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Gilded ironwork gates decorated to notable effect


Thu 23 Dec 21

The Greenwich Foundation is a charity that conserves the magnificent Old Royal Naval College. Every year we carry out around 10,000 hours of conservation work and it costs over £3 million per year to maintain our site. Martin Ashley of is the appointed Surveyor of the Fabric for the Old Royal Naval College since 2008. His team at Martin Ashley Architects provides strategic conservation advice, assisting the Greenwich Foundation to care for and improve the presentation of the finest assembly of Baroque buildings in Britain. He talks about their latest project here:

Trinity Laban’s gilded ironwork gate-screens to their loggia opening onto Lower Grand Square have been reglazed and redecorated to notable effect. This has been undertaken as part of a project by Trinity Laban School of Music and Dance to make their loggia more useable as well as to improve its appearance and presentation onto Lower Grand Square.

The gates are thought to have been installed in the late 19th or early 20th century within the Corinthian colonnade built by the architect John Webb for King Charles II, and later incorporated by Sir Christopher Wren into his innovative design for the new Royal Foundation of Greenwich Hospital. The colonnade is thought to have stood open in Wren’s scheme matching the colonnade of Queen Anne Court opposite. The internal stonework of both loggias and particularly King Charles Court is of exceptional quality and particularly the superb canopied coved apses at both ends.

The elaborate decorative iron gates were installed into the King Charles Court colonnade in the style of screens, gates, and balustrades for Palaces and other buildings of very high quality in the early 18th century. Paint analysis of the ironwork gates showed that they were originally painted a light grey colour, before subsequently being painted black on multiple occasions. Notable other nationally important buildings have a tradition of deep blue-grey for ironwork, whilst at the ORNC in recent years deep bronze green has been used for boundary railings and site lanterns, whilst paint analysis to the Water Gates on site established that a buff stone colour may have been present to the gates, railings and window grilles on site during the Victorian period.

As black is a relatively modern and somewhat visually deadening colour there was extensive discussion between Trinity Laban’s architect Carl Cairns of Dannatt Johnson Architects, Historic England’s Inspector of Monuments, and the Greenwich Foundation about the opportunity to establish a new precedent for painting decorative ironwork screens at the Old Royal Naval College, based upon the historic uses of colours on site and above-mentioned paint analysis.

The elaborately detailed and gilded King Charles colonnade gates were clearly designed to be seen and celebrated, and there was a view that their colour should allow the ironwork to be appreciated rather than being lost against the darkness of the loggia openings. Various colours for the ironwork were trialled for consideration, even including a buff stone colour, however the colour selected has been a deep blue-grey very similar to the colour used on gates and screens by Jean Tijou, the pre-eminent French Huguenot ironworker creating fine ironwork for St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace, and Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.

The conservation, redecorating and gilding of the gates has been carried by specialists in historic ironwork Hall Conservation Ltd, and the previous perspex sheets have been replaced with non-reflective glass, all resulting in a greatly improved appearance.