Monday, 8 March 2010

Restoration of the Northleach Town Sign

It was 1995 when I was approached by the Chairman of the Northleach Town Council, and asked whether I would paint a sign for Northleach to replace the old ‘Union Hotel’ sign, but within the original ironwork. I was a little daunted by the prospect, as there was no official ‘crest’ for the town, or symbols I could easily pinch. However, going on holiday to Norfolk that summer, I was inspired by the many village signs there, mostly relief carved in wood and painted. Having carved and lettered a number of signs already (including my own shop ones!) I knew I could do it, and it struck me it would last longer and be ‘repaintable’ if it were carved.

The symbolism is mostly obvious in the design – the Cotswold Lion sheep on one side, that brought so much prosperity to the town in the middle ages, and the odd looking sheep on the reverse that is a copy of the brass on the tomb of John Fortey, one of the wool merchants of Northleach. The cross keys to the left represent St.Peter & St.Paul, and can be seen also on the Church door. The mace to the right is a symbol of the Court Leet; the earliest form of local government, where officers were elected each year for the town – a ceremony still celebrated annually to this day. The old mill with the wheel on the side is just visible next to the church, and the blue and white waves represent the brook that is the river Leach.

As you can see from the photos, after 13 years cracks have opened up in the oak, and lichen has grown on the now fading paintwork. The surface of the marine ply on each side and on the nameboard has rippled slightly, causing the gold leaf to peel and crack. The ironwork surrounding the sign has lost its black paint surface and is rusting.

The first job was to take the sign down and into my workshop, where after some exploratory sanding, the surface seemed soft, and I discovered a few rotten bits. Fortunately I went on holiday before doing any more, and was busy for a week or two after my return. This gave the sign a chance to dry out very well, and enabled me to sand it thoroughly all over without any soft edges flaking like weetabix.

There are two sides to most things in life, and the sign is no exception – 
there are two whole signs and two whole nameboards effectively, and it’s a lot of careful sanding and filling with all the fiddly bits all over it!

The Ronseal high performance two part filler seemed very strong, and then I primed the main body of woodwork with Farrow & Ball exterior eggshell primer. More sanding then prime again.

The nameboard with the word ‘NORTHLEACH’ across the top of the sign was carved from a piece of 1” thick marine ply. I considered it might be more appropriate than oak – less likely to split or warp. This proved correct, but the surface layer unfortunately crackled slightly all over, causing the paint and the gold leaf to peel.

We live and learn – it was my first attempt at a Town Sign after all! So this time after much sanding back to the wood I used a timber hardening treatment before filling the grain all over, prior to priming.

Here I’m rubbing down the nameboard in between coats of primer, whilst in the background you can see I’ve started blocking in the first coats of colour on one side of the main sign. A bit each day, as it’s all about letting coats dry before the next one.

Painting is definitely the nice bit!

The paint I’m using is Farrow & Ball exterior oil eggshell, mostly for quality and durability, but also because the F&B colours are so nice! A bit more expensive than most, but not if they last longer. The colours I’m using are:

All White No.2005, Hague Blue No.30,
Trust Green No.35, Cream No.44 and Wainscot No.55

In fact as you can see from the picture here, I am mixing some of the paints with the white to get paler shades.

Here is Hague Blue with a little All White to give a deep warm blue against which the cross keys will stand out beautifully.

Originally we ‘gilded’ the keys with silver leaf, but because it was only imitation leaf it tarnished within a couple of years, so this time I will paint the keys with.. well I haven’t decided yet.

I’m not good up ladders, but the ironwork had to be sanded down, so Henry assisted me last Sunday, and took a wire brush to the old paintwork. Between us we spent a few hours brushing, sanding, and finally painting a first coat of Hammerite smooth black ‘Straight to Rust’ paint on.

It will need a second coat, and the light shades want doing, but there’s time yet. A lot of people come and talk to you when you’re working up a ladder in the Market Place!

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