Lightowler helping historic Castle Howard turn over new gold leaf

When complete, it will be seen from miles around as it glistens in the sunshine. That is the promise from the Hon Nicholas Howard, who helped to mark the start of the gilding process on the lantern that sits atop Castle Howard's famous dome.

The project, which involves sheets of 23.5-carat gold leaf being applied to the woodwork, is being undertaken by Hull firm Lightowler, which has two specialist gilders as part of its team.

The company, based in National Avenue, is more than 160 years old and has specialist painting, cleaning and facilities divisions.

Mr Howard, who commissioned the work, said: "The lantern is the crowning glory which sits on top of Castle Howard's dome and, when finished, the highly reflective gold leaf will be visible from miles around.

"In the past, different materials and techniques have been used to give the lantern its golden hue, but experience shows that only high-quality gold leaf provides the glistening finish that can be seen in 18th-century paintings of the building."

The gilding work will focus on three sections – an apex finial, the cornice and, below that, the lantern, which has windows enabling the top of the dome to be a beacon by night as well as by day.

Although it may appear much smaller when viewed from ground level, the area to be gilded is approximately 32sq m and the sheets of gold leaf are painstakingly applied in 20sq cm sheets, up to 1,000 being used to complete the task and fixed using a special oil-based adhesive.

Charles Lightowler, chief executive at the Hull firm, said the project at the North Yorkshire stately home was a "very unusual" one for the company.

"There is the working at height and the historic location of it," he said. "There is not only the difficulty of managing the health and safety issues but also attempting to keep to the true condition of the historic cupola and lantern and trying to restore what is there.

"It has meant doing a lot of preparation work and filling in to bring the base coat up to a good standard," he said.

Mr Lightowler said the lantern had last been gilded up to the Nineties, when a decision was made to coat it in gold paint.

"It did not have the same degree of reflectants in it," he said, "and Castle Howard decided to restore it in the way it was originally done.

"Gold leaf is a better way of preserving the lantern because it works well in an exterior location."

Mr Lightowler said the company was involved in restoring some of the gilding of Hull's King Billy statue after someone threw paint over it in the Nineties.

"We do some gold leafing from time to time but it tends to be the tipping of people's railings, that kind of thing.

"While the majority of our work might be more general painting, we do have specialist skills that other firms don't have."

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