by Elgan Jones
Our week in Snowdonia began with a visit to Ned Scharer, a conservator with a strong passion for conservation and sustainable technologies, who set up the Natural Building Centre beside Plas Tirion, a 16th-century manor house in the process of being repaired. We were joined for the day by Maggie Goodall , SPAB education & training manager, and my brother Osian Jones, an architecture student at Manchester University.
We began the day discussing the latest sustainable building products, which are compatible within the repair and thermal upgrading of historic structures, given their ‘breathability’ qualities. This was followed by a guided tour around Plas Tirion as Ned explained why certain types of plasters, screeds, mortars, natural insulation products and breathable paints were used in particular locations around the building.
For our practical afternoon session we joined Hefin Huws, a master waller who has been working with stone for the last 30 years, to help repair and rebuild a dry stone wall with the garden of Plas Tirion. Hefin explained the process of sorting the stone and techniques for setting out and rebuilding.
For the remainder of the week, we focused on slate and traditional roofing. We were kindly invited to Penrhyn Quarry were we met the team and Terry Hughes, a slate and stone roofing consultant. We were taken on a tour of the quarry to understand how slate was quarried from the mountain and manufactured into roofing slates, architectural products and aggregates.
The following day we met Terry and Richard Jordan, a roofer and SPAB Fellow, at Penmaen Cottage near Dolgellau where they were recording and repairing a traditional slate roof. Terry and Richard were working alongside Cadw recording and filming various stages of the project as an exemplar for other contactors undertaking similar types of work. Richard explained that the thickness of the standard roofing slate produced at Penrhyn was much thinner than the historic slates used on the building, therefore he would take off-cuts from the quarry to cut down and split by hand, the slates to the required thickness. Throughout the day we were also given the practical exercises such as cutting down the slates to size and bedding them on the roof.