Huge damage from repeated lead thefts

Over the period of the last three weeks, Gunnersbury has suffered four thefts of lead from the roof of the servants’ wing in the Large Mansion, three of them in the last four days.

A couple of weekends ago lead was removed from above the Butchery, which houses the rare wooden cold cupboard from about 1900. As the rains came down, desk staff discovered that water was pouring through the ceiling, to the point where it came through the smoke detector and set off all the fire alarms.

On Friday night panels of lead were taken from over the Chef’s Room in the Victorian Kitchens. On Saturday night more was taken from over the Brushing Room and on Monday night the thieves took yet more from over the Brushing Room and began on the walls fronting the Terrace at Foxes Yard.

Unfortunately there has also been torrential rain over this period, so museum staff have spent much of Saturday and Sunday moving furniture, mopping floors and distributing buckets under dripping ceilings. Contractors were called out and covered vulnerable areas with tarpaulin or roofing felt in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings, but it was too late and the damage was already done.

The chef’s room, which had recently been redecorated by John Laing maintenance staff, is now ruined. The newly painted ceiling is stained and cracked. The walls are now so wet that a painting hung over the fireplace is now developing mould.

The chef’s room,  the cold room and the pastry room (which now houses much of the museum’s Acton Laundries collection) have all had to have their contents moved, and been closed to the schools and the public.

The photo shows the roof above the Brushing Room. The lead has been stripped off leaving bare wood. This is now saturated from the rains last night and is dripping into the museum store below.

Another photo (in the Our Gunnersbury section) shows the half rolled lead above the Terrace at Foxes Yard, where the thieves were interrupted before they could take it down. We fear they will be back soon for the rest.

Vanda Foster, Curator, 10 December 2009