Fame at last!

This week our restoration project was featured on RTE’s Nationwide programme, it’s only available for the next 21 days so be sure to watch the video and find out more about what’s happening in the house.

The Mount Stewart segment starts at 8mins 10 secs.


An update and request from the joinery team

Hi folks!

I know I know it’s been too long! We have been very busy working hard restoring windows and protecting various items throughout the house.

Everything is in full swing with a team of plumbers, electricians, plasterers, H&J Martin’s joiners and the fabulous, totally brilliant, not to be outdone, National Trust Project joinery team! Am I biased?

At the moment we are involved in the restoration of the French doors and their surrounding architraves all along the south facing side of the house. These rooms from a historical point of view came into existence when the house was enlarged quite considerably by the 3rd marquis of Londonderry, to the wonderful house we see today. The rooms in question, being built to serve as the suite of rooms and bedroom used by Theresa the 3rd marquises wife where of high importance and quality. They are also the rooms in which King Edward VII stayed during his visit in 1903. Sometime later around the 1950’s after the estate office in Newtownards was closed the rooms became office space to serve as the new estate office.

We first removed the shutter doors to repair them as per the instructions by the architect. The shutter doors had been reduced in size sometime in the past probably in and around the 1920’s to accommodate an opening sash fitted in the left hand door (when standing in the room) to allow ventilation.

image 1 with arrow image 1a with arrow

The task was to add new timbers to increase the shutter length bringing them back to the original height they would have been in the 1850’s

Image 2

We also removed the French doors so we could service them for two reasons:

1. By removing the many layers of paint which had basically fixed them shut since dear knows when.

2. Remove the sash introduced in the 1920’s which also had been fixed shut and return the doors back to their original appearance.


We in the National Trust are not in the business of dumping the old for new, we instead protect and conserve where possible.

The ethos in which the joinery team, in fact the whole the conservation team operate under when restoring anything is best summed up by our project curator Frances Bailey when she said, ‘we do as much as is necessary but as little as possible.’

So when we got the French doors on the bench in our workshop I began surveying them. I noticed the sash we removed looked as if it was original. The reasons being:

  1. The glass in the sash was cylinder glass, that’s the old distorted wavy glass you see in old windows, while all the glass surrounding it was plate glass. This would indicate the sash was older as plate glass was not used in the 1850’s, the time in which the doors would have been constructed.
  2. The door construction suggested it had never been altered or taken apart. It matches exactly the same profile as all the other doors on that façade including the saloon doors which we know for definite were made in the 1850’s.

In short I had a pile of unanswered questions.

So was the door originally made with an opening sash meaning we did not need to remove it, rather restore it?

If the sash was not original, why did it have glass that placed it being made in the 1850’s?

What a quandary, it was all very bamboozling. So I put my inspector Clouseau hat on and started to use what little brains I have.

Mars must have come in line with Jupiter as the answers came!

In the fine detail when I removed the paint I could see on the glazing bar (which was original) a timber section was added to beef up its size to facilitate the addition of a sash. Also the species of timber used in the construction of the sash (probably Douglas fir) was different from the door which was pitch pine.

image 3 A new section introduced to facilitate the sash

A new section introduced to facilitate the sash

Image4 this photo is showing the glazing bar tenon

The glazing bar tenon

So the door was made in the 1850’s. Later, probably around the King’s visit a lot of the original cylinder and crown glass was removed and a new invention, ‘plate glass replaced morit. At that time the sash was introduced to allow ventilation, as the only way to allow ventilation previously was by opening the door.

Could the family have decided that the king deserved a better view of the gardens rather than look through distorted glass? Or did they remove the original glass just to show off by having plate glass, the new invention which was also very expensive?

We will never know, we can only assume, and that’s the charm Mount Stewart has for me!

Mortise & tenon joints

A joint which is used on all doors or at least should be is a mortise and tenon joint. I have included a few photos of Trevor showing James how to form the joint being used in adding the new sections to the shutter doors.

Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (1) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (2) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (3) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (4) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (5) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (6) New member of staff!

I would like to introduce to you our latest member of staff, Mr. Stephen King. Stephen joins us for a year as part of a CITB training scheme and is a very welcome extra pair of hands. Stephen has many years experience in the building trade and is hoping to learn new skills during this project.

Stephen King

Our new recruit, Stephen King

The upskilling of persons in the various trades employed during this project is seen as a vital part of this projects legacy. Our two apprentices will have such a start in their respective joinery lives and will no doubt be very employable wherever they may end up in years to come. I know speaking for myself the knowledge I have gained so far is priceless, Trevor I’m sure will agree.

We need your help, we need wood!

I also would like to take this opportunity to ask if anyone has or knows where we can get old reclaimed timber. One species in particular would be bog oak which we need for the inlays to doors, floors and furniture.

Any reclaimed pine I would be only too glad to receive and one can be assured it will be put to good use.

Examples of bog oak used in the house. (1)

An example of Bog Oak which is used in the house

Examples of bog oak used in the house. (2)

An example of Bog Oak which is used in the house

Examples of bog oak used in the house.

An example of Bog Oak which is used in the house

I have included a few photos on a loop showing the work being carried out to the shutter doors and one of the damage which is typical of what we are finding.

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The wood we have used is Quebec yellow or eastern white pine. It’s a very stable and easy to work with (just like myself!) It is either the same species of wood that was used originally or it’s very closely related.


The blog I should have posted ages ago!

Hi all!

Sorry for the delay in posting any blogs lately but we have just been so busy! Things are a bit mental here at the moment as H&J Martins have unleashed their work force and are marching onwards and upwards.

The project joinery team have started into the nitty-gritty joinery work which is very pleasant work and most rewarding.

The New Look Gallery

The central hall gallery has been the centre of attention for the past few weeks and if any of you have been in the house for a tour you will have seen a scaffold built in the central hall. This scaffold was built for a few reasons but the main reason being to strengthen the gallery which had been failing for some time and had been closed to the public for safety reasons.

The cause of the structural weakening was a very naive or very stupid plumber some time ago decided to notch the joists in order to run pipes through! Notching is fine and it’s done all the time, but these guys really did notching in style!

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Not only did they notch down half the depth of the joist but they did it close to the wall and as the gallery is cantilevered they could not have done it in a worse place. So our Structural Engineers were tasked to design a strengthening system and they came up trumps!

The decision was taken some time ago to remove the existing metal balustrade and restore the original timber spindles and handrails which would also assist the structural stability of the gallery.

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Richard Elphick our much loved Conservation Architect has had the time of his life drawing and redrawing plans needed for the required spindle. What made his life difficult was the fact that he only had a photo of the original balustrade which was taken some time in the 1950s. When the photo is enlarged the image gets distorted making Richards job near impossible to see fine details!

Callum has had the most interesting of times producing the spindle for the new look gallery. He was tasked to produce the mark 1 spindle, which was soon followed by mark 2 then mark 3 & 4! Now our Callum absolutely detests working a lathe, if you believe that you would also believe pigs can fly! Well nothing is further from the truth – he is very talented on a lathe as you have all seen in past blog posts.

So all was well in the workshop, the 4th spindle was finished and we all rejoiced! Richards’s superbly designed spindle and the dimensions he gave came together in one beautifully designed and crafted spindle.

Then out of nowhere Richard discovered a different photo of the gallery giving a clearer view and very soon a new revised drawing was issued. Callum on being told that another spindle had to be turned was totally distraught, virtually inconsolable! I didn’t know what to do! I thought long and hard on how I could motivate the lad, sought out all sorts of advice and finally after spending a lengthy time in deep contemplation……..the answer came to me, I bought him a bag of Maynard’s sports mix!

Callum on receipt of the bag whilst cramming his mouth with sweets, rose to the challenge and produced the best spindle I have ever seen! We all rejoiced this was it, mark 5 the final draft! Surely this was the final spindle, could we or anyone even dare to believe it was? Well….. NO!

If I could add here, Lady Rose blew us all away with her fantastic memory of the original gallery. On seeing the mark 5 spindle she agreed it was stunningly beautiful but it was not the same as the original. Richard lost yet more of the little hair he has left and with his reputation being on the line produced what we all hoped was the last drawing. I bribed Callum with yet more sweets and he commenced the ‘final’ mark 6 spindle.

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Other news

James our youngest apprentice is making steady progress learning new skills and I have included a few photos of him steadily working away.

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We removed a pair of doors in the Saloon which needed a lot of attention as they were badly warped, twisted and bent. Trevor has been fixing and patching one of the doors while I patch the other one.

I have included a few snaps of the work being carried out.

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Once again I apologise for the delay in the blogs, I will endeavour to try and keep posting as many as I can. If you read this and are about Mount Stewart and you spot us, as long as were are not operating machinery please come and see us in our workshop.


Suited and booted – Inspecting the drainage

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Joe Heaney, Building Surveyor for the project getting suited up to go down and inspect the drainage culvert that runs from the lake down through the property, under the courtyard and reception right through the gardens and under the main road and out into the lough!!

Excess water from the property should drain through this culvert down into the Lough but over time the culvert has collapsed in places causing the water to back up and flood the property and the gardens, especially during high tides. Part of the conservation project will be to identify the damaged areas and repair the drainage system to prevent future flooding.


Project Administrator

Carpet blocks

Hello again folks!

This time I thought I would show you what our youngest apprentice James has been getting up to. He has been progressing very well and has integrated into the team seamlessly.

He is just about a quarter of his way through his NVQ level 2 and is well on his way to completing it. At this stage I am trying to get him to master the use of hand tools and cement his ability to work off plans.

James, although only just 17 years old, has previous experience in the joinery field as his Father is a joiner and has always involved James in his work, helping out during holidays and instilling in him from a young age the desire to follow in his Fathers footsteps.

This task was to help James development in the use of portable power tools, in this case the jig saw.

What are these carpet blocks you might well ask? Well these little items fall into the package and protection side of things, not the restoration work that you have seen in previous blogs.

Mount Stewart has its fair share of carpets, all of which need to be stored at some stage during the restoration project. Some of these carpets are very much worn and fragile requiring much restoration by the conservation team. Some of the carpets are very precious having been brought back from family holidays many years ago.

We have been working closely with our conservator Fiona to establish what she required from us to properly move and store the carpets. The picture below shows how the carpet blocks are used and how the carpets are stored to preserve them while they are in waiting for conservation work to be carried out.

carpet blocks 001

The carpets are rolled with the pattern facing inwards to the pipe. The pipe which Fiona normally uses is 6” plastic drain pipe and is just brilliant for this job.

The pipe is cut 500mm longer than the carpet so that when the carpet is rolled the pipe sticks out 250mm past each end to allow the pipe to rest on the carpet blocks which are designed so they can be stacked on top of each other to minimise the amount of floor space used.

carpet blocks 002 carpet blocks 003

Now it was these handy wee things that James was tasked with. Trevor kindly showed him the ropes and left him to it. I have as usual included a few photos of James merrily working away. He did a good job and has proved he can work on his own with minimal supervision.

004 James cutting out the area for the end of the pipe to rest in. He is showing great attention to the line!

James cutting out the area for the end of the pipe to rest in. He is showing great attention to the line!

005 James has used the jig saw well and followed the line. Using a jig saw is not just as easy as you would think

James has used the jig saw well and followed the line. Using a jig saw is not just as easy as you would think.

006 Counter sinking the screw holes , very good James!

Counter sinking the screw holes , very good James!

007 With all the sections needed sitting in from of him James is starting to fix the posts to the sides. I do wish though he would have used a panasonic drill instead of that  makita!

With all the sections needed sitting in from of him James is starting to fix the posts to the sides. I do wish though he would have used a Panasonic drill instead of that Makita!

008 The holes have been drilled and ready for screws

The holes have been drilled and ready for screws.

009 James is now starting to assemble the various pieces and LOOK, a powerful and most wonderful Panasonic drill!

James is now starting to assemble the various pieces and LOOK, a powerful and most wonderful Panasonic drill!

010 Good action James, shame about the drill

Good action James, shame about the drill!

011 look at the concentration even with me pointing a camera at him! I would also just like to point out that it takes two Makita drills to try and beat a panasonic! OK OK its my drill!

Look at the concentration even with me pointing a camera at him! I would also just like to point out that it takes two Makita drills to try and beat a Panasonic! OK OK, it’s my drill!

012 Jenny our wonderful project admin pops in on her way home to keep us right!

Jenny our wonderful Project Administrator pops in on her way home to keep us right!

013 The finished article! well done young James!

The finished article! Well done young James!

014 They are stacked up here showing what they do

They are stacked up here showing what they do.

The Project Conservator has asked us to make some boxes to transport some metal ornaments over to specialist Conservators in England to have some restoration work carried out on them which I think would be another excellent job for James and of course I will keep you posted.

Bye for now!


Pantry drawers finished, Saloon windows begin…

Hello again!

Well we have been busy beavering away in the depths of Mount Stewart. Fixing, repairing and discovering yet more problems, problems which are not insurmountable but problems which are part of the job we are here to do.

So the final pantry drawer has been finished and is just off to the painters. As usual, Callum did his lathe work in producing another handle from the beech mentioned in one of the last blogs.

Trevor also worked his magic showing James our apprentice how to splice/scarf new sections of timber into old ones.

This as a skill is by no means a simple one and should not be despised. To match in timber, one has to pick suitable wood with matching grain and then secure it to the old timber by leaving little or no visible signs that it has been carried out.

In the pantry we have painted a drawer front which hides the grain, so the focus was on leaving no signs that a repair was made, making the job simpler.

This drawer was unusual and different to its mates in that the drawer had no dovetail joints. It was simply and crudely nailed together! Trevor removed the nails and reused them as you will see in one of the photos.


The finished product!


Trevor hits the nail on the head!


The original cast iron cut nails


James, wise in joinery skills you will be!


The pressures on!

Now, Callum has produced the goods once again. I gave Callum a small task but a complicated one.

The task was to make two work stools, not ordinary stools but proper strong sturdy stools to help us as we fix the window shutters in the Saloon.

The picture below is what was given to him (kindly lent by Trevor) to build the stools from, he did so using the scrap timber we had left over from previous jobs.

Callum and I had a brief discussion over what was required and just left him with the drawing to sort it out.


This picture shows various items for a work shop but it’s the stool on the top right corner which Callum made

The following pictures are of Callum cutting the legs and also the joints where the legs attach to the top. It is the joint where the leg meets the top is the most complicated.


Callum has figured out the angle of the cut needed


As you can see the cut is beveled two ways! Awkward or what!




Callum has it well in hand and fine tuning the shoulders which attaché to the top


The first leg has been produced; Callum is displaying the angle of the leg


Will it or wont it fit? And yes it does!



The finished article!



Callum proving the stools stability and strength, looking rather pleased with himself and so he should be!


The lad is just delighted!

This exercise has given Callum yet more skills, he also has the enjoyment of using something he built, believe me that is a nice feeling.

I will take a few snaps with us using the stools and show them to you later on.

Keep watching this space, this is where it’s all happening!