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Tess O’Flynn

You were a key part of the conservation work that took place in the Painted Hall between 2016 and 2019. Can you tell us more about this experience and what your work consisted of during that time?

Duration: 01.21

 

I first really became involved in the conservation with the enabling works back in 2016 for the Painted Hall project. It was an exciting time. I was given the opportunity to get involved with the project team from the very beginning and in this process, I attended project design meetings and was part of the advisory panel. This panel would have included experts such as art conservationists, art critics, environmental specialists, a whole transfer of different people.  

As the process carried on I was then involved with the tender process, so meeting construction companies and consultants and not only was I showing them around I was learning from them all the time.  

Once the project started with the enabling work, my role involved accessing all areas of the project which included going up to the top of the dome both inside and out. A really exciting prospect considering I’ve been stood on the ground for the last sixteen years. I was given the chance to look at these things close-up and see how detailed they really are right down to thistles that look like a 3D drawing but are actually carved and beautiful. 

Tell us about your career path. How did you become the Conservation Administrator of the Old Royal Naval College?

Duration: 00.32

 

I’ve worked here now for twenty-four years, quite a long time. I started at the ground, literally at the ground, meeting visitors and telling them the history of the site, like you can do today go in and meet the guides and they would tell you the history of the site.  

Every day was different and it continues to be different, so it’s such an exciting place to work, and whereas I was just talking about the history then, now I’m actually getting to grips with why it was built, how it was built, the methods used to be built and learning the methodology behind that, and why do we need to protect the buildings as we do and what methods we use to protect them.  

They’ve been here for three-hundred years and hopefully they’ll be here for another three-hundred more because of what we do today. 

It costs around £3 million pounds to look after these precious buildings and grounds. How is that amount distributed and what jobs are needed to keep the site in such good shape?

Duration: 02.27

 

It does cost around three million pounds a year to maintain these buildings and we have something that’s known as a pre-planned maintenance program, and that’s basically we list it out over a period of ten years what we hope to do and it’s kind of a cyclical program.  

It incorporates things like how we repair the paving, the drainage, the roofs, none of the things that appear very attractive to people but are really important because if we don’t maintain these and keep them in good service then, it will make the buildings quickly break down. For instance, obviously the biggest thing we have here is the Painted Hall ceiling and if that roof is damaged or is not well maintained it would cause a leak which would damage that masterpiece, so those are sort of things that need to be inspected and regularly maintained.  

The ten year program is split down into different projects and we allocate so much money every year to each project, like window frames or cobbles things like that. Stone cleaning is quite a process. It has to be done with skilled labour; you have to know what you’re doing it’s not just a case of getting a high-pressured water jet against the stone because actually that can cause more damage if you do it too hard. Graffiti, if someone graffitis the wall because it’s Portland Stone, ink can seep into the stone and it’s not a case of using strong chemicals; we have to use it in a poultice, so it’s a slow process. Sometimes it doesn’t work we have to come up with something alternative. 

A lot of the work can be reactive. We did have a bit of damage to a piece of stone that was in a very obvious important place and we could have just taken that bit stone out and left it, but it would have stuck out like a sore thumb. We use really traditional crafts and stonemasons (we got our own stonemason on site) they had the knowledge and the idea to use dust from the broken pieces to help blend it in and now I defy anybody to try and find that piece of stone because they wouldn’t. It’s fantastic working with people like that and to listen to their knowledge. 

Can you recall your fondest memory at the Old Royal Naval College?

Duration: 01.49

 

I‘ve got lots of fond memories of this place, obviously I’ve had so many different roles here. I’ve seen a lot of important things here, Royal visit, presidential visits that we’ve had here.  

I always love it when the military come back because it’s like stepping back in time and something like seeing the navy and the marines, it gives you a sense of pride.  

I think one of the funniest times I had was when I had to give a tour to some American naval officers and somebody didn’t send them the message that Royal Naval officers no longer used this as a College so they turned up in their full No.1 dress expecting to be met by British naval officers. Instead, they all met with me and two aging guides to give them the history of the Royal Naval College. We got a lot of confused looks and then at the end of they were going to be going up to the Observatory and they weren’t supposed to be out on the street in their No.1 dress uniform, but at the last minute it was all arranged. Because we spent so long with them nobody else could take them up to the Observatory so I ended up taking over a hundred naval officers through Greenwich Park on a summer’s day on my own. It is so funny because they were all being wolf-whistled by women it’s just like walking along with a hundred officers and gentlemen you know… I enjoyed that, that was funny. 

It’s a lovely place and it’s important these buildings. I get a lot of joy out of them, and you know it’s a world heritage site important because of Christopher Wren and all the famous architects that worked here and it’s important that we keep these buildings. 

Do you have a favourite building in the site? Which one and why?

Duration: 00.33

 

I guess my favourite area probably, I like every building for different reasons, but I like to be up the roof. I think up and high, that’s my space. So anywhere that’s got a little bit of a danger to it, I like to be there.  

Or anything that’s really, really needing attention, I like to get my nose in, have a look. So yeah, my vision has changed now. It’s not just the talking of the history, it’s keeping it and sharing it, being able to share it with other people.