Work has begun on a rescue programme for six life-size statues which gaze down on a historic Northumberland hall.
The figures at the National Trust’s Seaton Delaval Hall have been standing high up in niches in the walls of the building’s Central Hall since the 18th Century.
But they were badly damaged in a blaze which hit the hall almost 200 years ago.
All six will be X-rayed with conservation work being carried out on the most vulnerable figure.
The method used will then be applied to the remaining statues when they are conserved in the new year.
The statues represent music, painting, sculpture, architecture, geography and astronomy.
Julie Hawthorn, house and collections manager, said: “It’s particularly exciting to see the work getting under way.
“These sculptures have had a lot thrown at them over the years but they’re still, just about, standing.
“Fire, wind, rain and being shot at with air pellets have all contributed to their condition.
“Since their construction they have watched over the antics of the Delavals and their visitors, and continue to watch over our visitors today. This conservation work will ensure that they will be standing tall for many years to come.”
The work follows the award of nearly £500,000 earlier this year from SITA Trust for the central block of the Grade 1 listed building.
The money will be used to repair and conserve other elements of the building which were damaged in the fire.
In the coming weeks the 18th Century black and white chequerboard floor in the Central Hall will be carefully lifted and stored, while archaeological work is carried out.
The floor will then be re-screeded and left to set before as much of the original Kilkenny carboniferous limestone and veined Carrera marble is re-layed in early Spring.
Then work will begin on consolidating the external stonework of the Central Hall.
Without the £500,000 grant, this part of the building was in danger of being officially condemned within the next 12 months.
Speaking in August, Cheryl Moore, the National Trust’s chartered building surveyor for Yorkshire and the North East said: “In high winds last November we lost a couple of windows, masonry is falling and the cellars are regularly flooded because of gaps in the stonework.
“But thanks to the SITA Trust heritage award the National Trust can now carry out the urgent conservation work needed to safeguard its future.”
While the work is taking place, the hall will remain open to visitors who will be able to see the conservation work in progress.
The National Trust has already spent £2m on conservation work, rewiring, fire and security systems, preserving internal masonry, reroofing and upgrading facilities.
This latest project is expected to be finished by August next year.