This is an old photo of the Crimson Drawing Room at Windsor Castle
before the fire. Along with this room's decorative marquetry / parquet,
the decorative parquet in the Green Drawing Room and the parquet
panels and boards in the Grand Reception Room, David Gunton and
his team of craftsmen recreated and / or restored all these after
the great fire.
The walls are made almost like the studding walls were are all
familiar with today. Behind what you see from inside the room are
the immense stone and brickwork walls. Fixed to them are stout and
thick wooden battens which support the wooden panelling. Thus there
is substantial gap between the back side of the panelling and the
solid walls. The face of the wooden panelling is effectively plastered
with a chalk based 'plaster' to whch the paint or gilding is added.
This surface finish is very fire resistant - but the back of the
panelling is 'dry as tinder' and will burn very readily. So, once
the fire found its way into the void behind the panelling, there
was no stopping it, especially since the walls were pierced with
great holes from room to room to allow the passage of service elements
like hot water pipes and electricity cables. The fire used these
holes like chimneys.
This is what we started with! The floor in this room was burned
around the edges but otherwise it was effectively boiled for very
many hours as the fire burned and the firemen poured 1.5 million
gallons of water into the building.
As you can see, the decorative elements are very thin - between
2 and 3 millimetres thick. Why? Because, in order to create the
pattern accurately with furniture grade joints, the repeat elements,
particularly those circular pieces, had to be extremely precisely
cut to a dimensional exactitude not possible with thicker timber.
The thickest timber that could be cut accurately by shaped knives
embedded into a former was 3 mm. Thicker than that caused tearing
of the face and the back of the timber. The way the elements were
made was to pass the veneers through a machine something like a
mangle but with the shaped blades embeded within the top roller.
Similarly, the elements which made up the Greek Key pattern were
stamped out, rather than cut out. This was evidence by the faintly
crushed grain on the underside of the elements.
From these remains David Gunton had to identify the original woods
used, make detailed measurements to enable redrawing and then recreation
of the pattern exactly as made originally in 1854.
This picture on the right shows the difficulties the original makers
experienced. The floor was made off-site in a workshop.The 2 to
3mm thick veneer was applied to Honduras mahogany carpentary panels
which were intended to join together very accurately on site. The
makers encountered a problem that would beset us even today if we
were obliged to carry out the same method of remaking the floor.
Probably because the panels changed moisture content between manufacture
and fitting and so changed shape, when they came to be fitted they
would not close and line up properly. The Greek key pattern was
at least half an inch out of straight in the middle of the length
of the floor. The carpenters had to cut the veneers off the panels
and refit them all by hand on site. They used a brace and bit in
order not damage other areas of the veneer work by accident. You
can see the evidence if you look carefully a the blow up picture.
It must have been a nightmare of a job, but they persisted and made
a fine job of the finished floor. One has to remember that in the
1850's this was a completely novel and groundbreaking piece of work,
particularly in the UK. It is not easy to do today, even with the
sophisticated machinery available to us.
If you would like to see other pictures of the damaged room and
read more about how we carried out the recreation, please click