Monday, 28 March 2011

Berkeley Castle re-opens after re-wiring

Since November last year, Berkeley Castle has been closed to the public, whilst some major refurbishment works have been carried out. But the Castle is now preparing to re-open for the Summer Season on Sunday 3rd April 2011.

The aim of the project was to re-wire and re-plumb the entire Castle. The Castle was first fitted with electricity and plumbing by the 8th Earl of Berkeley in the 1920’s.

The work started on the private side of the Castle in June 2010, and continued until November, when the contractors then moved into the public rooms of the Castle.

The project has taken over ten months to complete, with an average of twenty contractors on site every day – which equates to a total of nearly 32,000 man-hours.

The plumbers (Keyplan Engineering Ltd from Bristol) have laid two miles of pipework, five new boilers, 100 metres of new gas main, and over 300 metres of support steel work. The electricians (Alpha [Bristol] Ltd) have fitted approximately 8 miles of mineral insulated cabling, 3.5 miles of data cabling and have installed over 400 power sockets, nearly 200 light switches, and have refurbished over 100 light fittings.

Castle staff moved and re-hung in excess of 100 paintings, 15 tapestries; and cleared and re-instated 20 rooms of furniture. Staff offices were combined and re-located into the Gift Shop during the winter, which ended-up being one of the coldest on record!

Due to the complexity of the project, the overall cost was uncertain. However due to savings in some areas, some additional works were able to be included. These included the introduction of lighting along the grove walkway from the car park to the Tea Room, updates to our CCTV system, decorating throughout the private apartments and in some of the public rooms, new toilet facilities for private functions and enhanced lighting in some of the public rooms. Some of the paths and driveways have also been re-laid, as they were disturbed to lay pipes and cables in trenches under the roads.

The first wedding to be held following the works, takes place on Saturday 2nd April, and then the Castle re-opens to visitors on Mothering Sunday, 3rd April 2011 at 11.00am, with a special gift for every Mum that visits the Castle that day, subject to availability.

For more information about the Castle, contact the Castle office on 01453 810332, e-mail or visit

More Information about the works:

During the 1920’s, the 8th Earl of Berkeley and his second wife, The Countess, wanted to make the Castle their main residence, which required extensive renovations to update the Castle and its amenities.

The Countess was from America, and encouraged the Earl to create en-suites for all of the bedrooms, now on the private side. This meant that the contractors had over thirteen bathrooms to plumb-in. During the project eight of those baths required re-enamelling and several 1920’s heated towel rails, had to be connected to the heating system.

The Earl’s renovations also included the purchase of a marble bathroom from the Waldorf Astoria in New York, which he had installed into one of the private en-suites. Having to lift the marble to access existing pipework, caused a few challenges for the plumbing contractors!

Much of the original pipework and cabling remained, and in some areas, where pipe-work ran through concrete, the pipework still remains in use with the new system.

The Castle now operates two plant rooms. One from the original boiler house under the Great Hall, and the other in the out buildings in the Back Courtyard.

The Great Hall now contains a total of three gas-fired boilers, where-as before there was only one. The pressurised system now ensures that even the radiators situated furthest from the boilers still heat-up properly.

New gas pipes had to be laid from the gas meter to the plant rooms, as the gauge of the original pipework was too narrow.

Wherever possible the radiators have been retained, and so very little evidence of the plumbing work is visible to the visitor, although surface-run pipework is visible in some rooms.

The electrical wiring has been largely carried-out using a mineral insulated cable. This is effectively a small copper tube containing the wiring. Whilst expensive, the advantages are that it is rodent proof, has a longer life expectancy and looks more in keeping when being surface mounted than other products. The copper is rather shiny to start with but as it oxidises it dulls and the eventual darker brown colour will be difficult to spot against the roof timbers.

The switching of lights throughout the Castle, had been a curious science, and many switches over-time had ceased to work altogether. Some of the original switches, plug sockets and cabling conduit has been left in situ, and in a few areas has been re-used. The switching of the lights has now been re-designed so that staff have better control of the lighting, and don’t plunge themselves into darkness whilst locking up at night!

The table lamps had been plugged into a separate 5amp circuit, which has now been replaced with a standard 13amp circuit. All of the antique light fittings have also been re-wired and several have been sent away to specialist contractors to be completely renovated.

These include the three Great Hall chandeliers, made of bronze which took four strong men to lift; the silver chandelier in the Small Drawing Room and the chandeliers in the Grand Staircase and Clock Tower Porch.

It was decided not to re-wire the chandelier in the Long Drawing Room, as this had already been extensively damaged following an earlier attempt, and as the chandelier is so valuable it was decided to re-instate it as a candelabra, and to install new, modern lighting instead.

New or enhanced lighting has been installed in other public rooms in the Castle such as the King’s Gallery, Picture Gallery, Buttery, Kitchen, China Room and Housekeeper’s Room. Look out for the state of the art LED strip lighting in the Morning Room and Great Hall!

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