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Corpus Christi College, founded in 1517, is one of Oxford’s oldest Colleges. While its role in England’s religious history is famous, its Grade 1 Listed chapel had been neglected. There was a lack of storage, the lighting and acoustics were poor, the fine timber ceiling was dark, delicate carvings of the screen and cornices were damaged and plaster had perished.
The Chapel is used by fellows, students, staff and the public on a daily basis. The College celebrates its 500th anniversary in 2017 and wanted to restore the original beauty of the Chapel without detracting from its simplicity as it will be a central part of the celebrations.
Research and investigation undertaken with Cliveden Conservation during the design stage evaluated methods of cleaning and repairs. The dark appearance of the joinery was found to be the result of varnish applied in the 19th century. Old lime plaster had perished in areas due to historic water ingress and an unsuitable paint finish. Similarly, lighting trials were also carried out. This, along with discussions with Oxford Diocese and Historic England, informed the Specification.
Working to a detailed programme the refurbishment and restoration works included:
• Removal of perished plaster and unsuitable paint finish
• Cleaning and restoring panelling, stabilising the cornice and ante chapel screen (c.1675-6)
• Cleaning organ case and improving acoustics by removal of carpets and heavy curtains
• Cleaning and repair of monuments
• New storage in ante chapel concealed behind panelled screens
• Cleaning and refinishing timber ceiling and 112 carved gilded bosses
• Replacement of fire detection system with aspirator type (no visual impact)
• New scene setting LED lighting system including backlighting of east stained glass window
• Avoiding acoustic disturbance