A ground-breaking glass wall covering which safeguards plasterwork and offers Class O fire certification was used to protect one of the jewels in the National Trust’s crown.
Saltram House, a Grade I Georgian mansion in Plympton, near Plymouth, Devon, has become the first property in the Trust’s portfolio to use VPP200 glass fibre fleece instead of traditional lining paper.
The fleece has been used to cover 220 sq m along the corridors and on the ceilings of the Western Apartment, on the first floor of the property, which is considered to be one of the finest works of architect Robert Adams.
However, unlike other applications, the Trust didn’t want the covering to create the flat and even finish it is known for. Instead, it wanted a covering that would still show visitors the aged condition of the original plasterwork – without them suspecting that any restoration had taken place.
Although not as opulent as elsewhere in the building, the Western Apartment was once the living quarters for former owners the Earls of Morley and used to be out of bounds to visitors. However, they are now being opened to the public and will house an important collection of watercolour paintings, so they required a facelift to match the grandeur.
The lining, which is available from The Glass Fabric Company is made by compressing thousands of glass fibres together.
Like lining paper, it arrives in rolls – which are larger than normal, measuring one metre across – but unlike lining paper its structure does not alter when it comes into contact with liquid. This means that sheets stay securely butted together when the adhesive dries, making the seams virtually invisible beneath a paint finish.
Being glass, the fleece will not burn – once painted, VPP200 is fire rated to Class “O” standard – and when it is used with suitable adhesive, it bonds with the ceiling, strengthening the subsurface to prevent cracks from forming in the plaster.
Neal Kingdom, the NT’s building supervisor for South Devon, said this combination of factors made VPP200, which was also covered in three layers of emulsion, the preferred choice.
He added: “The National Trust is about conservation, not restoration, so when re-lining the ceiling we didn’t want a perfect finish, because we want visitors to see the kind of undulations that reflect the age of the property.
“However, we certainly didn’t want to see any joins, because there is nothing worse than seeing a 21st Century product being used in an 18th Century property.
“This is why the glass fleece has been so impressive. We knew there would be fewer joins because it is wider than lining paper, but in fact you can’t see the joins at all.
“It helps that the quality of the workmanship is also excellent, but the finish is better than what we’d expected. Plus, the fleece is protecting the plasterwork while still giving us the authenticity we were after.”
Importantly for the Trust, this durability will pay dividends in the long term. Glass wall coverings are tough enough to last for around 20 years and, in a prized property such as Saltram House, will prove an excellent return on its investment.
The work was carried out by Brian Jopson, of B Jopson Painters and Decorators, based in Camborne, who recommended the glass fleece having used it elsewhere.
Brian said: “We have stopped using lining paper now and only use glass fleece because of what it offers. Its ability to stop plasterwork cracking is a major plus when you are talking about older properties, as is its fire rating.
“For us, however, we find it very easy to work with. The sheets are wider, so there is less hanging involved, but also you spread the adhesive onto the wall or ceiling instead of the sheet and it easily slides into position.
“It saves us a considerable amount of labour on jobs, and we can pass the cost saving onto our customers.”
Neal said he has spoken to other National Trust staff about the fleece and had already specified it for the walls in two NT cottages not far from Saltram.
Chris Sheppard, sales manager for The Glass Fabric Company said: “Glass fleece liners are perfect for the National Trust and other organisations which look after the country’s finest heritage properties, because they give an excellent finish while preserving ageing plasterwork.
“Not only does it look and perform better than lining paper, the VPP200’s durability means it will have a long lifespan and will protect Saltram House’s ceilings for many years to come.”