Very soon after completing my work placement with Cliveden, I took up a second placement with The Mosaic Restoration Company. The company director, Gary Bricknell and I had been in touch for a few years. Gary had generously provided advice and passed on smaller jobs that weren’t viable for him and his team to travel for. This placement was to be a combination of time spent in the company workshop in Daventry, Northamptonshire and a week on site at the Old Admiralty Building in central London.
Unfortunately, my Mosaic & Marble Specialist CSCS card expired in the spring which meant quite a lot of hoop-jumping to acquire a replacement in keeping with the recent revisions of the CSCS system (yawn!). It took months to achieve this and was a thoroughly testing saga! There were also tests to pass specific to the building itself before I became adequately certified for working on the site. Once inducted for site safety on my first morning, I joined Gary, Pawel, Guy and Neil in the magnificent corridors of the elegant and nationally significant Grade II listed building to begin work.
The Old Admiralty Building is an elaborate labyrinth of corridors, offices and meeting rooms over several floors. At one time, Winston Churchill conducted top secret military operations from a wood-panelled room here, just restored as part of the current upgrade for the Department of Education. One lunchtime we managed to sneak a peek into this room and saw the original maps he used to pinpoint WW2 battle strategies. However, most of our time was spent on our knees fixing and cleaning the myriad areas of marble mosaic floor earmarked on the schedule for attention.
Joining the team on this project built on my work with Cliveden and my experience of carrying out ground level mosaic repairs on large and busy construction sites elsewhere. The Mosaic Restoration team approach site work with diligence and expedience. There was an extensive list of disparate floor areas to repair and record throughout the myriad corridors that were constantly filled with operatives engaged in various other construction tasks. Whilst the nature of the work itself was familiar, inevitably Gary and his team have developed their own specific techniques for in situ repairs that were new to me. Principally, their well-honed methods make the work on site much swifter.
The week that I was on site with TMRC in London turned out to be the hottest week of the summer, with temperatures peaking at a record-breaking 38° by Thursday. We were relatively sheltered from the sun’s glare inside the building and, as fortune would have it, we managed to complete the workload a day and a half ahead of schedule. This meant that we could leave at lunchtime and avoid completely melting in the afternoon blaze. Early the following morning, I left London and drove to Daventry to spend the day at TMRC’s impressive workshop.
I felt like an excited child in an enormous sweet shop as I was shown around the storage facilities at TMRC HQ. Shelf after shelf filled with delicious shades of old English Jesse Rust and Venetian glass slabs; salvaged century-old and recently fired unglazed porcelain tesserae in towers of recycled take-away containers and sack upon sack of glistening marble, like sugar cubes, to feast my eyes upon. Upstairs, Guy had started to set out the sections of a large paper-faced glass mosaic mural for Liverpool University on the workshop floor. He explained the referencing system and I gave him a hand. Once it was all in position, we made minor adjustments and then restored any loose or detached tesserae back to their rightful positions.
The mosaic mural had been carefully removed from its original location at the university earlier in the year and was now being prepared for installation on a different wall and therefore required modifications. They had worked from a 1:1 full colour large format print to reconstruct the mural and adjust it to fit its new position. Gary showed me a technical model they had produced to work out an improvised installation method which involved an ingenious system of interlocking and overlapping panels. This, like the in-situ floor repair techniques, would allow the team to carry out maximum preparation in the workshop and the minimum of time on site in Liverpool. If you attended the BAMM Forum in York last October, you may remember Gary telling us about this project during his illuminating presentation.
In the afternoon, there was a delivery. Several large, heavy crates were craned into the loading bay containing great chunks of elaborate mosaic signage, complete with their original concrete backing. They had come down from Inverness where they formed part of the exterior decoration of The Rose Street Foundry & Engineering Company Limited building. TMRC have carried out several stages of restoration work for this building façade, including four pictorial mosaic panels depicting the city’s engineering and construction heritage. Three of these semi-circular panels appear on the front elevation of the building and the fourth is around the corner on one side, all framed by stone arches above the third-floor windows. One of the front panels was completely missing and needed to be designed and made from scratch to fit in with the others, in compatible style and material, with the same colour palette and appropriate content. We unpacked the crates of mosaic signage and then I set to work sponging off the muslin facing and cleaning up their surfaces.
Before leaving Daventry, Gary told me about one or two future projects that TMRC have tendered for and mentioned my potential involvement in one of these. As I’d thoroughly enjoyed not just the work itself but also the friendliness, good humour and helpfulness of all the team, I was delighted by this prospect. So, we’ll see how things work out!