Life & Death of St Stephen, St Stephens Church

Conservation & Repair of Stone Carvings

London Stone Conservation carried out the restoration of the damaged chancel carvings at St Stephens Church in Hampstead. The project was part of an on-going conservation program at the Grade I listed Church, continuing our longstanding relationship with the St Stephen’s Restoration and Preservation Trust.

The sculptures were carved by Thomas Earp in Bath stone and depict four scenes from the life and death of St Stephen. The schemes are set within a barbed foil and surrounded by carved foliage and moulded detail. Above, the names of each scene are painted in red oxide. The sculptures are carved in high relief into the front face of the large corbel tables that flank the chancel and would have surrounded the altar before the church was deconsecrated.

During a period of dereliction from 1977, the church was vandalised and much of the interior stonework lost or damaged. The corbels suffered particularly badly, with the heads, arms and other vulnerable details lost altogether. The aesthetic and legibility of the carvings were significantly compromised by the loss of such primary sculptural detail. The stonework was also severely darkened by years of interior candle and lamp lighting, atmospheric soiling and staining from water ingress due to a damaged roof.

The corbels were carefully cleaned using non-ionic detergent, phosphor bronze and natural bristle brushes to further reveal the condition of stone and any latent damage. Using historic evidence of the undamaged sculptures and careful study of the surviving work, all of the missing carved details were remodelled in situ using a fine white wax. Silicone rubber moulds were then taken of the wax models, to be caste in a composite lime, crushed stone dust and aggregate mix. The new caste details were installed using carbon fibre micro dowels set in polyester resin and made good with a lime putty mix to match. On completion the repairs were toned-in using mineral paints to further blend with the patina of the historic stonework.