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Staircase Project – Now Complete

Conservation, Interiors, Preservation, Trish Smith

If you’ve climbed the mahogany staircase at Drayton Hall in the last few years, you’ve likely heard what we dubbed, “the safety speech.” All visitors to the second floor were instructed to ascend single file, with three stairs between one another, and with a light touch on the handrail. While time-consuming, and potentially alarming to our visitors, the safety speech was nonetheless essential while we worked to strengthen our iconic staircase–a project which reached substantial completion at the end of April.

Like so many details at Drayton Hall, the mahogany staircase is original to the building, and unique among houses of the period. Crafted largely from mahogany and then painted a striking vermillion color, the impressive staircase survives largely intact, the only notable alterations being replacement newel posts and balusters near the foot of the stairs.

While the staircase looks much the same as it did in the mid-eighteenth century, its use has changed dramatically. Once tread by individuals associated with the household, the staircase now carries thousands of visitors each year, bringing new stresses for which it wasn’t designed. Structural engineer, Craig Bennett, found these stresses serious enough to recommend a series of structural improvements, and in the interim, the safety speech.

In November 2021, a team from Richard Marks Restorations began the careful disassembly of the staircase. Each individual component of the staircase was labeled with an orange tag and then noted on a diagram to ensure that it would be reassembled in its original location. As the pieces of the staircase came up, many of them revealed hidden details, such as a stair tread with a chalk sketch of decorative scrollwork on its underside. In strategic locations, 18th century framing was joined to new wood or steel, and some connections were strengthened with hidden metal fasteners.

The result is a staircase that is much stronger, but which retains most of its original material and, unless you’re crawling underneath it, looks the same as it has for generations. This project exemplifies our approach to preservation—protecting our resources for the future while conserving as much as possible from the past. As always, we remain thankful to you, our supporters, for making this important work possible.

With the project now complete, we are delighted to share that the second floor is now available for interpreter led tours! To book your visit, click here.