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Chair’s Welcome

I am delighted as Chair of the Friends to welcome you to our website. Bushy Park and Home Park are two wonderful large green oases in the south west corner of London. Feeling wild, they are natural places with ancient histories, fascinating heritage and superb wildlife. Both are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) containing rare species. These are places to be enjoyed and conserved. Which is why the Friends exist, campaigning, supporting and protecting the parks, and enhancing visitors’ enjoyment with information, advice and guidance.

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Thursday Talk: Restoration of the Diana Fountain

Thursday Talk: Restoration of the Diana Fountain

Restoration of the Diana Fountain A talk by Pieter Morpurgo 27th January 2011

The Diana Restoration was the last of the major projects funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund grant to Bushy Park. The restoration process lasted throughout 2009.

Fencing was put up around the pond in late February and the following week the fish were being collected, and taken to different ponds and rivers in the park as well as the Long Water in Home Park. The same number of fish will be returned to the Diana Pond before the mating season in 2012.

A few days later the fish were removed. There were a few hundred, so it took several days. Once the fish had been removed the pond, which when full holds 17 million litres of water was allowed to drain away. All the silt in the bottom of the pond had to be removed before work could start on the actual restoration of the fountain itself.

The desilting work couldn’t start until the risk of frost had gone. It wasn’t known what the base was. It may have been delicate brick which would easily be damaged by frost. When the silt had been cleared a previously unknown brick ring was uncovered. It was about some ten feet inside the present wall and possibly built during the 1660s. It is not recorded when the pool was widened to its present size, although Ordnance Survey maps of 1913 and 1955 appear to show the pool at different sizes

The other discovery was that at some time there had been another fountain in the pool. The base is some fifteen feet to the south of the present one. It clearly shows where a water channel existed. Both of these discoveries were only on view for a day or two and have now been covered up.

Once the scaffolding went up in early July, it was possible for the first time to see just how much the restoration was needed. Many of the carved stones were in a bad state and needed to be replaced. Eighty two pieces of new stone were carved during the restoration. The four scallop shells were not made of stone as was thought originally, but of bronze and the weight of these – between 180 and 250 kilos each caused some stress fractures in the support scrolls beneath. Most of them had to be replaced. The carving was done entirely by hand. Each piece had to be fitted into the correct space and then finished off so that the final shaping fits with each of the adjoining pieces. In many places rusting brackets which had held the carved stones together were corroded sometimes cracking the stones themselves or splitting the joints. Every joint in the fountain was repaired using a mix of lime and Portland stone dust.

Diana herself stands on a piece of Carrara marble but the statue is not level. It was originally built this way, so will be replaced at exactly the same angle as she is now. In fact it was discovered that Diana had only been held in place by three metal spikes hammered into lead plugs. The fourth one split the stone when she was installed 300 years ago. So she has only been held in place by three spikes – and gravity. The main structure of the fountain is Portland Stone. The top part on which all the statues are built is Carrara marble, and that rests on a layer of black marble. On the stone underneath Diana is carved a crown with the date AR 1712 hidden from view for almost 300 years.

All the bronzes, thirteen in all, were removed to a workshop in Brixton, where they would be cleaned and treated with six layers of wax to help them survive the elements and atmosphere for another 300 years. Once the bronze work was examined it was discovered that the sirens and boys were made in pairs. The monsters too on which the sirens sit astride were also different – some have teeth, some don’t. The boys at the corners of the statue all hold a fish. At some point the south east boy had had a replacement fish made of lead. When the fish was replaced has not yet been discovered. Two of the sirens have missing fingers, almost certainly caused by badly placed straps during a lifting process; maybe when the statues were moved from Hampton Court. Each piece of bronze which was replaced has been dated.

After much discussion it was decided that Diana should be gilded. The process of gilding starts with four coats of yellow paint, before a coating of glue to which the gold leaf is applied. Diana was covered with two layers of gold leaf. Each layer took five days to apply. Diana was then left to stand for three weeks to allow the gold to bond to the layers underneath.

Meanwhile back in the park all the water works which feed the fountain were replaced.

At the end of October the bronzes were returned to the park.

Opposite the 1712 date at the top of the fountain the date 2009 was carved as a record of the restoration.

On 17th November and on schedule Diana returned to Bushy. The base stone on which she is to stand was secured to the stone underneath and then Diana was carefully raised and lowered over the fixing bolts, going back at exactly the same angle as she was. In order to dissuade the birds Diana was fitted with some spikes and bird scarers were placed behind the sirens.

Once she was in position the removal of the scaffolding could start. Each layer of bronze and stone being given a final clean as the scaffolding was lowered and the whole fountain could be seen in its pristine state from all around the park

Pieter Morpurgo, January 2011

Editor’s note, click here for the Diana Fountain section with lots more interesting information including restoration photo albums and videos.

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Walks & Talks

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A perimeter walk of Home Park led by Nicholas Garbutt was enjoyed by over 45 people on 2nd September.

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