The Conservatory was completed in November 2008 and has since become the most popular function room in the Castle. The work took about two years. With a panoramic view overlooking the Craig-y-Nos Country Park, the room is popular with both wedding and conference clients and can seat up to 130.
The room is mainly used for Wedding Breakfasts, but we discourage its use as a disco room at night due to its proximity to the bedrooms. Instead we use the main function room for the night ‘do’.
RESTORATION OF MAIN CONSERVATORY
TO PROVIDE SECOND FUNCTION ROOM
We had previously restored the old Aviary to house the hot tub. The problem with restoring the Aviary and making it into a smart spa and sports room, was that we had an eyesore next to it – the Conservatory with its falling down roof and rotten windows. This was a leaky derelict building fit for nothing, with water streaming into it for decades. Most of the roof was rotten and the original felt covering had long disintegrated, exposing the internal wood planks to the elements.
As for the 130 year old windows, these as you can see in the pictures on this page were in a sorry state. The top third of the old windows was original while the lower two thirds were large modern panes installed in the Hospital era, probably in the 1950’s/ 1960’s, when the Conservatory was used as a TB ward for children. There are picture of the Conservatory both as a hospital ward and in Adelina Patti's day here (note the childrens' metal beds).
Our original thoughts were to fence it off so it could not be seen from the spa. However the water pouring in through the leaky roof was introducing water into our new toilets for the spa area and flooding the neighbouring Breakfast Room (resulting in damp lime-stained walls and peeling wallpaper).
There used to be a howling draught coming in through the breakfast room door from the Conservatory, which was all exposed to the elements. Ghost hunters would sit inside the breakfast room by the then locked dividing door, declaring it a 'cold spot' for spirit, and a very 'active' part of the room. With the wind howling around the empty conservatory in winter, it did indeed seem very spooky in the Breakfast room late at night.
So we bit the bullet and had the entire roof repaired, stripping off the old roofing felt, replacing all the rotten timbers, and re-covering the roof with fibreglass. The roofer quoted about £8,000 which was considerably less than the next best quote of £20,000. He said it would last for 20 years, 'guaranteed'. It leaked the first winter. Beiing a sole trader, he was unable to honour his guarantee when the roof continued to leak. Instead he would come in, carefully choosing a dry day, and claim the leaks were 'condensation'.
Finally I got him here on one particularly rainy day, and as we stood together among the growing puddles, watching the drips splashing down, he still maintained it was 'condensation'. He never did come and try to fix it, being in denial that it leaked and claiming his roof work had never experienced problems before. The roof continued to leak every winter in more and more places. Wedding couples were unimpressed and we probably lost a few weddings on account of the grey, brown and black stained canopy.
Every spring we would have to take down the whole canopy and have it washed to get rid of the brown stains caused by the water leaks. Each time the canopy came back, it would take a day to get it back up again. It was getting progressively smaller as it shrunk with each wash, while with each winter it would get stained again. This was a fault by the roofer whom we later found from other firms’ prices, had ‘under-quoted’ by about 70% to get the work. This demonstrates how a trader who under-quotes may then be unable to do a decent job, yet both he and the customer remain unaware of this until the job fails!
Eventually, after another quote of £20,000 to remove the faulty fibreglass and put on a new rubber membrane guaranteed to last 20 years (again), we found some special sealant substance we could paint over the fibreglass roof ourselves. We had discovered this substance when doing some sub-contract work on a commercial Remploy building locally, to fix leaks they had coming in from some skylights. It took two coats to close up all the tiny little holes that were in the original too-thin fibreglass coating but this worked for a year at a time. At £1,200 per treatment, we were re-coating it annually - a lot cheaper than £20k.
However in 2016 the sealant specification was slightly changed by the manufacturer and 'reacted' with the original sealant, causing bubbling. During a wet 2016 all the old leaks resumed with a vengeance, and by Autumn 2016 the white canopy looked very stained. So in January 2017, once the wedding season was over, up went the scaffolding, along came an excellent roofing contractor, who put on the rubber firestone roof that we had been quoted £20k for before, for about half the price, and with a 20 year guarantee.
Had we been quoted a more reasonable price originally, we would have implemented this longer term solution back in 2007. Now we are so pleased with the firestone product that we are using it on all the flat roofs of the castle - we have just recovered the Music room roof with it. Eventually it will be used for the main roof of the castle to cover the existing fibreglass that is leaking. If money was unlimited we would replace the main roof in lead, at a cost of around £200k, as it would have been originally, but the firestone rubber product can go on for a fraction of this cost.
We were pleased to find the Conservatory, despite its appearance, was structurally sound. The building is supported by heavy wrought iron pillars and has not subsided or deteriorated structurally. We have replaced all the window frames and glass panes. We also had to dig down the outside balcony to get all the external terrace levels back to the original level that would have existed in Patti's day. The Hospital Authorities had raised the terrace up to the level of the internal floor in the Conservatory so patients could be wheeled straight out of the room on their trolleys (the Conservatory was the Children's ward) and on to the outside terraces.
In the hospital era, when the castle was a TB hospital, patients would be wheeled out on to the back terraces in all weathers, snow, rain or shine. In bad weather they had rubber blankets thrown over them to keep them dry. Sometimes - it is claimed - they were left out overnight, in overnight temperatures as low as minus 7 - and were blue with cold the next morning. It is said the dead ones were wheeled off to the mortuary and the live ones wheeled back in.
When we dug down the outside terrace, and the internal floor ready for underfloor heating, we discovered there had originally been a low stone wall on which the Conservatory had sat. This had been buried and all the stone foundations long since loosened as the pointing had washed away. The stones were carefully numbered in situ, the wall then dismantled, the debris cleared away and the stones cleaned, then each stone was individually placed back in its original position on newly strengthened foundations according to their individual numbers. Thus the stone wall was repointed and fully repaired.
So as we sit on the terrace and look at the low stone wall we can reflect how much work went into putting it back the way it was. Patti’s Conservatory, abandoned since the 1970’s, has now been brought into service as a function room for weddings and events. The Conservatory is very popular as a day room and wedding breakfast / banqueting room, while brides use the main Patti Bar and function room for their evening parties.
The main Conservatory needs a few finishing touches but is now fully functioning for wedding breakfasts. Ideally a food preparation area needs adding though for now we prepare the meals in the main kitchens and move the food through on Bain Marie servery equipment which is set up in the back room behind the Conservatory. Waitresses then serve from this area.
The veranda outside, while useable, is not properly finished, needs levelling and needs new stone laid to provide for al fresco dining in the summer. Much of the back of the castle has not been upgraded and the terracing needs to be completed all the way around. The problem has been that the stones we tried originally get broken under the weight of the chairlift and other machinery, so we have been holding off until we find both the budget and a stronger product.
Should the castle expand as I had originally intended, there would be two function rooms in use simultaneously. I had envisaged one wedding in the conservatory and one in the function room. However the demand for weddings is not that high and most brides like the idea of having the castle exclusively to themselves.
So now we give brides the option of using both rooms, the conservatory by day and the function room by evening, which is definitely a sales point as they and their guests are not confined to one room for the whole wedding day.