Cliveden Conservation’s Head of Architectural Projects, David Bloxam, has been busy managing a conservation programme of cleaning and repairs to Reading’s distinct collection of historic monuments. He describes the various challenges and how the projects unfolded.

Reading Borough Council appointed Cliveden Conservation for two separate projects which involved working closely with the client. The first was the cleaning and repair to the cast iron Maiwand Lion statue and plinth. The second was a High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) funded project to clean and repair four historic monuments which included the Harrinson Cross, Queen Victoria Jubilee Statue, the Simeon Monument, and the Zinzan Tomb in St Mary’s churchyard.

The Maiwand Lion
This incredible iconic monument stands proudly within the beautiful Victorian Forbury Gardens. The cast iron lion statue commemorates the dead of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment in the Afghan War (1879-81) and was sculpted by George Blackall Simonds who based his research on real life lions. At the time of its unveiling in 1886, the Maiwand Lion was the biggest statue of a standing lion in the world measuring 31ft from nose to tail and weighing around 16 tonnes.
Our team of conservators used Restorative Techniques’ ThermaTech system to clean the plinth, using both high and moderate water pressure. All vegetation was removed from the monument and a fungicide applied to prevent regrowth.

The two bronze plaques needed to be removed to allow for repairs to the underlying stone and removal of the copper staining with a special poultice. Conservators could then rake out and repoint open and failing joints. The loose plaques were microcrystalline hot waxed before being secured back into position.
On close inspection conservators discovered a displaced section of cornice, which was pinned back into its correct position and a gap between the cast iron statue base and asphalt was sealed.

Stone indent and whole block repairs were carried out and the surrounding granite paving was raked and re-grouted. The lion was then rubbed down with metal fleece pads to provide a keyed surface before receiving treatment for rust. Finally, the cast iron base and the magnificent lion was repainted.
The sensitive cleaning and sympathetic repairs have greatly improved the appearance, cohesion, and condition of the Maiwand Lion. It has also slowed down any weather damage and prevented further deterioration.

High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) funded project.
Cleaning the monuments was carried out according to the architect’s instruction and varied according to the condition of the material. Conservators were able to prevent over-cleaning or causing damage to fragile areas by appropriately adjusting the application of a ThermaTech high pressure steam system. Any vegetation was removed from the monuments and fungicidal wash was used where suitable.

Simeon Monument
This elegant Grade II* listed Portland stone obelisk dates from 1804 and was designed by Sir John Soane. It stands pride of place in the Market Place, which is also home to a large pigeon population, and despite the bird spikes at its pinnacle, the plinth, lamp, and railings are typically covered in guano. The weekly food market had also contributed a thick layer of black grease to the north-west face of the plinth.

The specification for this phase of work was to clean only the plinth and railings, followed by painting the railings, leaving the obelisk and pinnacle untouched. During works conservators found a loose historic indent repair to the axe-head on the north corner, which was consolidated using lime mortar. The three bronze plaques were re-patinated and hot waxed by a specialist metalwork subcontractor. Conservators treated the metal railings for rust before repainting them.

The Queen Victoria Statue
The Queen Victoria Statue in the town hall square which was erected to mark her Golden Jubilee in 1887, shares the same creator as the Maiwand Lion – George Blackall Simonds. Conservators found this statue in generally good condition with very little evidence of deterioration to the marble, but the plinth had suffered a large crack on three sides.

Historically the crack had been pinned with stainless steel dog cramps which were clearly visible. Conservators filled the crack and dog cramp slots using a fine lime mortar. The square granite plinth base was also repointed and the spiked chains around the monument reinstated.

One of the interesting finds on this monument was a circular spall on the side of the plinth which may have been caused by bombing or shrapnel during WW2. It was decided with the architect to leave it untouched due to its historical value.

The Zinzan Tomb
This chest tomb marks the burial of landowner Dr Peter Zinzan who died in 1781, and his family. Out of the four monuments it presented the biggest challenge due to the extent of weather damage and sadly, vandalism. Two of the four sides were broken into fragments, part of the brick/block core had collapsed, and the lettering was severely weathered.

Our stonemason Amelia Morrison managed the delicate process of removing the tomb lid and recovering all the fragments. She then carefully cleaned the fragments by hand before laying them face down on boards and piecing together to ensure a close fit at breaks. The fragments were secured by cutting slots across the breaks and inserting lengths of 6mm basalt bar set in polyester resin.

The repaired side panels and slips were reattached to the tomb plinth using lengths of 8mm basalt bar, and to the rebuilt brick core using stainless steel dog cramps set in polyester resin. Open joints and fine cracks were pointed and filled using lime mortar. The tomb lid was cleaned before being replaced on a bed of lime mortar and the joint pointed up. Lastly, the inscriptions on three sides were sharpened.

A huge achievement
It was an honour to witness the transformation of all four monuments and work in close collaboration with the architect. Each of the monuments have benefited immensely through conservation treatment especially the Zinzan Tomb, which has now been saved through outstanding stonemasonry skills. We were delighted to receive praise for our work from Barnaby Wheeler, a Principal Architect from the Heritage Architecture team at Hampshire County Council Property Services working on behalf of Reading Brough Council.

“The work done by Cliveden Conservation’s stone mason to rescue the chest tomb, including the partial re-building of the brick core walls, the cleaning and pinning of the facing slabs and the insertion of several stone indents was exemplary and left the monument looking its old self, rather than something new. The ‘sharpening’ of the inscriptions covering five members of the Zinzan family has had the spectacular effect of reclaiming a piece of Reading’s local history for the public domain.”

Micky Leng, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Planning and Assets, also gave us positive feedback about the HSHAZ- funded project:
“It has been wonderful to see the work that has gone into restoring our four iconic Reading monuments, including the complex repairs required for the Zinzan Tomb and the Jubilee Cross in St Mary’s churchyard, which were suffering from age, from being at the mercy of the weather, and sadly in some instances, vandalism. I’m particularly pleased we’ve been able to engage local specialists and tradespeople, using traditional skills. Our expert conservation team from Cliveden Conservation has worked incredibly hard to give these statues and monuments a fresh lease of life, and the results look superb. We want to protect and enhance our historic areas – as well as celebrate their uniqueness. We have been incredibly fortunate to benefit from the generous funding from Historic England, enabling us to ensure these monuments can continue to be enjoyed by current and future generations.”

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