St Martha’s Convent had been turned into a business hub in Falkirk in the early 2000’s, housing Solicitors amongst other legal businesses.
After being empty for many years and falling into disrepair our client had applied for the Convent to be turned into a dwelling and family home, now called the Monkey Hall. As with many conservation projects of historic floors, they are hidden and then found under carpets, tiles, vinyl, wood or underlay. This particular mosaic floor had a partition wall put up on the floor due to building and fire regulations for a business property and was then carpeted over.
We were initially invited out to look at the potential project but until the top layer of floor is removed and whatever type of adhesive has been used. The carpet had already been removed so all the floor was visible.
Often with tessellated, tesserae mosaic floors, they are usually found on a more solid mortar beds than geometric floors from the same period. Where the initial Statumen (a bedding of fist sized stones or slabs) lies compressed on top of the ground soil. Rather than a rudus, (a mix of rubble and lime or sand cement) placed on top of floor boards directly placed on top of joists. The floor and substrate were solid and most of the damage was cosmetic.
This is because the subfloor of Mortar beds gives much more stability and the capability to be able to absorb and displace movement and settlement within the building. Usually at most you will find a structural movement crack travelling through the Mosaic design but it often does not displace, loosen or damage the tiles. Which you can see in the photos was travelling through the mosaic floor.
With any conservation project, we start by removing the tiles from the damaged area so we can analyse the substrate. As mentioned previously mosaic mortar beds are more dense and solid than their geometric counterparts. So at this point we grind down the mortar so the new tesserae can be installed flat and flush with the original mosaic tiles. From this point, we send some of the original tiles away to be matched by our supplier in London. Tracings and drawings of areas of repair are made so we can start cutting and making the mosaics to be installed. Then the cleaning can commence.
We do all our cleaning with a combination of Machine and hand cleaning. Using specialist floor machines, combined with diamond cleaning pads that only require water, although we do occasionally use cleaning products depending on the state of the floor. Once the floor has been stripped and cleaned. The floor is left to dry for 7 to 14 days. This is to let the base dry out and any efflorescence (salts) come to the surface of the floor. Once the base is dry we return to colour intensify and seal the floor. This can be burnished with either a Matt finish, which leaves the floor in a more natural state. Or we can seal the floor in a wax coating. This is a more traditional way the floors were probably originally finished, although this finish does require more maintenance.