Patina of age at Hampton Court Palace

by Charlie Wellingham

The highlight of a very busy first week of visits (thanks to all at SPAB HQ, thanks to Mark Powers, and thanks to all at the ASCHB conference!) was a trip out to Hampton Court Palace; the brick-built Tudor palace in west London dating back to the early 16th century, and extended by Christopher Wren in the late 17th century.

Hampton Court Palace_Charlie Wellingham

Hampton Court Palace, sketch by Charlie Wellingham

We were shown around by Emma from Simpson Brickwork Conservation, who is leading a small team responsible for repairing the heavily eroded masonry of the walled gardens to the north west of the Palace. She explained that one of the biggest challenges of brickwork conservation is the correct specification – and that no amount of skill or experience at laying will help if the wrong bricks are being used. This is achieved with a rigorous approach to surveying the existing conditions; taking detailed notes on the brick sizes, colours, textures and shapes (we quickly learnt that they are definitely not all red and rectangular!), as well as the bond, joint sizes and features such as plinths, cappings and buttresses.

Gate at Hampton Court Palace
It was very interesting to discuss with Emma the debates around reuse of salvaged bricks from other sites – often widespread practice in the industry as an effective way to match new work in with the patina of existing aging brickwork, when extending or repairing. On one hand this might be considered a responsible recycling of useful materials with a high embodied energy value, however extensive use can confuse the chronology of the fabric of the site, making the building more difficult to survey and understand in future. Further to this a higher demand for salvaged material may in fact encourage material scrapping, theft, or even building demolition.

Hampton Court

We all agreed that the well specified, well crafted bricks were a positive contemporary addition to the 14th century wall, and were in no danger of confusing an understanding of how the property had been maintained, and by who. We were happy to conclude the day by getting our hands dirty attempting a brick repair – under the welcome guidance of Emma!
Thanks also to Andrew Harris of Martin Ashley Architects who spent time with us in the morning, including a demonstration of the stunning oak doors recently completed in the Anne Boleyn Gate. It was clear from talking to Andrew that working on these doors was a real labour of love for the design and construction team, and that is was very likely these doors would still be in use in-situ in a hundred years’ time.

Scholars and Fellows at Hampton Court

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Scholars and Fellows hit the conservation trail

Scholars and Fellows2

(Left to right) Dearbhail, Eoin, Charles, Elgan, Alex, Tom

There is no parallel in the building conservation world to the annual SPAB Fellowship and Scholarship. The six newest recruits to this long-established training scheme now join a roster of talented individuals, many of whom care for the most significant built landmarks in Britain.
Architects Dearbhail Keating, Elgan Jones and Charles Wellingham have embarked on the prestigious six-month programme of site, workshop and studio visits across the UK. The aim is for SPAB’s Scholars to gain hands-on experience of building conservation in action guided by experts in the field and to use this knowledge to inform their own approach in their working lives.
They will be joined by three Fellows. As usual they are a talented group with each individual looking to further their knowledge of traditional craft techniques. Alex Gibbons is a cob builder, Eoin Madigan is a 6th generation stonemason and Tom Massey is a timber framer/carpenter.
The aim is for the Fellows to gain broad, hands-on experience and knowledge to enable them to bring a strong awareness of craft diversity to their future professional roles. The Fellowship also equips them with the skills necessary to lead and manage historic building contracts, while deepening their understanding of the importance of gentle repair
Their travels will enable them to meet architects, building specialists and craftspeople working in traditional ways. Stop by this blog for updates from the Scholars and Fellows themselves.