Brookfield House is a building now owned by The University of Leicester, bequeathed by Thomas Fielding Johnson, a prominent Victorian. We originally were asked to look at the French polishing aspect of this job back in December 2018. Built in the 1870s the timber panelling has been treated with a fireproofing material during the last century, we think, Class 1 or Class 0. We suspect that this was either Quelfire or Nullifire due to its hygroscopic properties and the fact that as a semi derelict building with no heating it had become very sticky.

Much of the panelling had been painted over so we knew we would have to chemically stripping the existing finish and maybe even steam it off.

Whilst we were given a bill of quantities as well as scale drawings we knew that this required a site visit to ascertain how best to proceed. The main contractor has been superb giving us all the support and information that we needed . We asked if we could prepare indicative samples on site.

Here’s an idea of what we were facing on site. The brown doped and painted panelling gave no idea of the potential below

damaged wood panel

Amazingly , using Paramose stripper,a cabinet scraper and wire wool we could get the panels back to looking almost new! The picture below does not tell the whole truth as the stripped sample is completely dry. When timber gets wet it will go darker. It does not matter if it is wet with water, oil, methylated spirit, cellulose thinners or another solvent.

2 cleaned door panels, showing the difference before and after stripping

You can see how much we scraped off before using wire-wool!

The good news is we got the job!

It was agreed that we would collect the doors from site and strip them in our temperature and humidity controlled workshops near Hurley, North Warwickshire. This allowed the job to move forward as conditions on site were still not ideal – It was the middle of winter and all of the windows were being replaced on site.

Below you can see the sheer volume of materials to be stripped off and how clean they came up:

The doors came up beautifully!

The doors were a mixture of solid Oak and solid Scots pine.

In some cases they were split with one side been one timber and the other another. This is a far-cry from the laminated doors we see in modern houses.

As winter turned into spring and the building became water tight we could begin in earnest on site. We had completed our RAMS (Risk Assessment and Method Statement). The building is known to have asbestos components so we made sure our asbestos awareness training was up to speed. We take employee safety very seriously at Terry Waters French Polishing.

As we began to work our way through the building we found that the panelling was even better than we had thought. The panels on the ground floor were a mixture of Oak and Mahogany giving a lovely contrasting 1920’s feel.

The Scots pine on the first floor had been coated many times with different varnishes and paints.

You can see how clean we have got the handrail, Newel posts and soldiers.

Being PASMA an IPAF trained we were able to be working at height- in this case 9 meters high!

Now we need to talk about stripping the underside of the staircase. It can’t be physically sanded as there are too many grooves and corners. The only way to do it is the hard way:

Stripper, wire wool and hard-graft!

Working on a construction site involves our normal uniform of PPE: Personal protective equipment:

Hard hat, gloves, steel toe capped and soled footwear and Hi-viz vest.

However, the underside of the staircase caused us a problem! Staff are working directly underneath the stripper clearing zone and as we use wire brushes it it tends to spatter you straight in the face! So we had to re-think our RAMS and PPE:

Here’s the result!!

We’re in the final few weeks now. The doors are returned and being fireproofed with Envirograf.

We have only 2 weeks left on our part of this project but we hope to bring you finished pictures showing the transformation of this once elegant building that suffered so badly in the 1970’s.