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3rd February 2014, 3:07pm
Project to revive hidden gem of English Regency style marks 40 years of conservation at Lincoln
Swiss Cottage A specialist team of conservators from the University of Lincoln has been selected to take part in a multi-million pound restoration programme to revive a historic English garden and hidden gem of English heritage.

The Swiss Garden in Bedfordshire was created in the early nineteenth century and is a rare survivor of the picturesque Regency style. Its restoration is supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the skilled conservation team from Lincoln, which includes students and graduates working alongside experts from the University’s renowned consultancy, Crick Smith, was selected to repair and protect the ornamental Swiss Cottage at the centre of the garden.

This student-centred project marks the 40th anniversary of Conservation teaching in the city, with the University of Lincoln established as one of the UK’s major centres for the specialist discipline of cultural heritage conservation.

Conservation teaching began at the Lincoln School of Art, the University’s oldest predecessor institution, in 1974. The department now sits within purpose-built facilities in the new £11 million Art and Design Building on the University of Lincoln’s main Brayford Pool Campus, offering students access to specialist laboratories as they work alongside academic researchers and commercial experts.

The team’s Swiss Garden research has already revealed significant findings that could see the iconic cottage undergo a reappraisal to be upgraded from a Grade II to a Grade I listed building, an indicator of exceptional and international importance.

The conservators have been tasked with reinstating the ornate decoration of the cottage, which includes unique patterns created by bark and Monterey pine cones and decorative panels of intricate paintwork. When exploring the origins of these panels, the team was able to prove that some had been taken from the London Coliseum in Regent’s Park, a majestic building established to house an enormous panorama of London in the 1820s, before being demolished in 1874.

Michael Crick-Smith, Principal Conservator-Researcher, said: “Our investigations discovered that some of the panels had been taken from the Coliseum when the building was due to be demolished, and were then adjusted slightly and re-instated within the Swiss Cottage. This means that the cottage is now recognised as being of even greater significance.”

The team’s research also involved developing an unusual historic technique to cut the pine cones, to ensure the replacements accurately represented the decoration installed in the 1820s. Henning Schulze, Programme Leader for BA (Hons) Conservation and Restoration at the University of Lincoln, specialises in wooden object conservation and he discovered that it was essential for the environment to remain at a certain humidity and temperature prior to cutting, so that the cones remain closed.

Henning said: “Our research effectively reverse engineered the process used to prepare the cone slices for the decoration of the cottage, using our knowledge of the material and what hand tools would have been available at the time. Obviously, the architects and designers of the cottage would not have had access to any machinery, and it is important that we fully understand the historic techniques used, so that we can create authentic reproductions.”

Ian Crick-Smith, Principal Lead for the project, added: “We are delighted to be able to offer students the chance to gain commercial experience on projects like this, as it is invaluable for their development as professional conservators. The gifted team involved in this restoration project highlights the depth of expertise we have here at Lincoln. I graduated from Lincoln as one of the first degree students in 1995 and Gill Thwaites, our Project Manager, also studied at the University before becoming a lecturer. We are now working alongside a number of recent graduates, interns and international exchange students to preserve the heritage of iconic buildings around the country.”

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