Scholars and Fellows in Scotland

by Ross Perkin

After five months in England and Wales, the Scholars and Fellows have finally reached Scotland. This week began with a visit to Historic Scotland HQ where Roger Curtis explained their research into the energy efficiency of historic buildings. Historic Scotland’s work shares similarities with the SPAB’s own research on energy efficiency.

On Tuesday the group spent the morning at Ratho Byres Forge where repair work to all sorts of historic ironwork is undertaken. Master blacksmith Phil Johnson demonstrated the highly skilled processes involved in his work. In the afternoon each of the Scholars forged their own nail from mild steel. SPAB Fellow Johnnie Clark organised a full day of stone carving for the group at Glasgow Cathedral’s  works department masonry yard on Wednesday. By the end of the day everyone had carved an Ovolo moulding in sandstone.

Fellow Johnnie Clarke demonstrates stone carving

Fellow Johnnie Clarke demonstrates stone carving

Ovolo moulding by Ross Perkin

Ovolo moulding by Ross Perkin

Later in the week, the group enjoyed presentations at Edinburgh Council planning offices. Head of conservation Jack Gillon explained the council’s attitudes towards conservation policy. Alison Morris and Diana Garrett outlined several case-studies involving listed and ‘at-risk’ buildings. Fiona McDonald then concluded with a discussion regarding the implications of Edinburgh’s status as a world heritage city.

Next up was a trip to Bonnington House at Jupiter Artland, just outside Edinburgh. Orginally built in 1622, Bonnington House was completely remodelled in 1858 in the Jacobean style and sits in 80 acres of grounds. Jupiter Artland is an outdoor sculpture park with major works commissioned from sculptors and land artists such as Anish Kapoor and Andy Goldsworthy. The hosts for the day were Ben Tindall and Graciella Ainsworth; Ben has helped to develop the contemporary sculpture park and is currently adding two historical wings to Bonnington House.

Scholars and Fellows at Bonnington House

Scholars and Fellows at Bonnington House

The week concluded with an extensive tour of the hidden spaces underneath Edinburgh Castle. The group learnt that extensive parts of the castle were re-built in the nineteenth century. These were modelled on Victorian ideals of what a castle ought to look like. This has led to a confusing arrangement of forms in some areas and brings into question the problems with restoration.

Scholars and Fellows at the army barracks inside Edinburgh Castle

Scholars and Fellows at the army barracks inside Edinburgh Castle

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Moulding, Knapping and Thatching in East Anglia

by Ross Perkin

Last week the Scholars embarked on a journey of discovery in East Anglia. The region’s identity is heavily linked to the natural material found there. East Anglia contains little stone but has a seam of clay suitable for making bricks. The extensive chalk belts contain a plentiful supply of flint which has been used for both rubble-work and knapped facing to walls for centuries. The use of long-straw as a traditional roofing thatch takes advantage of the expansive and fertile agricultural landscape.

The week started with a visit to Bulmer Brick and Tile Company near Sudbury in Suffolk. CEO Peter Minter spent a full day with us and outlined the history of one of the oldest producers of handmade bricks in Britain. Clay is taken from the ground behind the brickworks and goes through a milling and mixing process. After this it is thrown into a wooden mould and air-dried for a number of days before completion in a traditional brick kiln. The Scholars each made three bricks which are to be used at Hampton Court Palace (if they pass quality control procedures!).

Week18_Bulmers brickyard

Scholar Richard making a brick at Bulmer Brick and Tile Ltd with Peter Minter

We then travelled up to Norwich to meet Nick Warns (Scholar, 1984). Here we visited two flint churches. The walls of the church at Winterton-on-sea were built with an unknapped flint core with loosely knapped flint facing. The walls of St Mary’s in Great Yarmouth were a closely knapped flint face with a brick core. The different construction methods resulted in very different conservation approaches.

Week18_flint at Worton on Sea Church

Rebuilt, fully pointed, knapped flint above existing knapped flint at Winterton-on-Sea Church

Later in the week the scholars visited Shawn Kholucy (Scholar, 1981) in Hoxne, Suffolk where we saw some exquisitely close-knapped, flush-work flint at St Peter and Paul, Eye.

Eye Parish Church, Suffolk

Close-knapped, flush-work flint at St Peter and Paul Eye Parish Church Suffolk with Shawn Kholucy

Week18_thatching

The tradition of long-straw thatching has developed primarily in Suffolk and South Norfolk. Master thatcher Graham Borrill spent an afternoon explaining to us the entire process of the craft from field to rooftop. Graham grows his own long-straw which is put through a drying and threshing process before it is arranged into ‘gabbles’ and laid out onto a roof. The long-straw differs visually from wheat and water-reed thatch which is used in other parts of the country. Graham inspired all of us Scholars with his tales of travelling as a roadie with the Rolling Stones.