The “Conservation Compass”

By Paul Walters

Paul Walters Brickrubbing with Emma Simpson at Hampton Court Palace.jpg

Paul Walters brick rubbing at Hampton Court Palace with Emma Simpson

It has been a few months since we embarked on the incredible journey that is the William Morris Craft Fellowship and it has not disappointed! We have visited an incredible amount of sites, varying in architectural style, function and grandeur. However, I have always been just as interested in the ethos of the people working on these sites as I have been in the buildings themselves.

As a small business owner it can get very difficult trying to get the balance right when establishing one’s boundaries to repairing, conserving and/or restoring a building, and having spent a significant amount of time these past few months with a variety of craftspeople and conservation professionals, it is reassuring to know that everyone has such dilemmas. There are a few obvious avenues that affect the ability to carry out works in the manner which is perceived as “textbook” or the “SPAB way”, this is perhaps true north on our conservation compass. On sites, this magnetic pull towards our true north is disrupted by numerous and perhaps inevitable complications that will make us deviate from our path. Perhaps the strongest influence is the client. A lot of clients want to ‘modernise’ a building, to the peril of the character that makes the building desirable in the first instance. But equally detrimental is that of personal ambition of specifiers, architects and craftspeople. We can all get blinded by our own version of doing what’s right, whilst trying to manage what the client wants. Some value some eras more than others, some crafts or work more than others.

Fortunately, one could argue that we’re better off having a compass in the first instance? Knowing where true north is serves us in good stead, regardless of whether we choose to utilise it to its full potential. Its reassuring to know that even the most knowledgeable and experienced people go through similar turmoil when making important decisions, before putting the stamp of our era on such amazing buildings.


Could you be a 2016 SPAB Scholar or Fellow?

The SPAB Scholarship and Fellowship programmes offer the very best in hands-on, conservation-focussed training. Every year our Scholars and Fellows embark on a country-wide conservation tour of the UK and further afield. These unique schemes offer access to some of the country’s most important historic sites and workshops. Scholars and Fellows travel together, learning from the leading experts on historic building conservation and vernacular crafts.

‘The Scholarship has been an amazing opportunity to learn about our built heritage and how we maintain it for future generations.’ – 2015 Scholar Joanna Daykin

The 2015 SPAB Scholars proudly leaning against a section of drystone wall we spent building in Yorkshire.

The 2015 SPAB Scholars proudly leaning against a section of drystone wall we spent building in Yorkshire.

The search is on for up to four architects, building surveyors or engineers to become part of the SPAB Lethaby Scholarship 2016. This is a training opportunity like no other. After completing the nine-month programme, previous SPAB Scholars have gone on to become experts in their field – some are cathedral architects, some look after palaces and National Trust houses.

The Scholarship is open to architects, building surveyors and structural engineers who have completed the college-based part of their courses (e.g. RIBA Parts I & II for architects), ideally with two or three years work experience. The programme is organised and administered by the SPAB and will be of particular interest to early career professionals with a passion for historic building conservation.

2013 Scholar and Fellow

2013 Scholar, Conor Meeham, and 2013 Fellow Johnnie Clark in 2013 in Transylvania, Romania for a workshop on sustainable building

Successful applicants will visit some of the country’s most fascinating built heritage projects to deepen their knowledge of historic buildings and explore the challenges surrounding their conservation. We aim to give our Scholars first-hand experience of conservative repair in action. For more information please visit the SPAB website.


“The unique opportunity to travel as a Fellow means I can learn from talented craftspeople and professionals with a diverse range of skills” – 2015 Fellow Ben Hornberger

Up to four successful candidates will travel together across the country to learn more about traditional building crafts from masters of the trades. We’re looking for craftspeople with a passion for old buildings and conservative repair. Applicants must have completed their apprenticeship and demonstrate a high level of competence.

2013 Fellow Johnnie Clark demonstrates stone carving

2013 Fellow Johnnie Clark demonstrates stone carving

The Fellowship is an advanced training programme, devised to encourage and nurture craftspeople at the beginning of their careers, who are employed in any trade relating to the repair of historic buildings. The programme is now more relevant than ever given the lack of skilled people needed to care for Britain’s historic buildings and structures. The six-month practical training is divided into three blocks of two months, enabling the Fellows to return to their employment between each block. During the first two blocks they travel as a group, making daily site visits, studying repair projects, and meeting professionals, contractors and craftsmen. The final block is devoted to the individual needs and interests of each Fellow in consultation with their employers. For more information please visit the SPAB website.

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.

Keeping your eyes open

by David Burdon

One of the unique features of the SPAB Lethaby Scholarship and a reason for its continuing appeal is the opportunity the Scholars and Fellows have each year to engage with traditional craftspeople across the UK and gain first-hand experience in the understanding and use of materials. An understanding of the material and its properties is an important starting point for anyone working with original fabric on historic buildings.

In a letter to A. H. Powell dated 28 March 1894, the architect Philip Webb wrote:

“If you can get the experience of twelve months or so in a live workshop, and the outlying buildings, you will be saved a constant series of troubles in your future work. It has only been by constantly keeping my eyes open, talking freely wherever possible with all kinds of workmen, and reasoning out the knowledge gained that I have had any professional piece of mind for the last forty years… You too must keep – if you would be wise in future – keep your eyes open. Keeping the eyes shut is just the trap into which regular workmen fall.”

In just the first two weeks of the program, the Scholars have been keeping their eyes open and talking freely with unique craftspeople across the UK.

Hall Conservation maintain a workshop near Greenwich in London. Established in 2009, the company are specialists in conservation particularly with regard to metals. The Scholars and Fellows were instructed on topics as wide-ranging as lead-based paints, lost wax methods of casting, the application of smalt (ground blue glass) coating to metalwork, and the application of protective wax to historic cannons. Under the direction of blacksmith Fellow Joe Coombes-Jackman, everyone also tried their hand at the forge and found a new respect for the ironwork that we will encounter over the coming months.


Hampton Court Palace is known to many as the home of the most significant collection of Tudor chimneys in the world, their decorative brick spirals a clear display of wealth. What is less well known is that they are in fact all Victorian recreations of the originals, and even these are in constant need of careful repair. Masonry expert Emma Simpson allowed the Scholars and Fellows to get down and dusty in the Palace’s brick workshop as we learnt to cut and rub bricks.


At the small parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Barnsley, 1985 SPAB Scholar and architect Andrew Townsend introduced the Scholars to roofer Colin Feltham who explained the intricacies of Cotswold stone “tile” roofing. As many of the original tiles are retained as possible, some just in need of re-dressing in order to find their way back onto the repaired roof. As is often the case, the tiles on this church were laid in diminishing courses, from 21-inch tiles at the bottom to 6-inch tiles at the ridge. In the re-roofing processes over the centuries, older tiles thus make their way to the top as they are reshaped each time.

The limestone stone tiles used on many roofs in the Cotswolds are known to those that use them as “presents”, owing to the way the bedding of the stone in the region is quarried, the ground virtually gifting those that search for it with exactly the right thickness of stone required. Scholars were able to quarry stone themselves under the instruction of David Carter from Goldhill Quarry in Crudwell. Using traditional methods still in use today, Scholars quarried and then shaped their very own piece of this 160 million year old “forest marble” into a stone tile.




Past Scholars and Fellows: Where are they now?

Caitriona Cartwright, 1989 SPAB Fellow, talks about the Fellowship and how she took her craft down an unexpected path.

News_S&F_Caitriona Cartwright1
I got into masonry after studying History of Art at Manchester University. I’d always wanted to use my hands, to be a craftsperson, and was inspired by the study of medieval art and architecture. At university we had a very charismatic lecturer, Dr Paul Crossley, whose enthusiasm was infectious, but it did begin to occur to me that I would rather repair old buildings than study them. Straight after university I started the year-long City and Guilds course in stonemasonry at Weymouth College.

The process of just using my hands is terribly satisfying. I enjoy becoming completely absorbed by the task and having the satisfaction of producing a piece of work. I enjoy carving headstones in particular as my aim is always to make something fitting and, hopefully, beautiful. I hope this plays a small part in the healing process of grief.

I first heard about the Fellowship when I was working as a stonemason at Salisbury Cathedral, a colleague had done it the year before. The most memorable time on the Fellowship for me was the block I spent with John Green, a stonemason based in Ipswich. I was very impressed by him, his quiet confidence and his autonomy. I wanted to learn about stone conservation from him, I didn’t expect to become interested in lettering, but he was working away on a headstone while I was in his workshop and it just turned my head. It was a wonderful opportunity, John Green showed me another way of working with stone.

I’d been quite resistant to lettercutting at Weymouth College because one of the lecturers has said to me early on that as a woman I would probably end up making headstones. That offended my feminist sensibilities as I wanted to work on cathedrals, on building sites.

There have been many favourite projects, memorials especially. I was honoured to be asked to carve several memorials by Richard Attenborough. I’ve also carved a few things for Sir Roy Strong for his garden, the Laskett .

Caitriona Cartwright2
The Fellowship shaped my career in a very unexpected way. As I said, by meeting John Green, I just discovered a new path. It gave me confidence. In a way I discovered my voice. We met so many interesting people and entered into so many discussions. In the end it equipped me with the skills and confidence to become self-employed, and to work on smaller projects that fitted around my children when they were small. Now they have grown up I’m quite happy to carry on as I am!

Past Scholars and Fellows: Where are they now?

As we receive applications for 2015’s programmes, Scholarship and Fellowship organiser, Pip Soodeen reminisces about her time as a Scholar in 1999.

Scholars and Fellows on tour in 1999

Scholars and Fellows on tour in 1999

I first heard about the SPAB when a clerk of works gave me some SPAB technical pamphlets on my year out. These remained buried for 10 years until I decided to find a job in building conservation. I dug them out, became a member and read about the Scholarship in the magazine.

The Scholarship was filled with many truly memorable moments but what really stuck with me was a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral. I remember looking down through little holes in the scaffolded dome of the roof space to see the visitors below and then looking across the Thames to see the pods for the Millennium Eye being delivered to site. The hands-on experiences were incredible too: lime harling at the Scottish Lime Centre and working with timber at Whitney Sawmills. I vividly remember making a lead shell by dressing a sheet of lead at Lodge & Sons. I thought I’d done a beautiful job but my co-Scholars thought it looked like a dustbin lid!

SPAB has always encouraged potential Scholars to meet other Scholars before applying so they would know exactly what they were letting themselves in for. I met up with Simon Cartlidge, his wife Sarah, and Marianne Suhr. I was encouraged by their enthusiasm; Simon said “it will change your life”. I thought he was exaggerating but the nine month programme really did! You gain contacts that are willing to share their knowledge of materials, techniques and suppliers. Anything you want to know someone you meet on the programme will have the answer for you.
After the Scholarship I returned to south Wales to spend an invaluable 9 months with Ty Mawr Lime in Brecon gaining an even greater love of lime before joining Alwyn Jones Penseiri Architects, in Taff’s Well. Here I was able to work on conservative repair projects on private and National Trust properties. I only stayed for 2 years as happily my first son Joe was born and two years later my second son Ben came along. In between sons I assisted the design officer and the conservation officer at Swansea City Council which is based in a lovely Art Deco Guildhall (later repaired by Fellow Tom Flemons).
S&F_where are they now_Pip Soodeen
In 2008 I took over the running of the Fellowship programme from Rachel Bower who had run both the Scholarship and the Fellowship programmes for the last 20 years. Upon Rachel’s retirement I took on the Scholarship programme too and I’m now in my second year of running both schemes. My time as a Scholar is obviously invaluable to me in my role now.
I am lucky enough to have already met many of the people who still host the Scholars and Fellows. I am mindful of how difficult it can be to get a group of 3 or 4 students around a site and hold their attention. I also appreciate that it can be difficult to park up at a site, grab your hard hat and be ready to absorb perhaps a year’s worth of study from an onsite host. But this is what the Scholarship and Fellowship programme teaches you to do!