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.
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.
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.
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.