by Dearbhail Keating
We travelled from Tewkesbury to Redditch to spend the day with Ben Sinclair of Norgrove Studios Ltd. Ben runs Norgrove Studios specialising in leaded stained and decorative glass design and conservation using traditional techniques. Ben has spent many years working with glass and as a result is extremely knowledgeable about the different types of glass and very experienced in identification.
The day began with analysing samples of slab, crown and cylinder glazing. These all have their own unique characteristics and place in history. The Scholars quickly appreciated how types of glass have changed over time and how identifying the glass in buildings is a useful tool in dating. Determining the type of glass is also crucial information to know before embarking on any conservation work; to replace glass insensitively can have a very detrimental effect on the aesthetic of a building.
Example of slab glass
Slab glass is one of the earliest forms of glass formed by pouring molten glass on a flat surface within a mould and is rather thick and distorted in appearance. Crown glass is formed by mouth blowing a sphere of glass, the end is then cut off and the glass spun into a disc in this curvilinear form gives it much of its character making it relatively easy to identify. Crown glass can be spun into very thin layers making it very light; it was therefore particularly popular in the first half of the 19th century when the window tax was in existence as the tax was calculated by the weight of the glass.
Example of crown glass
Cylinder glass is also formed by mouth blowing, this time in a cylinder. The ends are then cut off and the glass is fired again before it is flattened into a sheet. The glass is asymmetrical and has a beautiful varied texture by which it can be identified. By the early-20th century more uniform glass was being made, first drawn sheet glass which was formed between rollers directly from the furnace.
Examples of cylinder glass
Float glass followed in the 1950s and it’s this glass that we recognise today. Following the briefing we were tasked with identifying a number of samples of glass. In the studio we observed the pain-staking task of piecing back together an intricate stained glass window. The window had been damaged due to vandalism so replacement of some glazing was necessary. To enable the repairs the entire window was removed from the church in one piece and brought to the studio allowing it to be laid out on the workbench and fully assessed. The extent of the damage meant the window could not be repaired in situ. As much of the existing glazing as possible was retained and repaired. Broken pieces of glass that could be salvaged were pieced back together by introducing an additional piece of lead. After tutorials from the experts, the Scholars had a go at glass cutting (with various degrees of success)!
Stained glass repair
We were also lucky to accompany Ben to English Antique Glass nearby glass blowing workshop where the process of making cylinder glass as well as blown glass light fittings was observed. This opportunity really gave us an appreciation of the time taken to produce traditional blown glass and to understand the whole process of glassmaking, from a bag of sand through to a sheet of glass. Thank you to all at Norgrove Studios Ltd for a great day!
by Charlie Wellingham
All Souls Church in Bolton was consecrated in 1881, built for local textile mill owners Thomas and Nathaniel Greenhalgh, and is a classic example of the neo-Gothic style fashionable in this period of Victorian England. It was designed by Paley and Austin to dominate the townscape for miles around with its remarkable size, owing to the fact that it was required to seat a congregation of 800 worshippers at maximum occupancy. Sadly the industry that supported the workers of the congregation suffered badly throughout the late-20th century, and by the 1960s the Anglican Church was struggling to support such a large and underused building – finally the church was closed in 1986 and remained derelict for 25 years. An entire generation grew up in the shadows of this local landmark building having never seen its amazing interior.
The 2014 SPAB Scholars and Fellows were very lucky to visit All Souls Bolton to discuss the ambitious reuse plans that have been developed in partnership by the Churches Conservation Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund; converting the nave of the church into a mixed-use community centre via the insertion of free-standing ‘pods’ to a contemporary design, whilst retaining the chancel intact for smaller scale Christian worship. The new pods have been devised to respect the original fabric (they do not touch the surrounding walls or ceiling at all), whilst creating a bold counterpoint to the historic building in both form and materiality.
The most significant loss suffered in this adaptation is the removal of the original pews – and it was interesting to debate the impact of this on the character of the church. It clearly has a vast implication on the understanding of the space as it was designed for worship – but as this is agreed to no longer be a realistic future for the building, I would argue that their removal is justified; this one sacrifice paves the way for a new chapter of utility for this structure in the neighbourhood it was built to serve. I am a firm believer in the day-to-day use of our heritage buildings as the most enriching way for us to connect to our culture and history – rather than merely viewing them as an academically or aesthetically interesting artefact of a bygone age. It was fantastic to meet the design and construction teams who share these philosophies, and are working hard to realise them with such ambitious proposals.
Beyond the pods, an incredible team of craftspeople from Lambert & Walker conservation contractors are undertaking a full suite of repair works to ensure the derelict Victorian fabric is fit for 100 more years of service in its new community role. This includes re-laying the slate roof and lead gutters, and extensive conservation of the brick, stone and glass of the elevations in accordance with best practice principles. Alan Gardner, the highly experienced conservation surveyor overseeing the works to the historic fabric, explained to us that the project also sought to maximise the educational and outreach potential that the works could have within Bolton – establishing a sense of ownership within the community that would create true ‘sustainability’ and success. This ranges from open days for the public to technical days for professionals and a number of bursaries for young workers that have evolved into full apprenticeships and potential employment.
Happily this atmosphere of collaboration and knowledge-sharing meant we Scholars and Fellows were able to muck in and learn some new skills as well! Thanks to Gareth for the joinery instruction, thanks to Ian for the lime mortar pointing guidance, and thanks to James for sharing his amazing stone carving skills. We look forward to visiting the finished project in future to see the local community enjoying their new facilities, and enjoying a new way to appreciate and connect with the built heritage and history that has stood silently amongst them for so long.
by Tom Massey
Our first visit outside of Greater London was to Balcombe Estate Sawmill where we met Will Wallace, a woodsman and timber enthusiast. The sawmill is surrounded by woodland and the timber is sourced from the private estate. It is either milled and sold locally for timber frames and their repair or used around the estate. They predominantly process English oak. Timber unsuitable for beams and joinery is used for firewood or is processed in to wood chip for bio mass, making use of any waste.
It’s was fascinating to see the working sawmill and their range of indigenous woods and more unusual varieties. As a carpenter I always find it inspiring to see how others work with wood, from each person I believe you learn something new. Will educated us on historic timber extraction, sawmills and the use of hand forestry tools. After a warm pasta lunch kindly served by Will and his wife Gem we had a demonstration of the mobile woodmizer saw mill.
We also paid a visit to Croxley Great Barn in Rickmansworth, the site of SPAB’s 2014 Working Party. The Working Party is a unique week-long training course in the repair and care of old buildings run by professionals. The Scholars and Fellows are invited to take part in the repair specifications, alongside Richard Oxley of Oxley Conservation. We first walked around the site examining and discussing repair options and then were allocated different areas of the barn to focus on. Elgan and I were given the job of specifying the repair of the Victorian threshing floor. In the afternoon we put our ideas forward in a group discussion, headed by Jonny Garlick (SPAB technical officer) and overseen by the local conservation officer. We are currently looking forward to feedback on our specification and we can’t wait to getting started on the barn this summer.