Gold Sid

Serpent Tails

Will Hall

Gleaming bright gold, this Lake District icon can be seen hovering above lapping waters and through all weathers. Over the past five months, we have been working on a particularly unusual commission and a Lake District icon. We have been recreating the Coniston Gondola’s striking, sea serpent figurehead…

The National Trust, who rebuilt the original Victorian Gondola (in the late 70’s) have commissioned Peter Hall & Son to recreate its spiralling serpent figurehead. Affectionately known by the crew as ‘Sid’, the serpent has led the way over the water, with more than three decades of weathering having taken its toll.

Gondola’s story begins in Victorian times with the original yacht commissioned in 1858 and built in 1859 by the Furness Railway Company, as an attraction for the tourists they brought by train to Coniston. Gondola’s full lake cruise starts at Coniston Pier sailing to Lake Bank, the site of the original Victorian ticket office and waiting room, then to Parkamoor on the east shore and north to Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin between 1871 and 1900 and then the short distance across the lake back to Coniston Pier. Whether you choose to sit in the luxurious First Class Saloon or enjoy being out on the deck, it is a wonderful journey, gliding smoothly and almost silently over the water on this majestic boat, surrounded by stunning scenery.


Gliding silently across Coniston at water level on Gondola is an unforgettable experience.


This is not the first time we have been involved with Gondola. About 14 years ago we did some major work in the First Class saloon; lining the ceiling with very fine wool and supporting it with wooden vaults to match in with the design of the original. The seating we reupholstered in plush red buttoned fabric, thus reinstating the saloon in the first class manner in which it was intended. Restoration work also took place then on Sid, involving replacing rotten wood and regilding the serpent. That, along with improvements to the barge boards on either side of the bow, has kept it all in good order up until now.

A fundraising drive was launched resulting in the commission of the new serpent to be carved in solid oak, gilded and placed back on the bow, ready for when Gondola is put back on Coniston in March for what is hoped will be many more years.

Suzi Bunting, visitor experience development manager for Gondola, said: “Sid not only represents our link to Gondola’s Victorian history but his forked tongue, according to maritime myth, is said to ward off bad weather. That’s some achievement in the changeable climate of the Lake District.”

So if you are in The Lake District between 25th March and 31st October be sure to go to the shore of Coniston and see this wonderful boat in action. Or better still, buy a ticket and experience Gondola for yourself. Members of the National Trust now get a discount!

Let us take you through the creation of the new Sid…

The new serpent started its life as blocks of English oak, glued and cramped together to form a rough ‘blank’, ready to be sculpted.

The sculpting took the best part of four months, despite the use of machinery used to get the general shape. Hand tools were used for much of the finishing to ensure beautifully smooth and flowing shapes and detailed face.

Each night, Sid was placed in our woodshed to keep him in similar conditions to that which he will remain when onboard Steam Yacht Gondola, to protect him from becoming too dry or cracking.

Each of the scales have been painstakingly planned out to ensure an even cross hatch pattern that tightens at the coils. Every line has been hand carved with a V shaped chisel and mallet.

Over six coats of undercoat and yellow paint were applied before finally applying a skin of gold leaf. This required a huge amount of care in order not to fill the grooves and lose their definition.


See the process from start to finish.

Watch the serpent emerge from a block of timber and grow his golden skin.


Explore more…

National Trust

Grand Victorian Circular Tour

Find out more about our Woodturning Workshop

bespoke knole sofa

Bespoke Knole Sofa

Showcasing all the merits of bespoke, handmade upholstery, our latest Knole sofa is a sight to behold.

We have designed and made this knole as a fusion of traditional and contemporary. With brand new ribbed velvet fabric, revealing subtle orange between a wash of rich grey.

Sun Bleached Bureau

Too much sun!

Will Hall

The power of the sun is something that is regularly overlooked when arranging furniture within our homes. It’s effect can be both positive and destructive, but so gradual that it often goes unnoticed until the damage is done. Ambient UV light from sunlight changes the colour of wood, with Oak darkening, bringing out warmer tones. Direct sunlight however can have adverse effects on certain finishes and especially stains, sapping the colour and washing out the richness that it once had. This is the story of a bureau…

This 19th Century Victorian roll top bureau, had sat in the sun too long. Positioned in front of a large window, the sunlight had almost totally destroyed the colour. If it wasn’t for the remaining finish inside and on the back in the shadow of the sun, one would be hard put to guess that there was once a finish at all.

The very detailed marquetry on all sides had become almost indistinguishable in colour from the main body of wood, and this was to prove the major challenge.


A surprise inside!

Removing the top to disassemble the roll top lid, we were delighted to find, scrawled in pencil by the maker – the address for which this piece was originally made.

Number 36 Morningside Crescent, Hampstead Heath, London.


Wherever possible, we prefer to leave any original finish in place to conserve a piece’s history. In this case however, more drastic measures were necessary and the remaining finish had to be removed.


Now with the wood bare, new stain and finish could be applied to return the exterior surface to its original colour and shine. The difficulty was to colour the main Mahogany timber without also darkening the lighter wood of the marquetry. By using a chemical stain that reacts with the natural tannin in the Mahogany but not occurring in the marquetry timber, our team were able to restore the rich colour of the main cabinet, giving the marquetry clear definition.

Stain applied, then began the long process of building up the finish. Using shellac polish, thin layer upon thin layer was built up. With each layer, there was time to let the finish sink into the grain which was then rubbed back with fine abrasive paper to smooth the surface, before another layer of shellac. A matter of thorough attention, and patience.


And the patience paid off. With the antiqued brass, polished to match the shine that would have been originally intended in the 19th century, the difference is undoubtably astounding!


The sun bleached bureau as it arrived with us.


How it left after restoration.


The inside of the bureau after completed restoration, still with it’s original leather writing surface. The outside stain perfectly matching that of the inside that had been hidden from the sun.

Find out more about our Restoration & Conservation Workshop

parker knoll chair reupholstery

Parker Knoll Antique Reupholstery

Will Hall

Life is full of surprises!  During his 40 years as an upholsterer, David had never come across an antique chair like this.  As it arrived as just a metal frame and with no knowledge of what it should look like, could we get it bring it back to being the chair it once was? The only thing we had to go on was the name Parker Knoll and a design number stamped on it.

Wray Castle Dining Room Floor Restoration

Will Hall

Wray Castle is a Victorian neo-gothic building at Claife, near Hawkshead, with beautiful views over Lake Windermere. The house and grounds have belonged to the National Trust since 1929 however it has only recently been opened to the public. In the meantime it was let out to various organisations including phone companies as training facilities and such like, and sadly the decisions to equip and transform the interior for their purpose were not with the conservation of the property in mind.

See how our restoration team recover the beauty and history that lies beneath the surface…

(Dining Room before work began – image from

One such area was the Dining Room.  A sizeable room, with the high ceilings you would expect from such a grand building and the floor had been carpeted. One can only assume this was to reduce the echoes, which would have been considerable had it been floorboards when it was like a call centre.

Our restoration team went out to assess the work.  By crawling down beneath the floor they were able to see the condition of the original oak floorboards and exciting to find them laid out in a ‘herringbone’ format creating a V-like pattern of long boards.


(The layers of carpet and plywood covering the original oak floor)

By taking up a section of the carpet in the bay window alcove, the team found that the job was not to be an easy one. The top carpet had been glued down onto plywood which in turn had been nailed down to cover another carpet and underlay, that had been glued to the original floor.  It was apparent that when the fitters had come to replace the first carpet, they had found it too difficult to take up the worn carpet and so had decided to simply cover it with a new one.

Our restorers, John, Josh and Ted used this area as a trial for the rest of the floor. Various chemicals were tested to see if this would help remove the glue from the oak floor, but it was worried that a strong chemical might remove the aged surface of the floorboards containing its history.  It was therefore decided that removing the carpet by hand with paint scrapers would be the best solution.

After seeing this section of the floor revealed, the National Trust could not wait to see all the carpet removed.  A number of volunteers were called in to help and work continued immediately to tear up all the top carpet and plywood and rip away the black carpet and underlay.

(Ripping up the bottom layer of carpet – Image from National Trust Wray Castle Facebook Page)

The work was tough, dusty, hot and non-stop and by the end of each day every member of the team were feeling the continued effort in their bodies. Despite the hard work, progress was difficult and slow.  The resin on the floorboards was well stuck and the scraping knives were quickly going blunt and needed sharpening. Some boards could take up to an hour to clear!

(Discovered under the carpet – a stunning stone hearth)

As the layers of glue were scraped away and more and more boards cleared, it became apparent that the work was worthwhile, and as the gaps between the boards were unblocked the definition of the herringbone pattern came alive. Sadly it also revealed some of the damage obtained through its previous users. Many large holes had to be plugged that had been drilled at equal intervals across the room, probably for wiring, even into the beautiful stone fireplace hearth.

Hoovered, cleaned and wax-polished and the rich depth of colour, returned back to as it would once have been before the carpet. A transformation worthy of the effort. Why not visit Wray Castle and see for yourself?

Watch the video of our restoration at Wray Castle:

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