by Conor Meehan
On Thursday, we joined Nick on a visit to Calke Abbey, where he is the overseeing architect of the present work. For me, this visit proved to be one of the highlights of the programme so far. Calke Abbey is a National Trust property which is unique in the way it is presented to the public. Hidden amongst ancient parklands, Calke Abbey is a snapshot of the decline of the country house estate, exhibiting peeling walls, rampant cracking and unruly vegetation.
This freeze-frame accurately portrays how so many once proud country houses fell victim to neglect and were lost to the ravages of time. The National Trust has frozen Calke Abbey in this state of decline and visitors are encouraged to explore the estate while the building seems to suffer in silence!
After a tour of the building, Nick challenged us on the philosophy of the conservative repairs which are been carried out on the building presently. Although the elements are laying siege to the building and its fabric, large scale works and efforts are being conducted to preserve the structure in its present state, without improving the image of the building and without falsifying the effect. This challenging decision was discussed with the Scholars and the workers on the southern scaffolding, and the inevitable question regarding each individual repair was put to each of us – “What would you do?” It was this thought provoking exercise that illustrated clearly to me the real challenges that face every architect and engineer in the field of conservation – each building stands alone and must be judged on its own account. This insight into the philosophy of the conservation professional was stimulating and left a lasting impression on each of us. Thanks to all hosts for a great week!