Osborne House, Shell Alcove

Conservation, replication and recording of the Shell Alcove at Osborne House, Isle of Wight.

  • BEFORE the restoration works commenced

    BEFORE the restoration works commenced

  • Jenna removing flaking paint

    Jenna removing flaking paint

  • Laura and Tracey concserving the coal seat

    Laura and Tracey concserving the coal seat

  • Laura retouchung the alcove

    Laura retouchung the alcove

  • AFTER our team completed the works

    AFTER our team completed the works

The shell alcove at Osborne house was recorded, conserved and restored by the Conservation team at the University of Lincoln in 2017.  The project was principally managed by Phillipa McDonnell, from Lincoln Conservation. 

Located on the lower terrace at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, the Shell Alcove was designed by Prince Albert and completed in 1853. Built into the side of an earth bank, the shell alcove consists of a canopy formed from a painted cementitious material, a decorative band made of local shells, a coal bench, supported by cast iron dolphins, and a tiled floor.  

Over its 160-year history, the alcove had fallen into a state of disrepair. The paint work was severely flaking, parts of the canopy had been lost or inappropriately repaired, and a dolphin support and ceiling rose were missing.  

The team cleaned all areas, removed the historic fills, repaired and remodeled lost areas of the canopy, collected local shells to repair the decorative band, and repainted the canopy in the original colours as determined by Architectural Paint Research.  

Two elements of the alcove needed full replication; a ceiling rose which had been destroyed after falling from the canopy, and a missing dolphin support for the coal seat.  

As all the dolphin supports were identical, Lincoln Conservation scanned an existing support to create a 3D model. This was then printed true-to-scale, and finished to match the original supports.  

As the ceiling rose had been completely destroyed, the only evidence remaining was a poor-quality, historic photograph. To overcome this lack of evidence, ceiling roses within the main house at Osborne that were visually similar to that in the Shell Alcove were scanned, and merged to create an appropriate new model. This was 3D printed in a light-weight material to avoid damage to the floor or bystanders if it were to fall again, and finished to replicate a painted plaster finish.   

The entire Shell Alcove was scanned before and after conservation to create an accurate and lasting record of the conservation process, and to monitor future change.