An education in old building repair

by Joanna Daykin

The SPAB repair course has been running since the 1950s with the aim to introduce the philosophy of conservative repair and specifically the SPAB approach to repairing old buildings, alongside the benefits of on-going repair to preserve the fabric of the building.

Two days of site visits are sandwiched between lecture days in Holborn. The first day focused on the principles and philosophy of repair and subsequent days looked at materials, structure and building elements. The great and the good of the SPAB shared their experiences and knowledge on each subject through case studies and pithy anecdotes which kept us all entertained as well as educating us.

The site visits helped to consolidate what we had been learning and provided an opportunity to discuss with other delegates about there work and experiences.

Wilton’s Music Hall
SPAB Repair Course spring 2015_Joanna Daykin

The first visit was to Wilton’s Music Hall in east London.  Five terraced houses built in the 1690’s were knocked together and the music hall built in their gardens in 1858. It’s glory faded as music halls went out of fashion after the Victorian era. The building was refashioned as a Methodist mission and later as a rag warehouse. By the 1970’s it was in a seriously dilapidated condition before what is now Wilton’s Music Hall Trust took the project on, fundraised and repaired the building. The current repairs, designed by Tim Ronalds Architects and undertake by the contractor William Anelay Ltd, have very gentle approach to conservation and are aiming to retain the magical atmosphere which makes it feel like one has stepped back in time.

The Temperate House at Kew Gardens

SPAB Repair Course spring_Kew Gardens_Joanna Daykin
Opened in 1863, the Temperate House is the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world. Since 2013, Kew has been undertaking a five-year restoration project on the Temperate House and its surrounding landscape. The works involve new services and plant installations (including a biomass boiler), cleaning and redecoration of the glass house structure and a new education programme to improve visitor engagement. The huge scale of the project is daunting and co-ordination of the building process around precious and rare plants makes it even more tricky. The project team includes; architects : Donald Insall Associates, contractor : ISG plc., engineers : Ramboll.

SPAB Repair Course spring_Kew Gardens2_Joanna Daykin

Manor Farm Barn, Frindsbury Extra nr Rochester
The barn was constructed as part of a wider monastic complex in 1403 to store tithes. It is believed to be the longest medieval timber-framed structure in Britain and is a very fine example of crown post trusses. The barn was subject to a number of arson attacks in 2003. The structure though badly charred and damaged, loosing a couple of end bays, was not destroyed. Now funding has been secured, temporary protection and urgent works are proposed to be followed up by more permanent repairs.

SPAB Repair Course spring 2015_barn Frindsbury Extra__Joanna Daykin

The local community will be included in the process and a number of apprentices will be taken on – teaching them timber framing using mediaeval techniques and tools. We discussed the merit of choosing to repair the barn in this way as opposed to using modern materials and techniques along with the decision to removed the charring from the existing beams. The opinions between members of the group were widely varied as each had a slightly different aspect which they valued most i.e. education in crafts, honesty in repair, good new design. It was interesting to hear no one opinion prevailing above the others and it will be fascinating to see how the repairs to the barn are undertaken by the heritage team.

SPAB Repair course spring 2015_barn Frindsbury_Maggie Goodall

Knole House
Knole is one of England’s largest houses, possibly a calendar house with its 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards. It’s quality Elizabethan and Stuart architecture is reflected in its lavish interior with ornate plaster ceilings, panelled walls and decorative joinery along with it precious collections. Originally an Archbishop’s palace, the house passed through royal hands to the Sackville family – Knole’s inhabitants from 1603 to today.

Knole House2
The National Trust is carrying out one of its largest repair programmes with the support of Heritage Lottery Funding. The work is being carried out in three phases over eight years. The first phase of  external repairs is complete. The next phase is to open a new Bookshop Café and visitor centre in 2015 and continue to build a world-class conservation studio in which will facilitate the final stage of repairs; conserving the showrooms and there artefacts.


The current phase of works by architects Rodney Melville and Partners has is being undertaken by contractors Fairhurst, Ward and Abbotts. The works have used utilised every type of repair philosophy to achieve an accessible and useful buildings to meet the needs of the house and the trust. This has sometimes been to minimise maintenance, improve sight lines or create more visitor friendly spaces.
Knole House1

The Repair Course offers a great foundation for understanding what repair is and how to carry it out successfully. The next Repair Course in autumn 2015 is now fully booked but there are to bursary places left. For more information, please visit the Education pages of the SPAB website.


Reuse and Repair

by Joanna Daykin

Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory
This little known National Trust property, was initially formed as the chantry chapel of St Nicholas in the 14th-century, funded by the first Baron Beauchamp. Today the site is little used, except by the local farmer to graze his sheep. While at the property with 2009 Scholar Meriel O’Dowd we were encouraged to think about possible reuse opportunities for the collection of buildings. We discussed how reusing a few buildings can generate sufficient income for their maintenance and the repair of other buildings on the site.

Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory

Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory

The stables at Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory

The stables at Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory


Court House, Chard
The Manor Court House in Chard was built in 1540, straddling a burgage plot running back from the main Street. The Court House decorated with early Tudor strap work is mostly still intact. Many changes to the surrounding building having mutilated the original plan form. However a new business plan which proposes that the buildings be made into a number of flats reserving the court room for functions was discussed. Even though this will possibly lead to dramatic alterations it may conserve the court room and its beautiful plaster, providing a viable future and use for what is now a decaying and poorly maintained building.

Plaster at Court House Chard

Plaster at Court House Chard

Shell Grotto
This folly in the gardens of St Giles was extensively repaired as part of a DEFRA Parkland Grant. The initial inspection could only be undertaken after it was excavated from a mass of vegetation overgrowth. Decayed roofs and piles of shells were found beneath. A process of sorting and cleaning along with investigation into its original decoration was painstakingly undertaken. Sally Strachey Conservation carried out the repairs in two phases, first by pinning and strengthening the ceiling from above and replacing the roof. Only then were they able to restore the fantastic interior by pinning and reprinting in the shells.

Shell Grotto, St Giles

Shell Grotto, St Giles

Wimborne St Giles
The 1st Earl of Shaftesbury built Wimborne St Giles in 1651 in the classical Renaissance style. The house expanded over the years, but became too unruly and in the 19th century about a third of the house was pulled down. The house fell into further disrepair and in 2001 the house was put on English Heritage’s at Risk Register. When the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury inherited the house he not only halted the building’s decline but began to renew the house’s former beauty. Panelling and artefacts removed and stored throughout the estate were returned to the house and the grand rooms of the house restored. The most dramatically repaired room was the dining room where only part of the panelling survives. A decision was made to keep the panelling in its partial condition and the room decorated and hung with paintings for reuse. Other rooms in the house await their repair as new funds are generated through the reuse of the grand ground floor rooms.

S&F 2015_Wimbourne St GilesS&F 2015_Wimbourne St Giles interior

The works in the house were approached with a different philosophy to the shell grotto. The existing fabric was retained with minimal repair and no additional replacement. However the shell grotto was nearly entirely restored. The approaches were suitable for the different situations telling the story of the house, which has seen much dilapidation before its resurrection by the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury, Whereas the purpose of the shell grotto would have been lost without completely restoring its interior which creates its fantasy atmosphere.  In many ways both Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory and the Manor Court House in Chard are at risk of being lost and their stories forgotten if new uses are not found for their buildings.