Recutting the Inscription to Lady Hertford

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The inscription at the entrance to the grotto is in praise of Lady Hertford, whose idea it was, and who oversaw its construction, and may well have helped to position the shells on the walls and in the roof. During the recent renovation of the grotto, which is now in something rather nearer to its original condition, wear on all the inscriptions on the floor was noticed, rendering some of the lettering illegible.

The stones were inspected by Lida Kindersley from the Cardozo Kindersley studio at Cambridge (http://www.kindersleyworkshop.co.uk/) on May 28th, and rubbings of the inscriptions were taken. She reported that all the stones were partly illegible and decaying. The two modern inscriptions were the worst, while the larger eighteenth century stones, although in generally better condition, have lost important sections of the lettering.

The report, and an estimate for their replacement was discussed by the trustees and it was decided, in view of the costs, that only the eighteenth century stones should be replaced. The new stones would be slate, as the floor of the grotto is almost always damp, and sometimes wet: slate is the only stone which is properly impervious and should resist these conditions. The modern stones, installed c.1990, have been replaced with bricks matching the surrounding floor. All the original stones will be preserved in dry conditions. In the near future, it is hoped to display them in a site devoted to the history of the mound; there are exciting plans for this project, hopefully to be announced in 2024.

Meanwhile the work to replace the eighteenth century stones was commissioned. When the lettering was being drawn out by Lida Kindersley, she realised that part of the damage had been due to the letters being cut across the edges of the stones, which allowed water to penetrate the surface. In contrast to modern practice, the lettering must have been cut when the stones were in situ on the floor. The photo above shows the r of ‘rustic’ on the join. Lida has subtly redrawn the first part of the line: the new version will ensure that this and other letters do not bridge the joints between the three stones. Apart from these adjustments the new stones follow the originals as closely as possible. At the bottom of this article, there is a short movie of the carvers in action – the noise of the chisels is distinctly reminiscent of the music for the Nibelungs’ forge in Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold !

Despite the appalling weather in March, the stones were installed at the end of that month, and Lady Hertford is once again properly commemorated at the entrance to her grotto.

Watch: a short extract showing the carvers at work: three hands make light work!