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Floor restoration at Alnwick Castle

Popularity

Soaring visitor numbers to Alnwick Castle are proving to be a major challenge for the the fabric of this ancient building. Carpets, floors and stairways are under considerable stress as a direct result of the visitor traffic.

Robin Smeaton, Building Surveyor for Northumberland Estates, said:

"We went from having in the region of 60 to 70,000 visitors a year to over 270,000. Harry Potter, which was filmed at the Castle, was a major part of the increase in numbers.

All that extra foot traffic adds considerably to the wear and tear of the building and accelerates the natural ageing process.

People carry in bits of grit and debris on their feet...”

A stone floor dilemma

Characteristically for ancient buildings of this type, many of the original floors are stone. During the 1970's, no doubt for reasons of comfort, fashion or practicality, nine-inch vinyl tiles were installed over the top of this stone in the then Education Department, a space which is now part of the Castle Tour. Being a medieval building devoid of any modern building techniques, bitumen was used in place of any damp proof membrane/‘visqueen’. This served two purposes, it was a liquid damp proof membrane and also an adhesive. Stone being porous, the bitumen seeped into it.

Restoration process

In preparation for the 2015 visitor season Robin Smeaton, with the assistance of Catherine O’Neil, contacted stone floor restoration specialists Paul and Regan Coyle after researching their options. They co-ordinated Paul and Regan's judicious restoration of three floors within the Castle, where careful consideration was necessary in order to remove as much of the contamination on the stone floors as possible without removing any of the stone itself (see the photographs to the right).

Paul explains: “The problem we had was whilst a lot of the contamination was surface-adhered, a great deal of it had been absorbed into the stone.”

Using a careful selection of water-based cleaners, floor machinery which can have its weight increased or decreased, and hand power tools, all of the cement-based smoothing compound and bitumen contamination was removed.

Robin is delighted with the restoration work and minimal disruption to the main walkway areas within the Castle, and in Paul's words, “We removed as little surface as possible, only that which was necessary to reveal a truly historic floor.”

The removal of the vinyl tiles (in some areas carpet) and restoration of the stone now presents a more genuine impression underfoot for visitors.

This restoration has been an important part of the Castle’s preparations for the 2015 visitor season.

Alnwick Castle


Paul Coyle has carried out floor restoration at Alnwick Castle in 2014, 2015 and 2016, with more scheduled for 2017.

 

From the top: Restoration of sandstone staircase. Stripped, lovingly deep-cleaned and sealed.

 


From the top: removal of carpet and judicious restoration of floor beneath to reveal a beautifully decorative, historically laid pea shale aggregate floor.

 

From the top: restoration of stone floor which was covered in bitumen

 

From the top: restoration of stone floor in the main hallway