‘Time team’ turns back clock at arts centre

St James, New Mills, spot the join, Jade Maloney preparing a damaged area before painting it to blend into the rest of the painting.
St James, New Mills, spot the join, Jade Maloney preparing a damaged area before painting it to blend into the rest of the painting.

IT’S NOT just musicians who need a steady hand when plying their trade at New Mills’ newest arts venue...

Conservators from the nationally-famous Crick Smith have been carrying out painstaking restoration work at the former St James the Less chapel, on Spring Bank, which is being transformed into a community arts centre.

St James, New Mills, specialist conservation artists  working on the wall paintings and gilding.

St James, New Mills, specialist conservation artists working on the wall paintings and gilding.

As part of the £750,000 project led by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the team of specialists have meticulously peeled back the layers of history at the Grade II listed building in a bid to restore some of its original Victorian decorative scheme, dating back to the 1800s.

Intricate wall panels which are the remnants of a full polychrome decorative scheme by the Powell Brothers of Leeds have been cleaned, repaired and restored, while the conservators are also reinstating the original decor on the building’s entire west wall.

“It has been extremely slow, laborious work,” admitted Paul Croft, researcher and conservator with Crick Smith, the commercial conservation arm of the University of Lincoln.

“The project has thrown up a number of challenges along the way, but overall it has been extremely enjoyable. It is very beautiful building, a very worthwhile restoration, and will be a fantastic resource for the community.”

Crick Smith have been involved in the project since 2009. Peeling back and analysing the layers of paint and plaster from the walls, they uncovered stretches of elaborate stencilled wall covering, including one of six beautifully gilded angels where the altar was once sited.

The west wall design has been reproduced across its entire length using mineral-based paints, the colours for which have been determined through digital analysis. The west wall will also be the location for a series of stained glass windows, by the celebrated Victorian designer C E Kempe.

“This was a really old Victorian church and they had perhaps quite high Victorian values, so it is wonderful to reinstate these schemes and experience the dark, elaborate effect,” added Mr Croft, who headed up the team of trained conservators during their four-week restoration programme.

“It’s all about revealing an object’s true nature. When the building is used, the community will be able to enjoy the schemes as the artist meant them to be seen.”

Building work is nearing an end to transform the former chapel into a studio and performance venue, which will go by the new name Spring Bank Arts. The building is scheduled to be handed back to its owners and project leaders, the St James the Less Preservation Trust, in the middle of April.

John Fildes, project manager for the Trust, said: “We are absolutely thrilled and cannot wait to see it all finished. The decorative scheme is going to add fantastically to the experience of being in the arts centre when it is packed with people and performers.”