Manx National Heritage began the
restoration of the Old House of Keys in Millennium Year 2000. Although
the building is less than 200 years old, it held many mysteries
as to its original appearance and decoration. The uncovering of
the evidence was an archaeological process as each successive layer
of building and decorative work since 1820 was revealed. Scraps
of original Victorian wallpaper and almost 200 years of paint layers
were analysed and all available documentary evidence studied.
Although there are no 19th century
illustrations of the building or its interior, there is one description
of the interior (a letter to the Rising Sun newspaper,1822). Although
it is not very complimentary, this reference does provide an indication
of the quality of the building in 1822.
the most glaring defects in a public edifice
are perceptible in the House of Keys: neither the exterior nor the
interior of the building give any idea of its being a Senate House
of a respectable body of Representatives, or rather the Parliament
House of the Isle of Man...' The Rising Sun newspaper. 19th January
surprisingly, few items of furniture from the original chamber seem
to have survived. However, two inventories have survived from 1866
and 1871 which list the contents of individual rooms in the House
of Keys. These inventories provide descriptions of the furniture
and fittings of the House, and also provide information such as
the purchase dates of items. For example, the Brussels carpet and
easy chair were bought in 1864, and a Milner in July 1865.
The process of restoration starts by searching the building and
documents for clues and information about the history of the building.
The job of restoring all the elements of the original interior that
have been lost over the years then begins; from the skirting boards,
shutters and fireplaces through to the table and chairs - even down
to the pewter inkwells.
A scrap of the original wallpaper
concealed under layers of later wallpaper and paint was discovered.
To reveal the original wallpaper design, the salvaged section was
painstakingly restored by paper conservators at Manx National Heritage
and the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture in London.
The restored sample of wallpaper, a fashionable pattern of the
1860s, has been reproduced by Cole & Son of London.
nothing has survived of the original Brussels carpet listed in the
1866 and 1871 inventories. However, extensive research has resulted
in a replica carpet produced by Woodward Grosvenor, carpet manufacturers
in Kidderminster, who have been in operation since the 1790s and
who have an historic archive of over 20,000 carpet designs covering
a period of 200 years.
The carpet woven for the Chamber of the House of Keys is in fact
an 1864 design that would have been in production at the time that
the Keys purchased their carpet, possibly even from Woodward Grosvenor.
Paint samples were taken for analysis
from throughout the building by Patrick Baty. These detailed analyses
provided evidence of decoration during the past 200 years and were
used to reproduce the paint to original period specifications.
two inventories of 1866 and 1871 provide the evidence for the two
most important sets of furniture in the Chamber. There were 24 mahogany
chairs and a large table. Other documentary evidence shows that
the chairs were purchased just after the House was built but the
table appears to be earlier in date. A set of 24 mahogany chairs
have been reproduced in a design typical of the period 1815-1825,
whilst the table is of an earlier design.
The original Speaker's chair from
the Chamber was given to Edward Gawne when he left the Keys following
the first public elections in 1867. The replacement chair used by
the new Speaker, John Senhouse Goldie-Taubman, which was in turn
given to him on his retirement, was purchased by Manx National Heritage
in 1993 and has now returned to its original home in the Chamber
of The Old House of Keys.
Some detail views of the restored chamber.