If you’ve arrived here recently via our City Entrance (the one nearest the railway station), you’ll have noticed a newly restored sign just outside our front gate.
This sign is believed to be original, and in place since the late 1940s. But after so long exposed to the elements, it deteriorated to a condition where work was needed to conserve it for the future. The woodwork was becoming unstable and the paint badly faded or peeling.
Interestingly, the sign was still an orange colour (known as “Tangerine”) that was used by the North Eastern Region of British Railways after nationalisation in 1948. Although this colour scheme was eventually superseded, it seems to have survived in this state until the present day.
The sign was removed from the wall and taken to the Conservation paint studio. Here it was carefully cleaned down and fully assessed, and a plan was drawn up for the work to be done.
It was realised that we’d need to replace the entire outer frame because the original was beyond repair, and repaint the sign back to original condition. We also decided that we should trace off the original lettering so that it could be replaced exactly as it was, making it as faithful to the original as possible.
The next stage was for Barbara and Chris to gently sand down the sign in preparation for painting. This process is important as it allows the new paint to adhere properly to the surface, giving it a long lasting finish.
However – as the sign was sanded, we found that it had already been repainted once before, and that the lettering was slightly different underneath. The font was the same throughout the sign except for the number 5, which on the earlier version was more angular. But the spacing between letters was different on nearly all the words. All the new findings were photographed for future reference.
A new outer frame was constructed by Peter and Chris and attached to the sign, along with a new rear support to ensure the sign would not flex in the future. During this phase of the work the new paint was hand mixed by Stathis to ensure it was as close a match as possible to the original sign.
Once all the physical work was complete, the sign was given several coats of wood primer and undercoat before two top coats were finally applied.
The next stage was to carefully mark out the new lettering using the original tracing, before signwriting the wording back onto the sign. No masking tape was used, just a steady hand and a mahl stick (a painter’s stick with a soft end used as a support). As an experiment, the team set up a camera and filmed Andy applying the lettering: you can see the speeded-up result below. The three minute video shows 2.5 hours of work.
The sign was then allowed to fully dry before two coats of varnish were added to protect it. After a couple more days curing, the sign was finally taken outside and re-hung on the wall outside the museum, much to the satisfaction of the team.