A specialist timber conservator, Hugh Harrison, has been commissioned to restore the screen over a period of 12 months, and will give talks open to the general public on the the restoration of the screen in particular, and conservation in general. Once conserved, the screen will be displayed for the first time in 175 years! Hugh Harrison and his colleauge Liz Cheadle are continuing to clean the carved panels. “With every piece cleaned, the quality of the carving is becoming more and more evident. We are now cleaning the end posts with the vertical panels and they are superb.”



To view a short video of the beginnings of their work, visit the Heart of Oak vimeo Channel,

Have a look at our gallery of photos.
New photos will be added throughout the project...

December 2012 Update

The conservation workshops were visited last week (14th December)by Councillor Philip Vogel, Conservation Officers from Teignbridge District Council, together with the Museum Curator to see how the conservation work is progressing. The carved panels have now all been cleaned and they look amazing!

Some of the details within the carving is very fine indeed, including a delicate shell which could hardly been seen before. One is made fully aware of the great skill of the craftsman who created the carvings in the 1500s, and the skill of today's craftsmen and joiners who are bringing the carvings back to life.

Hugh Harrison then led the group to Laurence Beckford's workshop where he is in the process of re-carving a 'support' that was missing from the screen prior to its donation to the museum. Laurence is recreatingthe structure in clay first, as he goes through the process of working out what the form was meant to be. He is working from an old photograph that has been enlarged, it is very painstaking work. The strange figure is thought to be a 'goat-lady' or Glaistig, a Gaelic mythilogical creature, have woman half goat!

The project is very lucky to have been able to commission such a high quality Conservation team as Hugh Harrisons team, this is all thanks to the HLF, Viridor/Entrust and all the other generous sponsers. Thankyou!

Conservation update March 2012

Hugh Harrison and his conservation team have now almost completed the cleaning of all the carved wooden panels. There are just two panels left to clean. The next step will be the re-carving of some elements of the panels that were completly broken off and the fragments were not found when the 'screen' was donated to the museum in 2008. On the 22nd March Hugh Harrison, and his conservators Liz Cheadle and Laurence Beckford were able to demonstrate to the audience the careful and skillful process of removing the layers of dark varnish from the wood, and the process of re-carving the missing pieces of the panels.

The public were then invited to 'have a go' themselves! Excited people stepped forward to work on the conservation of these Tudor panels and to learn about the laborious process involved. The air was electric!

This was followed by a presentation from Hugh Harrison on the work that his team is involved with throughout the UK and internationally, which took us through centuries of fascinating ancient wood work, from the 11th century to the 1970s. Dr Riall, the projects historic researcher, then updated the audience on the various avenues of research he has been taking and put forward the various theories that he is in the process of persuing. This was followed by a colourful presentation by Kate Green, the arts Co-ordinator for the project,of all the arts related workshops that had been delivered, "...a small teaspoon of the banquet of arts workshops that the community had been involved with so far...!"

November Update 2011

Hugh Harrison said: "The project is continuing very well as planned" The first part of the work was to clean off the discoloured varnish which obscured the carvings. The conservator, Liz Cheadle, used SPVR gel (safe paint and varnish remover) applying the varnish to the surface. The gel is left on the surface for varying lengths of time, from one hour to overnight, and is agitated at intervals. (Do look on the photo gallery for the images of this process, and for photos of the screen photographed in 1977 in Sandford Orleigh House.)

When the initial varnish removal reveals that the varnish has been dissolved, the gel is removed with a mixture of water and ethanol. This is done with cotton wool buds with extra careful removal from deep crevices using dental tools. If the varnish is particularly difficult to remove the process is repeated. The process is extreemly complicated as the conservator has to guard against over cleaning, which would leave the timber looking over bleached, and its is important to achieve an equal cleaning result not only on each component, but over all the components.

The conservation team said " The results are astonishing with many of the carving details revealed for the first time"

More than 70% of the cleaning process is complete.

The team have been booked to give a talk on the progress of the conservation work, the types of conservation work they are engaged, and to allow the public to 'have a go' with the conservation process themselves!

The official launch of the 'Heart of Oak'project at Old Forde House on July 20th 2011.

The Mayor of Newton Abbot, the Chairman of Teignbridge District Council, and the Chairman of the Town Council, as well as other District Councillors and dignitaries were all present. The first presentation started to get the audience sitting up in their seats with phrases like “Internationally important”, “exciting project” aren’t usually used about Newton Abbot. The speaker was Sam Hunt, representing Heritage Lottery Fund.

This was followed by Hugh Harrison and Liz Cheadle, the specialist wood conservators, who have been commissioned to restore the screen, they were equally enthusiastic and the terms “magnificent object” and “really significant” stirred up more smiles and wonderment.

Finally, Dr Nicholas Riall, historic researcher, got broad grins as he used “exciting find”, “important historic links” and finished with “who knows where this will lead?”.

Something really interesting was going on in Newton Abbot, and it all centred on the Sandford Orleigh Screen. The Heart of Oak project to conserve these carved panels had already impressed the Heritage Lottery Fund and others enough to promise substantial funding, and these eminent specialists had confirmed their faith in the aims of the project.

The driving force behind all this is the Heart of Oak project team. It is their vision that sees the screen as something worth preserving and could be the inspiration for local people to create their own pieces of art. It is Kate Green’s vision as Arts Co-ordinator for the project to bring together artists to offer free sessions and in so doing, offer new, young artists the opportunity to work alongside the more experienced artists.

Together this formidable list of people will bring a new feeling of pride in Newton Abbot - we have a carved wooden screen that is making people talk and making people think about the history of Newton Abbot is new ways.

Watch this space!

Hugh Harrison - specialist timber conservator

Hugh Harrison founded the timber conservation company Herbert Read Ltd in 1971 following the death of Dick Read, the third generation of his family to run, what was then called, St.Sidwells Artworks. Dick’s father came to fame for his work in reconstructing all the smashed woodwork in Exeter Cathedral following the WW2 bombings. Herbert Read Ltd continued to work on monuments, general stonework and plaster, but Hugh went on his own in 1995 to concentrate on timber conservation and carving.

Hugh Harrison’s Devon craftsmen now work all over the country and abroad. Current projects include the conservation of one of the oldest doors in the country, at Little Hormead, Herts, which was made in 1150.

Other projects include the Great Gates made in 1520 at Trinity College, Cambridge, an ancient doorframe of similar date at Rochester Cathedral, and panelling at the Café Royal in London.

He is involved in on-going investigations into the Bishop’s Throne at Exeter Cathedral which is showing serious signs of distress now that the Cathedral is nice and warm, and has carried out a major survey of all the nine medieval screens in Wolborough Church. The many projects carried out in the USA include most of the important churches in central New York, and he is currently involved with designing and making new furnishings for St. John’s Church, Larchmont, New York.

Hugh Harrison has visited Russian country churches on behalf of the Society of the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and the most important palaces in Beijing with the international organisation, ICOMOS. He is a major contributor to a forthcoming book on timber conservation in English Heritage's Practical Buildings series. He has made an in depth study of perhaps the best choir stalls in Europe, at Amiens Cathedral and co-authored a book on them with Dr Charles Tracy. Further publications are due this year on Peterborough Cathedral, St. Albans Cathedral, Lavenham Church, Suffolk, and a book on that major problem in churches today - church seating.