How do you restore a priceless crystal chandelier?
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 November 2015
A couple from Skelmersdale are among Britain’s leading restorers of priceless chandliers, writes Mairead Mahon
Just about everyone remembers the episode of Only Fools and Horses when the Trotter family go into the chandelier business with hilarious consequences. It ends in disaster a priceless piece in smithereens.
It’s something that Terence Brotheridge hears with monotonous regularity because he is in the same line of business. The difference is, of course, that he and his wife, Juliet, are among Britain’s finest restorers – a million miles away from the bumbling Del Boy, Rodney and Grandad.
When Terry and Juliet decided to start a family they agreed to quit central London. They had friends in Lancashire and fell in love with the county during a visit, eventually settling in Skelmersdale.
‘When I was a young man, I wanted to be a jockey and did race for five years,’ said Terry. ‘It was difficult enough to keep my weight down - I like my food - but it was impossible to stop myself reaching a height of 6ft 4in. I was disappointed at the time but what a boon my height has been in the world of chandeliers!’
After racing, he began an apprenticeship with an electrician who specialised in chandeliers and soon found that he had a natural affinity with the lights fantastic.
‘I fell in love with the beauty and fragility of them. I began to build a reputation and I was lucky enough to be trusted with some of the oldest pieces in London. One of my earliest commissions was the super chandelier in the Fishmongers’ Hall at London Bridge.’
Terry and Juliet have worked on some of the best and brightest chandeliers in the land. He usually prefers to work and dismantle them on site as that means that there is less chance of losing a vital part or breaking something.
‘I am careful, I have to be. Some of the pieces are worth millions and, yes, I have seen that episode of Only Fools and Horses and, no, touching wood and with my fingers crossed, it hasn’t happened to me. Mind you, it’s easy to see how it could but I can give readers a golden rule: Always turn a chandelier clockwise until you are sure that you are loosening the correct one. That’s something granddad should have kept in mind.’
Nonetheless, when members of the public watch Terence carefully lowering a chandelier on a winch, they can rarely resist mentioning it. ‘I don’t mind, I love that episode, too. But when I was working at a National Trust property, we hit on a good way of raising a few extra pounds for a local charity. It was a type of swear box. Anyone who said the words Del Boy, Trotter or Rodney had to make a donation. Suffice to say, quite a bit was raised,’ he laughed.
The National Trust is a regular client of Brotheridge Chandeliers. One that held a special place in his heart was Greenway, the Devon home of Agatha Christie.
‘I read lots of works by Agatha Christie as a teenager and I had always meant to visit the house where she had written many of them. It was a chance of a lifetime when I was asked to sort out a problem with her chandelier. It was all very dramatic, as every time someone walked on the room above the ceiling that the chandelier hung from, it jangled in the most alarming way. I don’t think Agatha Christie would have put up with it for second!’ he said.
Jane Austen didn’t actually write under the light of the nine chandeliers in the Bath Assembly Rooms but she probably danced below them and she certainly described them in Northanger Abbey. They measure eight feet high, have 40 arms and when Jane knew them they were valued at about £100. Today, they are worth half a million each and it is Terry’s job to look after them.
Juliet is his regular work partner but on one memorable occasion, he was assisted by a famous face. ‘I had lowered the chandeliers, removed the crystals and had just started to clean them when David Dimbleby, who was making a film at the Assembly Rooms, sat down next to me and began to help. He really did admire them, after all, they are judged to be the best in the world, although not everyone appreciates them. A few years ago, a judge attended a formal dinner held underneath the chandeliers. Ornamental savoy cabbages decorated the table and he hurled one into the air, causing damage to one of the chandeliers. As David Dimbleby said, maybe on that occasion he wasn’t as sober as the proverbial judge! Luckily, it was able to be repaired.’
As well as regularly cleaning the crystal with lukewarm water and a gentle detergent, Terry is also called upon to replace pins and worn out wiring. ‘Antique chandeliers will have first held candles, then in Victorian times many were converted to gas and later, of course, electrical wiring was used. However, many were wired up so long ago that they are dangerous and even illegal, so I re-wire using clear or gold silk flex.
‘Sometimes, I’m called in to look at a chandelier that has been damaged in a fire or flood but the saddest cases of all are those chandeliers that have suffered from poor restoration. The worst example I can think of is a Georgian chandelier that had its candle holders sliced off, its beautiful grease pans discarded and replaced with unsuitable modern fittings.’
The list of houses Terry has worked in reads like a guide to Britain’s stately homes - Chatsworth, Tatton Park, Polesden Lacey, Montecute, Mount Stewart in Northern Ireland, The Governor’s Residences in Gibraltar, Cyprus and Jersey and our own Towneley Hall at Burnley.
It was there that he had to carry out repairs after workmen managed to drop one of the chandeliers - the damage was not on quite the same scale as Only Fools and Horses but Terry had to pick up the pieces, quite literally.
‘One of the most basic things is to ensure that the ceiling can bear the load - chandeliers aren’t lightweight,’ he said. ‘I do recall that someone once tried to swing on a chandelier but instead of performing wondrous acrobatics, one of the arms snapped off and he fell, breaking his leg. Swinging from the chandelier is not to be recommended!’