Highgate Cemetery, Swains Angel

Replacement Carving

The Swains Angel is a Carrara marble carving of St Dorothy carrying a basket of flowers and marks a private memorial in Highgate West cemetery. The conservation and repair of the monument was commissioned as part the wider scheme being carried out by London Stone Conservation across the cemetery.

The memorial dates from 1898 and is a finely carved example of the wonderful funeral statuary that exists within the cemeteries of London. The sculptural detail was relatively well preserved but the overall aesthetic had suffered due to overgrow vegetation, damage from falling branches, environmental degradation and unsympathetic materials used in earlier attempts to repair the memorial.

The memorial was cleared of all organic growth and carefully cleaned by hand using wooden spatulas, non-ionic detergent and natural bristle brushes. This helped reveal the true condition of the marble surface and any latent damage. The carving had previously been repaired with a hard impermeable cement mortar, which had been used to reinstate the corona, sections of both wings, the entire right forearm and hand and a finger of the left hand. The cemetitious repairs had to some extent safeguarded the sculpture but they in turn had started to deteriorate and accelerate the weathering at the interface between the new and old materials.

All of the historic repairs were removed and all the missing sections remodelled directly on to the figure in a fine white wax. The failed repairs, along with historic records and knowledge of funerary carving, allowed for an accurate and sympathetic recreation of the missing details. At our workshops, our craftspeople carved the missing sections in reclaimed Carrara marble, carefully sourced to match the original memorial. The newly carved sections were installed using austenitic grade stainless steel dowels set in epoxy resin and the joints made good with a colour matched lime mortar.