The National Trust team at Stourhead, in Wiltshire, are working with experts from Cliveden Conservation to restore the worn lettering to a quote written by Alexander Pope in the first half of the 18th century and carved into the curved marble slab situated in the Grotto .
Through years of people visiting the grotto, the inscription into the Italian marble has become worn and parts are illegible. Iain Cotton, letter cutter, carver and sculptor from Cliveden Conservation is working with the Stourhead team to re-carve the letters using traditional methods and tools. Iain says, ‘A high degree of hand-eye coordination is required to re-cut each letter using small sharp chisels and lightweight hammers. Interestingly, the chisels used differ only marginally from those that have been used for generations.’ Once the letters are re-carved a light painted wash will be introduced to the letters to allow visitors to easily read the quote.
Stourhead’s Visitor Experience Officer, Charlotte Toop said, ‘This project is something that we have wanted to carry out for a while.’ She continues, ‘to receive the funding to be able to do this work is very exciting. We are grateful to a generous donation from the Salisbury and South Wilts National Trust Association, which has made this work possible.’
The inscription itself comes from Alexander Pope’s translation of a pseudo-classical poem and reads: ‘Nymph of the Grot these sacred spring I keep; And to the murmur of these water sleep; Ah! spare my slumbers, gently tread the cave; And drink in silence or in silence lave.’
The carved lettering in the inscription is one of the earliest known examples of the revival of a sans-serif typeface, and was the inspiration behind the National Trust’s first ever bespoke typeface, created in 2009.
The Grotto, situated overlooking the lake, is a well-loved brick structure covered in Tufa, lit from above by an opening in its dome. It features a sleeping nymph, Ariadne, who lies behind the inscription.
This project is a part of Stourhead’s fundraising appeal to restore the built landscape at Stourhead, and is the first of a series of small restoration projects taking place this autumn.
Other works taking place include graffiti repairs to the Temple of Apollo to lessen its visual impact, as well as stonework repairs to the Obelisk and Temple of Apollo. Later in the year repairs will also be made to the dipping pond in the walled garden which is a part of a Victorian drainage system.
For more information, or to donate to Stourhead please phone Stourhead’s Estate Office on 01747 841152 or visit the website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/stourhead