IT’S taken over a year, involved more than 700 tonnes of scaffolding and cost millions — but Wentworth Woodhouse’s 18th century roof is finally back in sparkling shape.
And the man in charge of the massive project to remove and replace thousands of slates over the mansion’s state rooms reckons the finished result is good for the next 200 years.
Andy Stamford, of lead contractors Woodhead Group, said: “I have been involved in historical projects for 15 years but this is the icing on the cake — to be part of this vision.
“Until we got the roof off, we didn’t know what we were going to find.
“But there was not as much damage as we’d thought and that has made it bit simpler.
“There’s no reason why what we’ve put in place cannot last for everyone to enjoy for the next 200 years.”
The Advertiser was given access to the rooftop walkways — now open to the elements after removal of the huge white canopy which could be seen from several miles away — as the project neared completion.
One crane was lifting the last of 18 urns — each of which weighs 600kg — into place around the perimeter of the roof, using scaffolding pole cages specially designed to ensure they could be safely moved.
Previously, many had only been held in place by their own weight as their wooden supports had rotted through, but they are now fitted with metal rods.
Two of the 18, found to be 20th-century copies in concrete, have now been replaced in the original stone.
Meanwhile, an even more towering crane was bringing down to earth the huge scaffolding beams which had held aloft the canopy, where they were hastily dismantled.
Much of the repair is out of sight from the ground but it has all been carried out by specialists with painstaking care.
Quantity surveyor Amy Stamford said: “We’ve stuck to the traditional methods as much possible but we’ve made a few changes, including with the gutters and the draining system, which was just not capable of dealing with the amount of water it was getting.”
Each of the ten rooftop statues were original carefully carved in situ by a different mason and most remain in decent condition, with the odd exception — Eirene, goddess of peace, with baby Ploutos, god of wealth.
“We think it has may have been struck by lightning at some point,” she said.
“We’ve added a steel bar to support it — it’s a very big baby so the statue is quite top-heavy.”
Woodhead and their sub-contractors were charged with stripping off the old slates, many of which were cracked and broken, and laying new ones across seven areas of roof the size of six tennis courts.
They uncovered graffiti left by tradesmen up to 200 years ago — and have kept up this tradition by taking part in the preservation trust’s Make Your Mark slate sponsorship scheme.
“You could see when they took a piece off, they were looking out because they wanted to be the one that found something,” said Amy.
“Woodhead Group has bought everyone a slate with their name, so in a way that’s a bit like adding their own graffiti. If someone lifts the roof off in 50 or 100 years’ time, those names will be there.”
The scaffolding was unique — a purpose built free-standing scaffolding cage designed not to come into contact with the building, with walkways allowing public rooftop tours.
“You cannot normally show off the projects but it has been great to share it with everyone,” said Amy.