Many thanks to Orbis Conservation for the information and images featured in today’s post

Over the last few months we’ve shared information about two of the 14 figureheads we’ll be taking on loan from the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Topaze and Royal William (otherwise known as King Billy) left Plymouth and went to specialist conservation company called Orbis in London late last year.

Since then Orbis have been working hard to help secure their long-term future; undertaking a sensitive conservation and restoration programme. This will enable us to display the figureheads in our new foyer space when we open, widening public access and peoples’ understanding of the importance of these amazing wooden sculptures.

Today’s post is an update from Orbis on the work they’ve undertaken on Topaze, and includes some images taken in their studio……….

An extremely challenging four-month treatment of one of the figureheads has had brilliant results.

Topaze consolidation - figurehead analysisFollowing on from the sonic tomography which was conducted on Topaze, we discovered she was in a much worse condition than first expected due to being encapsulated in fiberglass resin in a prior restoration 50 years ago. This caused water to be trapped and brown rot to completely dominate the wooden structure.

The rot had caused innumerable damage to the timber, with next to no sound timber remaining.

Following our consolidation tests and analysis, we decided that treatment would require us to open up Topaze, by cutting her in half so we could remove the bulk of the rotted and soaked timber.

Many of the moisture content (MC) readings taken on Topaze were 90% and upwards, so the drying process needed to be carefully controlled in large humidity chambers to minimise any further damage through drying out too quickly and unevenly.

When a suitable MC was arrived at, the rotten timber was given an initial consolidation treatment throughout. This was repeated once MC reached 20%. This process allowed us to save the outermost shell of Topaze with all its original carvings.

We have now started to reassemble these sections with wonderful results, with all the pieces fitting back together exactly as they did before.

Topaze consolidation - putting Topaze back together1

Topaze consolidation - Putting Topaze back together2

Our daily record keeping of all the pieces of Topaze throughout the treatment process shows there’s been no dimensional change in any of the sections thanks to the slow drying and consolidation treatment.

Topaze consolidation - head going back on

We can now make Topaze whole again and she will be structurally sound enough to be hung centre stage in her new home at The Box.

Topaze consolidation - figurehead being photographed