Scholars & Fellows in London

by Hannah Reynolds

In week 5 both the Scholars and Fellows returned to the London area to spend two days at the SPAB HQ on Spital Square. The first day was spent in public speaking training, delivered by Susan Jones. Susan is a speechwriter, author, trainer and consultant with 20 years experience of writing, researching and training speeches at the highest level of Government and politics. The day built on our existing skills to prepare us for our future as ambassadors for the SPAB. We then met with the Education and Training Advisory Committee to talk about the conservation techniques and approaches we had encountered so far, and to present our sketch books.

As the week progressed we parted company with the Fellows to continue our visits. We visited Alan Baxter & Associates LLP (ABA), a multidisciplinary design consultancy. Here we were given a unique insight into the work undertaken in ABA’s three interconnecting specialist departments; Engineering, Urbanism and Conservation, by Alan Baxter and Robert Bowles. We were able to spend some time with 2011 engineer Scholar and ABA employee Borris Bogdanovic, before heading out on site with structural engineer Sam Harland to discuss some of the structural problems and solutions encountered in the conservation and extension of historic buildings in an urban environment.

This week’s penultimate visit was to Plowden and Smith Ltd, specialists in the conservation and restoration of the fine and decorative arts. We were introduced to the diverse range of projects undertaken within the company by Gabriella Smith, Susan Moore and Thomas Palmer. The visit focused on the fascinating and painstaking cleaning of 95 decorative timber panels from a richly decorated Damascus room dating from C.1780.

The week ended with a return to the subject of structural issues associated with historic building conservation when we visited both the Royal Hospital Chelsea and Tower of London with structural engineer, and SPAB Case Worker, Clive Dawson of Hockley and Dawson Consulting Engineers Ltd.


Five counties in five days

The Scholars have covered over 200 miles in just one week, visiting five different sites. Norgrove Court, built around 1649 with mid- 19th century alterations, was the location for a glass working workshop with Ben Sinclair of Norgrove Studios Ltd. They specialise in the production of new stained glass using traditional techniques and the conservation of old stained glass.

The week finished with a visit to Middleport pottery in Stoke-on-Trent, which was hosted by Tim Greensmith (2004 Scholar) of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. The group were involved with the gentle repair of the main pottery building. Middleport Pottery is the last working Victorian pottery in the UK and has been conserved with the help of the Prince’s Regeneration Trust

Victorian kiln at Middleport pottery, Stoke-on-Trent

Victorian kiln at Middleport pottery, Stoke-on-Trent

At Warwick Castle the Scholars inspected the sandstone walls. In the past, replacing the damaged stone had been problematic; often the stone that was used was too hard and weathered differently from the existing stone. A local quarry now supplies Warwick sandstone for a better match. The group visited Chatsworth House in Derbyshire where Theo Sturge, a leather conservator, explained the difficulties of repairing historic leather lining. The Scholars also spent some time in Lincolnshire where they toured a 17th century oak barn with architect Mary Anderson.

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Inspecting the stone at Warwick Castle

Architectural pilgrimage


Tewkesbury Abbey

A busy few weeks for the Scholars as they continue touring the country. This entry has an ecclesiastical theme, the highlights of the past few weeks being Tewkesbury Abbey and Lincoln Cathedral.

Week2_Tewkesbury AbbeyTewkesbury Abbey was founded in 1087 by Robert FitzHamon but the present site was not built until 1102. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540, the cloister and the Lady Chapel were quarried for their materials. The Abbey Church was sold to the parishioners for £453. Our Scholars spent the day at the Abbey carrying out drill resistance tests to investigate the effectiveness of nano-lime with Andrew Townsend, 1985 architect Scholar.

In the car generously donated by Jonathan Castleman of Norman and Underwood, the Scholars drove on to Lincoln Cathedral. They were hosted by Phil Russon, leadworker Fellow 2010. The Scholars met Paul Ellis, stonemason, as he worked on replacement stonework for the south-west turret.

Lincoln Cathedral workshopsLincoln Cathedral has a long history of conservation, with the first repairs beginning after an earthquake in 1185. Today, the main focus for repair and conservation is the turrets which frame the west front of the cathedral. Abseiling stonemasons recently surveyed the cathedral for damage and it was much worse than anticipated so a five year-long programme of restoration work was devised for the two great turrets.

Hampton Court Palace

Next on the conservation trail was Hampton Court Palace, where the group enjoyed a tour of the impressive roof. The palace started its life as a grand barn with a stone camera (room) that was used in 1236 by the Knights Hospitallers of St John Jerusalem as somewhere to store produce and keep their accounts. Excavations show that the original palace lacked any real residential accommodation. The building, as it stands today, is a mixture of Medieval, Tudor and Baroque architecture. Henry VIII, the palace’s most infamous resident, actually seized the palace from Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Wolsey had acquired the small manor house on the Hampton Court Palace site in 1514 and built a luxurious palace around it.

Hampton Court Palace roof conservation

Hampton Court Palace roof conservation

Our Scholars and Fellows were introduced to the building’s crumbling Reigate stone (half limestone/sandstone) and the on-site team taught them how to brush away the friable pieces or protect the stone with a lime shelter coat. It is not just modern surveyors who find Reigate stone problematic, in 1713 Sir Christopher Wren described it: ‘That which is to be most lamented, is the unhappy Choice of Materials, the Stone is decayed four inches deep, and falls of [sic] perpetually in great scales.’

The group also learned how to save the live lime ceilings with polyester resin and fibreglass tape. The beautiful diaper (criss-cross) pattern brickwork was dyed to increase the contrast. Andrew Harris, the architect on site, gave them magnets to test the Tijou railings to discern the newer materials from the old. The older railings were made of iron, whereas copper and brass have been used as replacements. Lead paint with linseed oil and turpentine was applied to protect the railings.

Learn more about the conservation work going on at Hampton Court Palace on their website.

Historic Royal Palaces, Hampton Court Palace. Andrew Harris of Martin Ashley Associates: architect, CWO: contractor, William Page: surveyor for Historic Royal Palaces; Clive Dawson: Engineer. Photo from Ross Perkin

Countrywide conservation tour begins

The Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College

Painted Hall, Old Naval College

From 19-21 March, the Scholars and Fellows were in London for the first leg of their countrywide conservation tour. The group first visited The Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich for an afternoon of conservation of surface finishes. Described as ‘the finest dining hall in Europe’, the Painted Hall is designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, and painted by Sir James Thornhill. Taking 19 years to complete, the finished Hall was deemed too grand for its original purpose – a dining area for naval veterans.

More than 50 years has passed since the Painted Hall was last restored, accumulated grime and areas of cracking need urgent attention. The Scholars were instructed how to use infrared to identify and reveal previous alterations. The dirty paintings were gently cleaned with de-ionised water and a soft sponge

 The Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College. Martin Ashley: architect, Stephen Paine: main contractor. Photo from Ross Perkin, SPAB Scholar 2013

The Great Hall, Westminster Palace

The Great Hall, Westminster PalaceTimber, glazing and joinery repairs were the order of the day at The Great Hall, Westminster Palace. The Scholars and Fellows were lucky enough to learn from the expert team on site. Damaged Reigate stone was cleaned using the cleaning agent, arte mundit. The oak woodwork was stained with sulphate from fireplaces, this was gently dusted off. The magnesium limestone was crumbling, loose parts were removed with a soft brush. The cement mortar was removed and repointed with NHL 2, a naturally hydraulic lime. The Great Hall is the oldest building on the Parliamentary estate and has played a pivotal role in British history as all major institutions of the British state were founded around this Hall.

 The Great Hall, Westminster Palace. Adam Watrobski: architect of the Parliamentary Estate, Patrick Duerdan: project architect, Donald Insall Associates, David Carrington, Skillingtons: contractor, Brian Ridout: environmental expert. Photo from Ross Perkin, SPAB Scholar 2013