The Apothecaries Hall is the oldest livery company hall in the London. Completed in 1672, it was built on the same site of an earlier hall that burnt down in the Great Fire.
The painted and gilded Coat of Arms above the door to the 17th century Hall is believed to have come from the rear of one of the Society’s Thames barges, taking apprentices down the river to the Chelsea Physic Garden. It shows Apollo overcoming a wyvern, representing disease, and the motto translates as: “I am spoken all over the world as one that brings help.” The unicorns and the rhinoceros also feature prominently as their horns were once thought to have mythic healing properties.
In 2016, DBR Conservation carried out an inspection of the Coat of Arms, located above an external door in the Hall’s internal courtyard, which revealed that the polychrome gilded timber was in an extremely precarious state. The wood rot and fungal growth had penetrated far into the structure, and nearly 40% was severely disintegrated. With the award of the HOLT grant, we were then asked to save the Apothecaries’ Coat of Arms.
Approximately sixty samples of paint and gilding were taken and examined under low magnification. The fragments were mounted as cross-sections in cold-setting polyester resin and analysed at high magnification and pigments were identified using a polarising light microscope. This information allowed us to establish the history of its decorative schemes, and its original appearance.
The crest was then carefully removed from the Hall, and brought to the DBR Conservation workshop for treatment, which began with the removal of rot, mould, fungus, insect infestation and old deteriorating repairs. The team then worked to consolidate the salvaged wood elements and the remaining polychromy and gilding. Once stabilised, the Coat of Arms could then be painstakingly pieced back together and the missing elements of the carving were remodelled or scarfed in with new oak.
The final phase was returning the Coat of Arms’ original colour scheme, which required complete repainting and regilding in 24 carat gold, or silver. The paint and layers of UV resistant varnishes now protect the Coat-of-Arms’ surface from the elements.
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