Film ID:
YFA 999



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This film was commissioned by the City of York to document the restoration of Fairfax House after it had been acquired by York Civic Trust. It shows in detail the state of the building prior to restoration, the work of restoration, and how it looked on completion when it was opened to the public.

Title - The Restoration of Fairfax House

A film by Patrick Olsen. Commentary Noel Stabler
An introduction by John Shannon, Chairman of York Civic Trust

John Shannon, speaking to the camera, explains that York Civic Trust acquired Fairfax House, "the finest Georgian House in York," two years previously. Built by John Carr in 1762 for Viscount Fairfax, John Shannon gives an account of the Fairfax House, of its architectural features and of the craftsmen who have worked on it. He then outlines what was involved in the work of restoration, and the Georgian furniture, left to the Trust by Lord Terry, which was put into the house. Now the house is open to the public.

Fairfax House is seen from a distance, and then up close. The narrator provides a brief history of the house from the Second World War, when it was a club for the armed forces. A couple are shown dancing to Duke Ellington's 'Take the A Train'. The film shows many of the architectural features of the room. The narrator states that the cinema at the back was replaced by flats. The House was bought by money from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

The film shows what the house looked like before it was acquired by the York Civic Trust. It shows the disrepair, with much of it painted in gaudy colours. The rooms and fireplaces are in very poor condition. In the cinema manager's office, without a floor, the ceiling remains intact, albeit with nicotine staining and some cracks. In one place there is a hole in the plaster. On a noticeboard there is a list of local cinemas. The film shows a ground floor plan of the house with a flashing light indicating which part of the house is being shown. Another room is seen in decay, with bad cracks.

The film moves to the staircase, painted red, showing more damage. The main window has been bricked up behind the glass. Building work can be heard in the background. The ceiling is seen painted blue. The indicator light is now flashing in the Ballroom on the 1st floor ground plan. Here too there are layers of paint, with a red ceiling. On to the back stairs where there is still a poster for dancing classes. Then Gallery on the 2nd floor is also in poor repair, with metal braces holding cracks in the walls. Finally onto the roof to show its condition.

The first job of restoration was to remove all woodwork for cleaning and repair, and a door is shown without its frame. Concrete is being poured into the floor of the old cinema foyer for new foundations. Workmen have stripped the walls back to the brickwork. A ceiling is discovered behind a bricked up area. The staircase balustrade has been removed for protection and restoration. At the rear of the house scaffolding has been erected, and builders are repairing the back wall. The Ballroom has had its two walls reinstated, as is a fireplace. When the floorboards were removed springs were revealed, showing it to be a proper dance floor.

When the floor to the cinema office was taken up bones and other artefacts were found. In the ground floor Dining Room the damage to the ceiling relief, given top priority, is shown in close up. Paint is seen being removed on the 1st floor, using a blow torch and then carefully scraped off with a small blade. It is then cleaned with water. The difference between the painted and the clean plaster can be seen. The new walls to the Ballroom are added and the window bricked up as the back part is being pulled down. The end walls are removed to reveal the original side of the house. The hallway ceiling is being cleaned. The cost of removing the paint from the ceilings was £45.

The architect chosen for doing the restoration was Francis Johnson, with 50 years of experience. Fairfax House is then shown again from outside, covered in scaffolding. On the roof a temporary roof is being made so that repair can be made to the old one, replacing faulty timber. Chimney stacks are rebuilt. The ceiling for the main staircase has a bridging scaffold. The paint here too is removed, revealing the damage. Other parts of the old house, and some items, are revealed as new foundations are laid, some of which are shown, such as an old pot for 'Virol' bone marrow. A stairway going to the ground floor is also revealed, and new stairs are put in.

A large hole in a ceiling is being repaired by specialist plasterers from Bradford. The ceiling above the main staircase has been given a light coat of paint to reveal any remaining dampness. The cleaning process reveals the carved names of Shakespeare and Newton, and some of the original paint is shown. In the Saloon on the first floor the paint had to be removed by nitromos.

End of Part One

Part Two

Just outside the city centre, door frames and skirting are being repaired by Hare and Ransome, and this is process is documented, starting first by soaking the wood in hot caustic soda, and brushing off the dirt. After this the wood is painted with vinegar to neutralise it. Two pieces of wood are compared, one where the paint has been removed using a chisel, another using caustic soda. When cured the sections are stored. Other repair work to the wood is shown. Back at the house the main staircase has been taken out to be replaced. Brickwork is being taken out to support the new steps. The wall supports, made locally, are shown. The steps are put into place, allowing each to dry before the next could be added.

Up on the roof, workmen are adding old and new tiles. Lead flushing is being knocked into place. An ornate round window, the oculus window, is being painted, and the finished roof is seen. Outside, the original walls are being given a brick skin. A brick arch is being made using a wooden frame. The inside of the ground floor kitchen is seen, with a range coming from an old Yorkshire house. In the first floor rear bedroom the plaster was removed, revealing a brick and timber wall. There is evidence of rushes being used as a plaster base. A new cornice is fixed in one of the rooms.

Fairfax House is again shown from the outside, followed by a sign for William Birch and Sons of York. The oculist window is has been given a new carving on the outside. More of the outside is seen from the scaffolding. The old cinema steps are being re-styled, and the neo-classical columns repaired with glass fibre mouldings. Builders are working on other repairs to the exterior. Inside, more of the ceiling reliefs are shown. A replacement marble fireplace is shown, bought in Mayfair. Walls have been added to the 2nd floor.

A workman is putting the finishing touches to the balustrade on the back staircase with a chisel. In the downstairs Drawing Room the door frames are back in place, and the skirting is being fitted. The painters and decorators are in putting on the final touches of paint and wallpaper. The film then shows much of the restored interior. The Saloon and Drawing Room walls are covered in damask. The restored rear of the house is shown from the outside. A workman is putting the finishing touches to the outside steps, and another to the outside railings, which are shown in close up.

The house is decorated with the Noel Terry collection of English furniture and clocks. They are put into place and polished, stair carpet being laid and pictures being hung. The finished Hall and the cinema manager's office, now the library, with a portrait of John Carr are shown now complete. Next is the Dining Room, fully furnished, with the newly carved central panel above the fireplace. Then the restored kitchen, with a stuffed hare hanging up, and filled with 18th century cookware. From there it is onto the great staircase, complete with new carpet and restored busts of Shakespeare and Newton. The film then goes around the rest of the house, starting with the new four poster beds designed in an 18th century style, and the 18th century clocks. Many of the other pieces of furniture, paintings and other items are shown.

Finally, members of the public are enter Fairfax after it has been reopened. The film ends by crediting all the various building contractors, and with: 'Special thanks to the following people for their help - Jimmy Reagan, Geoff Bron, Chris Newsome, Mike Dickinson, Peter Brown, John Shannon.
Title - Patrick Olson. Music used in this film is on a cassette, "Fairfax Fantasia", recording produced by Brendan Hearne and Robin Peach. The musicians and singers are listed.

Produced by City of York Planning Department, Eric Pearson, City Planning and Estates Officer.

The End