Sketching and skittles

by Dearbhail Keating

Each year the Lutyens Trust spend a week at the wonderful Goddards in Surrey. Earlier this month we were very fortunate to be invited to spend three days with them. Built by Edwin Lutyens between 1898 and 1900, Goddards is considered by many to be one of his finest works. Arriving at Goddards on a beautiful summer’s evening was very special, the famous Lutyens chimneys peeping over the hedges made for a spectacular welcome. After three months on the road the prospect of being in one place for three nights was bliss (something I think any SPAB Scholar will relate to)!

Goddards_DK

First stop after a tour around the house was the skittles alley. Goddards was originally built as a holiday retreat for ladies of small means and this was funded by Frederick Mirrielees, Lutyens’ client, who set up a charity in his own name to support the building. As British summers are not always kind, areas for inside entertainment were incorporated into the design. A games gallery (which has subsequently been converted into bedrooms and bathrooms) and skittles alley were the amusements of choice. It took a good few games before any of us managed a strike but this gave us plenty of time to appreciate the meticulous attention to detail throughout the house, from latches to the doorbell to the skittles themselves – everything is a fine example of talented craftspeople and a credit to Lutyens who made time to consider every detail.

Door knocker at Goddards

Door knocker at Goddards

Goddards is now ran by the Landmark Trust on a long lease from the Lutyens Trust and is available to rent as a holiday let. The skittles alley is still periodically open to the local community as it was in the past. Throughout the stay there was a real feeling of the building being alive with activity and people which is so refreshing when in so many buildings nowadays (and some understandably so) you are forced to ‘walk between the red ropes’.

Skittles alley2_DKLutyens collaborated with Gertrude Jeckyll on the landscape design at Goddards and the time we spent sat among the flowers sketching in the summer sun was quite lovely!

Goddards by Charlie Wellingham

Goddards by Charlie Wellingham

Goddards by Elgan Jones

Goddards by Elgan Jones

During our stay we spent time at Chinthurst Hill, another of Lutyens’ designs where again he collaborated with Jeckyll. The house is much larger than Goddards and designed to quite a different brief. Standing in front of it and being told Lutyens designed it in his mid twenties certainly made the whole spectacle even more impressive. Chinthurst was split into three houses over its history and only recently the current owner has returned it to a single dwelling and is currently carrying out a lot of work to the gardens replanting them to Jeckyll’s original design. The long walk is an example of where this has been very successful. Long walk_DKBefore making tracks we scoured the outbuildings to find the croquet set to ensure we had the full ‘Goddards experience’ – after a few games and me consistently losing we decided a league table would be established and the overall victor awarded at the end of the Scholarship! (Croquet photo) A very enjoyable few days, a very relaxing few days and a very inspiring few days. Huge thanks to the Lutyens Trust for their kind hospitality.

Advertisements

Set the Stage

by Charlie Wellingham

The Scholars were very generously invited to attend the SPAB’s 2014 Repair Course; a full time week of lectures from leading construction and heritage experts, which is held twice a year for professionals and home owners. The highlight of the busy week is always the site visits – when delegates get a chance to witness the practical application of the SPAB conservation philosophy first hand, and discuss some of the challenges that can occur when contending with the realities of site work within historic structures. The first of this year’s visits (and for me, the most interesting) was to Wilton’s, the world’s oldest surviving traditional music hall, in Wapping Docks in East London.

Wiltons Music Hall

Originally the property was 5 individual houses in an early 18th century domestic terrace, which were adapted and enlarged in various ways until 1850 when John Wilton purchased the land and constructed an enormous hall space across the garden plots of all 5 residences. Further acquisitions and ‘knock-throughs’ by Wilton transformed the former bedrooms and family rooms into a dense warren of front and back of house spaces to support the growing popularity of the hall. However Wilton’s ownership was a short one and by 1890 the hall became a centre for the surrounding Methodist community and it remained so amidst increasing dilapidation until 1940 when it was finally abandoned and left to decay. A compulsory purchase and demolition proposal from the council nearly proceeded in the 1960s until it was saved thanks to the campaigning of a group of passionate high profile supporters such as Sir John Betjemen and Spike Milligan, who recognised the cultural significance of this Victorian survivor. It was listed Grade II* in 1970, and finally reopened as a theatre and music venue in 1997.

The hall survives as originally built by John Wilton

The hall survives as originally built by John Wilton

This miraculous rebirth might sound like an expensive and time consuming project given the state the building was in, but upon entering Wilton’s it is clear that this was no highly-polished crisp and gleaming refurbishment; the spaces were occupied with a very ad-hoc ‘make do and mend’ mentality, more in common with squatting than reverent restoration. This gives the entire venue an evocative and ghostly atmosphere (where surface fixed theatre lights cast long shadows across peeling plasterwork, and the deeply textured tooled brickwork that grins through beneath), that seems both wholly appropriate and totally unique.

Seventeen years later and Wilton’s has grown into one of London’s most cherished venues, with a thriving roster of music and theatre, a bustling cafe bar, and a large participation and learning programme, run by Managing and Artistic Director Frances Mayhew (many thanks to Frances for leading the fascinating tour with the SPAB delegates!). Frances has now overseen several complex phases of work with Tim Ronalds Architects, including the structural repair of the hall roof, and will soon be embarking on the front of house works which will increase the amount of (and access to) community studio space. It was particularly interesting to discuss the conservation challenges of repairing the surfaces of a room without damaging the romantically derelict aged atmosphere of the space (an aesthetic that is now synonymous with the Wiltons ‘brand’).

Column at Wilton's

Column at Wilton’s

There is no denying that the worn patina of the rooms contributes to the fantastic building that Wilton’s has become but championing this single flavour (and falsifying the required new work with applied distress to complement the composition) can begin a concerning trend of aesthetic ‘taste’, where the layers of history are a commodity or asset, and may even be tempting to mimic or recreate for rival enterprises. An interior design fashion of exposed dusty brickwork is plausibly foreseeable in light of the success of Wilton’s and the public’s appreciation for its quirky charms. Already instances appear to be increasing in frequency – Asylum Chapel wedding venue in Peckham is another good example. It doesn’t take a huge leap to imagine a revived ‘Anti-Scrape’ movement being required to oppose a thousand proposed Wilton’s wannabes from taking the hammer to their historic interiors. So perhaps this revelry of ruination is acceptable when it is agreed to be ‘authentic’; when the presentation of a dilapidated space ‘as found’ is exactly that – the state it was in when it was recovered and rescued. And what of the new doors that have been hand-painted to match the scruffiness of its 18th century surrounds?

For me the beauty of these neglected surfaces, the tactile erosion which speaks more of the building’s history than any number of interpretation panels, is only increased by the complement of smart and appropriate new design, inserted as required to bring the building back in to use and presented honestly with no agenda to mislead. Does the falsification of the new surfaces amount to set-dressing for a make-believe environment?

Scholar Elgan Jones treading the boards

Scholar Elgan Jones treading the boards

As ever these decisions should be reviewed in their context on a case-by-case basis, and in the case of Wilton’s Music Hall I will concede that this conservation approach is appropriate, if for no other reason than a major source of the theatre’s revenue is as a film set! At the end of the day you only have to walk through that old terraced house lobby and through the small door under the staircase into the cavernously vast and unexpected historic hall to agree; a bit of whimsy and theatricality is exactly what is required in this breathtaking space.

The project certainly gave us all a lot to think about and debate – which is a critical part of our studies as Scholars! Many thanks to Frances and her team for taking the time to explain their journey as client, and the philosophical and practical challenges currently being tackled by the Wilton’s design team in this thoroughly unique environment.

P.S Check out this great blog that documents the on-going phases of work at Wilton’s.

Grottos and churches

by Dearbhail Keating

Week 6 brought us away from Wales and back to the south taking in Somerset and Dorset. Two days were spent with Andy Ziminski, Fellow and director of Minerva Conservation and two days with Philip Hughes, Scholar and director of Philip Hughes Associates.

At the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Kilmersdon Andy showed us conservation work that is about to begin. The works will involve cleaning and conserving stonework, replacing the lead roof to the tower and repairs to the inside of the tower where a bell had fallen during a ringing exercise earlier in the year.

We carried out a trial area of stone cleaning around the doorway in the forth bay of the north aisle. The staining on the stone is due to air pollution and acid rain; this reacts with the stone creating calcium sulphate which forms a hard surface crust leading to subsequent blistering as salts expand behind.

To repair and conserve, initially the stone is brushed with water and phosphor bronze brushes, this can remove the sulphate salts which are soluble and with them, a degree of staining. But further cleaning is often required using a poultice.

In this case the poultice was a mix of paper pulp, water and ammonium carbonate. This is mixed together and pressed on to the area of stone requiring cleaning. Once the poultice is applied a chemical reaction takes place reverting the calcium sulphate to calcium carbonate which is the original make-up of the stone, thus stabilising it and slowing down further erosion

Applying the poultice

Applying the poultice

The doorway following the poulticing

The doorway following the poulticing

Following the poulticing we carried out mortar repairs to help support fragile edges of existing stonework. This method of cleaning and stabilisation will be used on several areas of the churches façade when works commence.

Later in the week, during our time with Philip Hughes, we were fortunate enough to visit St Giles House in Wimborne St Giles, Dorset. Built in the 17th century the house has been occupied by the Earl of Shaftsbury for many generations. Works are being carried out to a grotto in the grounds by Sally Strachey Historic Conservation. We spent the day on site getting involved in a very unique type of building conservation.

St Giles

St Giles

The fabulous shell grotto, dating from the early 18th century, is located to the south-east of the house. Grade II* listed, the grotto is an important example of its kind and has unfortunately fallen into disrepair. A grant from Natural England has allowed work to commence on the conservation of the grotto and the works are well underway.

Comprising of two main compartments and two side wings the grotto sits over a spring that feeds water to the ornamental lake. The building is of random rubble and flint construction with a slate roof. Internally the walls and ceiling are adorned with shells, flint, coral and fossils fixed to the walls, and the lath and plaster ceiling. Timber branches encased with shells were also suspended decoratively from the walls and ceilings.

Inside the grotto

Inside the grotto

The condition of the grotto when works began was quite bad indeed. A huge amount of work was carried out to save as much of the existing fabric as possible. All shells, coral etc. that had fallen were carefully removed and stored. Photographic evidence of the grotto before it fell into disrepair is available and the various options for reinstatement of the internal finish were debated.

The roof covering of the grotto had been removed; there are a number of roof structures that have built up over the life of the building through previous repairs. It was possible to view the condition of the ceilings from both above and below. There were problems with decay of timber laths and this was resulting in the plaster and shells falling from the ceilings. Some of the walls were studded out and decay had set in here, again resulting in loss of historic fabric. The timber branches covered in shells were also in need of attention.

Guided by the site team, we removed damaged laths and a wire was put in its place. This wire was fixed to the timber rafters on either side of the lath and secured with screws and washers. The wire ran along the line of the old lath and was a few millimetres above the plaster work. Following installation of the wire a water based epoxy resin was applied along the full length of the removed lath and built up into a peak along the line of the wire encasing it fully.

Scholar Charlie applying the epoxy resin

Scholar Charlie applying the epoxy resin

This method ensured the plaster work would have the best chance of remaining in situ, limiting the risk of it falling. Discussion is ongoing as to how repairs to the studded walls and decorative shell covered branches are to be carried out – we certainly did not have all the answers!

Thank you to all at Minerva Stone and Philip Hughes Associates for being such fantastic hosts, allowing us get our hands dirty and tutoring us in the world of stone and shells!