confidence in his ability and soon will be able to carry out more complicated tasks.

Currently he and Trevor are keeping Lauren happy with the packaging and protection side of things. The most famous painting we have and probably one of the finest paintings in the world, Hambletonian, will be moving soon and I will definitely be a bit greyer by the time he is shifted and safely stored. We have a running joke that if anyone damages the painting they immediately leave the building, drive to Belfast City Airport and buy tickets for Australia!

We have some banter with Lauren. We keep her going that she is never off our backs and we are glad when she is away so we get a break! But as I say we are only jesting! She’s a great girl and it’s a privilege to work with her. She had to adjust very quickly when getting here, as being English she was not tuned into our Ulster ways! Although Lauren did work with some Scottish lads before starting here and she says that that sort of trained her. So there ye go! The Scots are big softies compared to us!

But I still haven’t got that bag of Haribo Super Mix? Hint hint!

It was suggested to me that everyone has seen the team in various blogs and not much, if any, of me. So the photo below is of the finest example of an Ulster man you will ever see! Ha! Who am I kidding you all say, and you are exactly right!

I would also like to point out that when I started here I didn’t have stubble and I had no grey hairs! I’m telling you it’s the stress! One thing that has happen which could be described as good was losing weight, and that’s probably from running around after this lot!

Can I also point out the timbers behind and beside me are Irish Elm, Eastern White Pine, Pitch Pine, Irish Oak, Tulip Wood, Beech…. Oh boy I need to get out more!

photo of me 2

Bye folks, and keep reading the blog posts. I am aiming for this blog to be the most viewed in the National Trust!


My goodness! Too much work to report on, and no time in which to give it!

Well anyone who knows me will appreciate that I could relay a mountain of information very quickly as I possess the gift of the gab! As my typing skills cannot keep up with my mouth this will take a while longer!

So here goes:

We have been so busy of late with the commencement of phase three works. This means that all the contents of the rooms which fall into this phase need to be decanted. These rooms are mostly situated in the area of the house which is the oldest dating from 1804 and jam packed full of artefacts as those who come on tours will know.

Our role at this stage is packaging and protection, and boy Lauren, our new conservator has us on our toes! Just in case this sounds like a gripe, it’s not! Everyone knows Lauren is doing a tremendous job which I for one find amazing that she is able to organise so much stuff in such a short time in such a brilliant way.

Pitch pine stash!

I never was as glad to hear Joe Heaney our Senior Building Surveyor say that he had some timber at the Argory which had been there for some time and I should take a look at it to ascertain if it’s of any use. Well I did just that and when I clapped eyes on the timber a big smile came to my face when I seen this…

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I know I know, I am a sad individual getting all excited over a pile of wood but normally costing £30-60 pounds per cubic ft and this lot being all free you would be excited too!

Pitch pine simply put is the most beautiful wood I know! Yes there are other species which are stunning but pitch pine has that extra dimension that other species just don’t have. The reasons following are why I love it.

  1. Colour
  2. Density
  3. Longevity
  4. Stability
  5. Sizes available
  6. Workability

It is generally accepted that Oak is one of the most durable timber species on earth. Well I once repaired sash windows in a house which was built in 1764 and had an Oak sill with Pitch pine styles. Now here’s the thing, both species had rotted at the same rate! Both species had the same environment and the same number of coats of paint and yet the pitch pine was lasting every bit as long as Oak.

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A few photos of the joists being machined for the manufacture of a replacement window, I will keep a few photos of the window being assembled and when it’s being fitted.

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Patrick has been working away repairing a rotten meeting rail belonging to a curved sash window. Being curved it makes things that bit more complicated as the original window was made by hand which results in the curves not all being the same and not regular.

The piece of Oak Patrick is working with displays some amazing characteristics called medullary rays. This type of grain is only seen when the timber is cut in a particular way namely quarter sawn.

Stair access needed!

To anyone who is going to be at Mount Stewart any time soon they will see a funny shaped structure attached to the house on the east side. This is a stair case built to provide access to and from the phase three rooms as the contractors access is at the other end of the house.

I should point out that these stairs were built by H&J Martin’s joiners and they did a cracking job.

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One of the many tasks Lauren so graciously gives us!

The carpets which dwelt until recently in the phase three rooms have all been lifted and shifted!

As many of you know Carpets can be very heavy so we employed the use of a buggy fixed together.

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Oh just one more!

The display cabinets in the central hall have some fine china on display.  Lauren asked us to build a few shelves in the cabinets so she could store more china. Lauren has the problem of loads of stuff to store and no where to store it! It’s hard to believe that this house being so big has no storage. It truly is amazing to watch her organise and fit things into seemingly impossible places!

All this praise is bound to warrant a big bag of Haribo Super Mix?

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Window Repairs

The windows which we removed from Lady Londonderry’s sitting room have proved to be rather challenging in that they are curved and have some rather unusual sections of rot.

The area of a window which usually rots is along the bottom where it is in contact with the stone sill, but in this case it was along the inside and top of the bottom rail. This was due to the presence of sap wood which is not as durable as hard wood.

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The repairs of the above mentioned windows can be very tedious as the rot needs to be completely removed. The timber used to repair the rotten sections needs to be carefully selected. Also an adequate size of timber needs to be removed as a small section of repair will move with the seasons and cause the paint to crack thus allowing water in to the joint.

This is a window repair in another property

This is a window repair in another property

A brief explanation about this repair

You will notice that the area which is to be repaired has been painted grey. This is aluminium wood primer and is the best paint to use to prime any timber which will be used externally.

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The reason to paint the area rather than glue it is as follows:

  1. Glue won’t hold the timber securely as water from condensation can get between the glass and the timber on the inside.
  2. Painting the bare timber will ensure that if water does get behind or anywhere around the new section the timber can’t suck up the moisture.
  3. Having bedded the new timber section with linseed putty which acts as a gasket not a glue to prohibit water ingress, the paint stops the timber from sucking the linseed oil from the putty which in turn would dry it out.

You will also notice that I have used oak dowels to secure the new section in place. Why did I not use screws or nails?

Well, the reasons are:

  1. The timber is oak and full of tannic acid which destroys any steel fixings, brass is too soft to provide any pressure, and stainless steel nails and screws are very soft too. This means if the timber wanted to move the fixings could “let go” over the long term.
  2. A dowel such as I used is not going to react with itself. And the wedges used at the ends spread the dowels providing a mechanism in which to hold the section securely.
  3. The dowel joint such as I used is very strong and was the method the original builders of these windows used to secure mortise & tennon joints.

Also in the photos you will notice that I rebated or put a step in the area left. This was to provide a means to stop any chance of water penetrating under the new section and making its way around the back of it. It’s basically to cover all possibilities.

That it for now folks, I will try and get out more blog posts on a regular basis.