Restoration Hall Exhibition

Opening in May 2016, a new exhibition with archive photographs dating back to 1907 tells the remarkable story of the restoration of the Hall, Gatehouse and Gardens from 1970-2011. The exhibition hopes to include the John Piper photographs taken at Upton Cressett in 1939, hopefully with some additional images should any be found to exist from the John Piper Archive at The Tate.

A second period of extensive restoration was carried out from 2008-2011 by the current owner William Cash, son of Sir Bill and Lady Cash. For a detailed account of this second period of restoration, see the notes below, along with the various articles in our press section from such publications as Historic House (the magazine of the Historic Houses Association,), Shropshire Magazine and House & Garden.

The ‘Restoration Hall’ exhibition will also feature original drawings and sketches by Adam Dant in preparation for his extensive mural works at Upton Cressett. There will be a video film interview with Adam Dant talking about his work at Upton Cressett and a section on the new gardens designed by celebrated Shropshire gardeners Dr Katherine Swift (author of The Morville Years) and Lindsay Bousfield.

Lindsay is now in charge of designing the new expanded neo-Elizabethan ‘Dragon Pool Gardens’ that will comprise of around two acres beneath the church that runs down to the old medieval fish ponds. This will lead into a new medieval woodland garden which will run along the stream that runs through the ancient wood.

These new gardens will be a stunning new attraction and will allow visitors to walk around the entire gardens and grounds in a circular nature trail. This new nature path will allow visitors to enjoy the Kitchen Garden, the Moat Walk, the Medieval Wood, The Rose Garden as well as the existing topiary gardens and Gatehouse Garden.

Restoration Hall: Upton Cressett

As part of the transition of Upton Cressett Hall to the next generation, a major three year restoration programme – including commissioning unique murals for two dining rooms and the main newel staircase by the celebrated artist Adam Dant – was begun in 2008. This required the entire property to be vacated and furniture and paintings put into storage. The main restoration work was completed in January 2011 although renovation continues today. Additional murals have been added by Adam Dant as well as Laura Cash overseeing a major expansion of the gardens.

Background

Lived in since 1970 as a family home by the Cash family, Upton Cressett is a fortified 15TH century moated manor house with an elaborate 1580 gatehouse and Norman church that is described by Simon Jenkins in The Best Thousand Houses of Britain as an ‘Elizabethan gem’.

As the hamlet of Upton Cressett has three Scheduled Ancient Monument and the Hall and Gatehouse are both Grade 1 listed (upgraded from Grade 2* in 2012) it was essential to work with sensitive and ingenious architectural experts. In 2007, Hawkes, Edwards and Cave, based in Stratford-Upon-Avon, specialists in historical conservation, were appointed as architects for the renovation project (former clients included Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire). Their brief: to preserve the architectural quality and original character of the house whilst also breathing new life into the building for a new generation.

During the very early stage of building work, fragments of fine and colourful 16th century wall paintings and friezes were uncovered around the upper floor of the Hall. These were examined and conserved behind plaster-boards. As a result of finding such extensive original mural work around the Hall, it was decided that the restoration project should include a major commission from an experienced artist and painting specialist to restore parts of the house to their former late Tudor glory.

The artist commissioned was Adam Dant, winner of the prestigious Jerwood Prize for drawing in 2002, whose work is held in the collections of Tate Britain, the V & A, MOMA in New York and the private collection of HRH Prince of Wales. In 2015, Adam Dant was appointed by the Government as the official General Election artist. The huge work – unveiled in the Speaker’s Apartment in September 2015 – will hang in the Parliamentary Art Collection.

The Hall was lived in for centuries by the Cressett family, influential and wealthy royalists (with a flair for ornate plasterwork and wall decoration) who were instrumental in negotiating the Hanoverian succession. Sir Francis Cressett had been Treasurer to Charles I. When Sir Bill Cash MP – father of the current owner – acquired the property, it had stood empty for some years and required substantial restoration before being opened to the public. The restoration – celebrating over 40 years of the Cash family living at the house – has corrected some architectural and building errors made in the 1970s, and made substantial architectural, decorative and landscaping improvements that have been long overdue.

In addition the house was completely re-wired with many original lime plastered (wattle and daub) walls and ceilings replaced using traditional lime and horsehair techniques. Central heating was installed for the first time in 500 years, and seven new bathrooms added, along with a new kitchen. This all required a team of highly skilled local workers so as not to damage the fabric of the house as well as considerable persistence in sourcing the right materials.

Entrance Gates and Gatehouse Courtyard

The new entrance gates by the gatehouse replaced an old pair of brick piers, hastily erected in the 1970s, that were not wide enough for any commercial transport to pass through without scraping the vehicle. The new brick piers are constructed from two and a half inch 17th century handmade red bricks, including intricate hand cut brickwork (modelled on West Stow Hall in Suffolk from a drawing in Nathaniel Lloyd’s History of English Brickwork) completed by a specialist local brick-worker who sourced the bricks from an estate in Nottinghamshire. The piers incorporate exactly the same diaper pattern as in the original 1580 gatehouse brickwork (almost identical to Sissinghurst). The pair of 18th century Portland stone sphere finials from a Scottish estate were bought at Christie’s. The wrought iron-work was all completed by a local blacksmith.

The new entrance allows visitors to enter the Hall through the original gatehouse archway, as they would in the 16th century. Another set of tall brick piers, with stone lion entrance finials and a pair of double wrought iron gates were installed off the new gatehouse driveway so that visitors can enter the gatehouse directly through a new ornamental medieval gravelled courtyard with a Tudor-style fountain. Previously there was no gatehouse entrance to the house. By the main archway entrance are a pair of decorative new oak newel posts carved in low relief with the Cressett sea-dragon by Ludlow based wood carver Andrew Pearson who has completed a series of major carving commissions for Wenlock Priory.

Great Hall Dining Room

This was a major part of the restoration project: commissioning Adam Dant to transform what was an old 1970s family kitchen with fitted cupboards and a Victorian brick tile floor back into a Tudor dining room with new mural work, a hand-painted ceiling and frieze work that restored the dining room’s original 16th century character.

All the windows were removed, including an ugly old Victorian wooden casement with plain glass which was replaced with a new mullion window with stone casement and leaded lights which made a significant architectural improvement to the room. The Portland stone was carefully chosen to match the original stone of the hall fireplace which was described by Simon Jenkins as ‘one of the largest I know, 13 foot across and appropriate to the hall of a medieval palace’. This involved scaffolding the house for three months as the old lintels were replaced and the stone casements fitted.

The old brick floor was dug up and replaced with oak flooring. The old 1970s painted white ceiling was stripped away and all the old medieval beams were revealed and rescued from under the modern plasterwork. Large parts of the wall were stripped back to the brick and restored with traditional lime plaster and horsehair using traditional techniques.

The design over the huge Hall fireplace extends these local foliage/ fruit designs to incorporate an intertwined pair of Tudor sea-dragons copied from a 16th century carving in low relief on a panelled bedroom frieze original to the house (see photo). This rare and striking Upton Cressett motif was repeated extensively throughout the restoration scheme by both Dant and other local craftsmen, including the wood carver Andrew Pearson.

The old white painted 1970s pine kitchen doors were also all removed. A joiner from Leominster was commissioned to make a pair of three and a half foot wide, hand-planed, double-beaded, oak plank nail doors for the dining room – and over a dozen more throughout the property.

During the restoration, the new owner also acquired at auction the 1677 portrait of Sir Francis Cressett attributed to William Wissing, original to the house. It now hangs in the dining room across from a Flemish tapestry and a portrait of Prince Rupert of the Rhine by Sir Peter Lely.

Great Stair Newel Staircase

The main newel staircase was also decorated by Adam Dant. As with Knole, which Dant visited specially to study, the paintings employ a Verdigris palette and symmetrical late Tudor style cartouches. Dant used hand-mixed casein paints to create an impressively classical yet innovative interpretation of the sort of work found at Knole and in the work of the 16th century Dutch artist Hans Vredman de Vries. The decorative cartouches are used to frame devices, inscriptions, and family history relating to Upton Cressett, such as the Upton Cressett sea-dragon motif and a stanza from Andrew Marvell’s country house poem, Upon Appleton House, composed in 1651.

Four handsome new hand-carved oak finials in the Upton Cressett sea-dragon motif were commissioned from Ludlow wood carver Andrew Pearson. These were joined to the four headless old staircase newel posts as the original finials were stolen at some point when the Hall was derelict.

Drawing Room and Salon

The plain glass mullion windows in the drawing room were all replaced with leaded panes made by a Ludlow glazer that matched the old leaded lights in the gatehouse. Each piece of the jigsaw-like rolled glass was hand soldered with lead using traditional techniques. A North European 16th century carved over-mantle was sourced to fit above the Tudor stone chimneypiece as the original was stolen when the house was unoccupied in the 1960s. To hide unsightly new pipe-work leading upstairs for the central heating, a new oak bookcase – made from old panelling – was built, looking as if it has stood there for centuries.

The Salon – formerly the old dining room – had a new, larger window added, greatly increasing the flow of light. The walls were all re-plastered in lime and a 17th century copy of a lost portrait of Charles II (c.1648) in exile in Holland by court painter Adriaen Hanneman (another copy is held by the National Portrait Gallery) was acquired for the room.

Great Chamber Bedroom

The old ‘chapel’ bedroom (as it was called by Pevsner), formerly the roof of the old great hall which was portioned in the 18th century, has been turned into a new library bedroom (known as the Great Chamber Bedroom) with a new Tester bed made from velvet from Rubelli of Venice.

The giant headboard has been covered with an Elizabethan hunting motif fabric designed by Melissa White who specializes in 16th century fabric designs. Above the dark oak bookcases built is a new mural by Adam Dant depicting the story of the Trojan War with Upton Cressett’s Hall, Gatehouse and Norma church woven into the narrative. The neo-Gothic wallpaper commissioned from Watts of Westminster. The old carpet was replaced with linen sisal flooring and an Aubusson rug.

Other important items of Cressett family furniture that were also acquired during the restoration include the Cressett Cradle, a fine 15th century carved oak cradle (from the Thursby Pelham furniture collection) carved in low-relief with the Cressett sea-dragon which now stands in the great chamber bedroom.

Study

The old house ‘office’, next to the drawing-room, which had 1970s carpet and an open and treacherous staircase and banister leading down to the cellars, was changed into a working study with a new trap-door to the cellars hidden under a rug and reclaimed 17th century floorboards. The walls are now covered in hand-blocked wallpaper from George Spencer, also used in the back hall.

Red Bedroom and corridor

The Red Bedroom (a guest bedroom) had the wooden window casements replaced with new stone casements. A new en suite bathroom was added that involved knocking through a wall to reveal a previously unknown chamber with a 16th century brick fireplace. Above the main fireplace in this bedroom, a carved oak over-mantle by wood carver Andrew Pearson was commissioned that exactly copied the Cressett sea-dragon design that was original to the panelled frieze in this bedroom. The bedroom corridor outside had all its original oak floorboards restored and a 52 foot long single flatweave runner ordered from Herefordshire rug-maker Roger Oates.

Rear Hall entrance and Rose Garden

Around the back of the house, the 1970s old rear entrance path – made from concrete slabs – was dug up and a new herring-bone red brick path and cobbled entrance area was built around a new pair of double wrought-iron gates and railings made by a local blacksmith. A new rose garden has been created based on a Tudor scheme found at Moseley Hall in Staffordshire. Several tons of ancient cobble stones were bought from a farm on the Welsh borders for this new cobbled landscaping, in keeping with the style of the medieval cobbled areas original to the house.

The Gatehouse

The turreted 1580 gatehouse –where Prince Rupert lodged during the Civil War and which has been compared to the Tower at Sissinghurst – was long in need of a major renovation. The most dramatic change was transforming a storage room on the ground floor – used for old tennis netting and croquet equipment – back into the gatehouse dining room. This required stripping out a nasty old broken Victorian iron fireplace and discovering the old 16th century brick fireplace behind, as well as digging up the floor – covered in 1970s lino – and replacing it with old oak boards. Beams in the ceiling were also uncovered.

Artist Adam Dant once again created a hand-painted ceiling in a Tudor checker and chevron scheme using motifs from the original plasterwork upstairs. A huge medieval cider press that had stood in the room for centuries was moved out into the archway where it now stands as an attractive feature under a new entrance lantern made by a local blacksmith based on a Tudor design. A north European refectory table was acquired for the new dining room.

The first floor corridor was found to have rotten floorboards under the 1970s carpet so these were replaced with 17th century oak boards, originally from Compton Verney. The same restoration was given to the floors of the sitting room and Thatcher suite on the first floor where pine boards had been used to replace rotten boards. Reclaimed oak panelling was also added to the Thatcher bedroom and essential work was carried out on the rare 16th century ornate plasterwork, which had cracked in places, restoring all the ornamental plasterwork to fine condition. New bathrooms with underfloor heating and a new boiler were added on both floors in each of the two polygonal turrets.

On the top floor, the large beamed room known as the Prince Rupert Bedroom was given a new floor and totally renovated, (unused for a long time), with many old beams either taken out or replaced to create a better sense of space. The exposed brick walls on the bedroom side were plaster-boarded and wallpapered in a Brunschwig and Fils design. A large cast iron bath with clawed feet was installed on an oak plinth built under one of the mullion windows. All the old cement based modern plasterwork that had been incorrectly used in the 1970s restoration was chiselled out and replaced with traditional lime plaster.

A new ground-floor kitchen was also installed with all the walls and ceilings being stripped back to the original brick and lime plastered again as the modern plastering that had been put in the 1970s had caused the walls to become damp and was threatening the fabric of the building.

The gatehouse garden was completely re-landscaped with a new formal gravel path entrance scheme devised around a fountain. Visitors to the Hall now enter through the gatehouse archway as they did in 1580 when Richard Cressett built the building.