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.

Celebrating 30 years of SPAB Fellowship

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the SPAB Fellowship. Founded to nurture craftspeople at the beginning of their career and introduce them to building conservation whilst also allowing them to develop their own craft. This unparalleled experience encourages hands-on learning and a passion for building conservation. We’ve trained over 100 Fellows, from all over the country, working in many different trades. SPAB Fellows are some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable craftspeople, and work on some of the most important buildings in the UK.

We’re celebrating with three videos featuring some Fellows from the past 30 years. Last autumn we caught up with them at their place of work: Alex Gibbons (cob builder, 2014 Fellow), Helen Bower (stained glass conservator, 2001 Fellow) and Ray Stevens (stonemason, 1987 Fellow).

 

Ray Stevens, stonemason at Calke Abbey

 

Alex Gibbons, self-employed cob builder based in Cumbria

 

Helen Bower, stained glass conservator, filmed at York Glaziers Trust

 

Read more on the background of the Fellowship in the spring 2017 issue of the SPAB Magazine, reaching SPAB members by mid March.

Could you be a SPAB Scholar or Fellow?

We’re now searching for SPAB Scholars and Fellows for 2017. Apply for the Scholarship programme and the Fellowship programme by 1 December.

We welcome Fellowship applications from craftspeople employed in the repair of historic buildings on site or in workshops and studios. Candidates must have completed their apprenticeship and demonstrate a high degree of competence, as well as an enthusiasm to engage with other trades and disciplines. Past Fellows have been stonemasons, stained glass conservators, blacksmiths, carpenters/joiners, bricklayers, leadworker and plasterers.

Our Scholars are architects, surveyors and engineers who have completed their college-based training (e.g. RIBA Parts I & II for architects), ideally with a few years experience in their field. Applicants must be enthusiastic about old buildings and willing to travel the country for this nine-month countrywide conservation tour.

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A word from this year’s Scholars and Fellows:

Triona Byrne, structural engineer
We’re over halfway through the scholarship at this stage and some of the highlights for me have been the traditional practical skills we have been given the opportunity to try. Thatching, earth building and dry stone walling were among my favourites – it’s been brilliant to have the opportunity to learn about things I’ve always admired from afar without a clear idea of how they are actually done. The different approaches to conservation we’ve come across have been really interesting to dissect and debate. They are helping me to shape my own conservation philosophy.

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Triona mixing lime mortars at Duart Castle

Dec Cahill, building surveyor
As we fly into the fifth month of the Scholarship we’ve been to all sides of the country, as well as a great trip to Italy with the Landmark Trust to study Palladio’s Renaissance revival of classical architecture. Along with the various working parties at Great Croxley, Balmerino and Greatham, I have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cumbria drystone walling and visiting my hometown of Manchester!

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At Winchester Cathedral

Thom Evans, stonemason
It is the overwhelming kindnesses shown to us by the hosts that has really amazed me. The educational value of the fellowship is well known within the industry but the friends you make, and the fun you have is difficult to explain to outsiders.
Whether you’re being welcomed by a host for a week – Marianne Suhr, Douglas Kent- or just for a few hours we’ve been made to feel at home. It’s this attitude that has allowed us to ask questions freely and not to feel foolish when we don’t know certain things. A big thanks to anyone who has already helped, or hopes to in the future.

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Constructing a newbuild clay dabbin structure in Cumbria

Lizzy Hippisley-Cox, stained glass conservator
Although we are only seven weeks in, the Fellowship has already had an enormous impact on the way I see building conservation, and the way my work fits into the grand scheme. I am getting a much better understanding of other traditional techniques and materials, and the skills involved in mastering them.

The highlights for me have been instances where we have walked around churches (large and small), taking in the detail. There is so much to be said for taking time to look at the historic fabric together, and then talking about what we see from each of our different professional perspectives. It is the process of discussing what has happened to a building, and what the potential outcomes will be over time that has taught me the most so far.

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Declan and Gethin trying fresco painting

Stone in Wales

by Thom Evans

Something I often hear is that Wales is a country full of hidden gems; I was born and raised in Cardigan Bay, and still live and work there as a stonemason, and cannot argue with this description. I can honestly say that rarely do a few months pass without me stumbling upon a little-known historic building full of delightfully untouched charm. However during my Fellowship year I am coming to realise it may not just be the buildings themselves whose fantastic value is underappreciated but also the people who serve them.
I began the third block of the Fellowship (a time of study away from the other Fellows to pursue our individual interests) by meeting with Dr Tim Palmer a retired senior lecturer at Aberystwyth University whose current charges include being a consultant in Architectural Geology, ex-secretary of the Welsh Stone Forum and enthusiast/font of knowledge on all things stone. The extent of the knowledge Tim was able to impart is far too large to do justice in this blog but I would like to concentrate on one revelation that has caused me to re-evaluate my thinking.

Strata Florida

Strata Florida

Many surviving medieval buildings, whether fortified or ecclesiastical, along the south and west coast of Wales (as well as the east coast of Ireland) appear to contain a certain amount of Jurassic limestone that to the untrained eye could be described as Bath stone. I have encountered this stone, often used for carved detailing, and it had left me somewhat perplexed. Whilst I was often able to discount it as being Bath stone, I had regularly considered it to be Doulting- a hardier more crystalline limestone from Somerset still used today. I often questioned whether this out of place limestone was contemporary to the original medieval fabric, as it appeared not to have weathered as much as one might expect after the ravages of time in excess of 600 years. I suppose, also, I associated the widespread use of the Jurassic limestone in Wales with the Georgian and Victorian era and wondered whether these apparent anachronisms were interventions at this stage. The work of Tim and the Welsh Stone Forum has however been able to settle this little riddle for me.
They have identified this esoteric stone as being Dundry. A non-oolitic Jurassic limestone quarried from Dundry-Hill, just south of Bristol. Whilst it shares many similarities with Doulting such as its age and non-oolitic formation it appears to be significantly more durable. The geological reason for this is explained in detail by Dr Palmer in various papers, but in simple terms the sea lilies whose decaying matter make up the sediment of this stone are Echinoderms and define the dense granular quality of the stone.

Strata Florida

Strata Florida

It is believed that quarrying for Dundry had reached natural conclusion around 1540 when the supply of the best quality beds was exhausted, although a brief revival between 1850-1910 yielded some inferior quality stone. As well as being used extensively for external masonry it was used for numerous fonts, which were often carved in a generic style and shipped across the south west.
So it is easy to understand why this durable freestone which was close to the river Avon, and therefore the Channel, coastline and trade routes achieved ubiquity in its heyday and can still be found now at sites such as Llandaff Cathedral, Chepstow and Newport castles, round to the Bishops Palace in St David’s and as far north as Strata Florida and Aberystwyth Castle. The extensive research and investigation that Dr Palmer and his colleagues at the Welsh Stone Forum have undertaken to highlight the importance of Dundry to medieval masonry should be lauded.

Strata Florida

Strata Florida

The Fellowship has really made me realise that conservation is a collaborative effort. Whether it’s the communities that campaign for funding to protect their beloved landmark, the volunteers that brave the elements to maintain their churches, or the enthusiasts who help us better understand the materials we use.  Many people work away at their own personal interest or profession and rarely get the recognition they deserve. Without them the work we practitioners carry out on site lacks cohesion, and we should be thankful.

Scholars head north

by Gethin Harvey

Vernacular Buildings
Since the last post, the Scholars have headed north to Cumbria and into Scotland to study the effect of changing geology and wetter climates on vernacular buildings and the accompanying variations in construction techniques.

Solid earth wall construction

In such areas the detrimental effects of water ingress and damp can be exacerbated if not addressed; with increases in average annual rainfall over recent years, it also poses questions on how well equipped historic buildings are to deal with the amount of rainfall seen today and associated repair philosophies.

One vernacular tradition is the construction of buildings with solid earth wall structures which go by different names dependent on the regional variations in construction and local dialect. These are known locally in Cumbria as ‘clay dabbins’ and following a guided tour of Burgh by Sands by 2014 fellow Alex Gibbons it became apparent that they are often difficult to spot, hidden behind protective lime renders.

This not only leads to uncertainty in the exact amount surviving in the UK it also means that they may often not have the statutory protection they deserve. We subsequently joined local craftspeople and volunteers to progress the construction of a newbuild clay dabbin building in the RSPB sanctuary on the Solway Plain. The experience of working with the material revealed the practicalities which determine the methodology of construction; the walls are formed of lifts only a few inches in height, contrasting with, for instance, cob buildings in Devon where the drier material allows lifts of up to 2 ft. It was a great example of how traditional crafts may be used to provide sustainable opportunities for building using nothing outside the immediate context of a site. Surviving examples serve as great precedents for this and their maintenance is crucial, one of many topics which will be covered at Clay Fest 2016 which will provide opportunities for further explanation and hands-on experience at the RSPB Campfield Marsh Reserve in Bowness-on-Solway, Cumbria on 18 – 23 July 2016.

For more information please see the Earth Buildings UK website.

Scottish Working Party

Balmerino Abbey, Scotland Working Party

Despite predictions of thunderstorms, the weather was glorious (with a minor exception – the typically soggy British BBQ on the final evening).

The weather enabled the volunteers to throw themselves into the work at Balmerino Abbey, a ruinous masonry structure in Fife. This included raking out cement pointing in a boundary wall and repointing with lime mortar; soft capping trials and preparing the materials for repointing and soft capping.

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Lime has been a constant theme throughout our visits and it was a great asset to have Bill Revie, Andy Bradley and Duncan Strachan from the British Limes Forum to guide us. For the lime pointing a hybrid mix of quicklime gauged with NHL 5 was used with local sharp sand. This was a combination we had not previously seen and was designed to provide an initial chemical set to prevent the mortar being damaged by frost and/or wind before carbonation. Their interactive demonstration of the lime cycle and the ‘3-minute kiln’ (for construction, not burning!) was of great benefit to all present and provided us with a better understanding of its use in more severe climates.

Kiln at Scottish Working Party

With a similar range of repair methods as those proposed for the SPAB England Working Party which will be held at Greatham, Hampshire on 3 – 9 July 2016, it was great to have the experience of Alison Davie Construction Ltd to supervise the works. Aside from the practical experience it was a brilliant social meeting with many partaking in their first official ceilidh and we would like to convey our thanks to Historic Environment Scotland and National Trust for Scotland and all others involved in an incredible few days.

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Hands-on Learning

The first block is racing by and the Fellows and Scholars have gone their separate ways. The Fellows travelled to central Scotland for a fortnight, where they visited Stirling Castle, Glasgow Cathedral, and the Kelvingrove Gallery amongst many others. From conversion to new use (Stirling Engine Shed) to petrography (with Bill Revie at Construction Materials Consultants) there were many different insights into the work currently going on in Scottish building conservation.

With stained glass conservator, Lizzy Hippisley-Cox, on the Fellowship this year, there has been the opportunity to visit several stained glass studios, including Mark Bambrough’s Scottish Glass Studios in Glasgow, Rainbow Glass in Prestwick, and the glazing team at Lincoln Cathedral works department. Lizzy was also able to attend the Society of Glass Technology and Association for Historic Glass conference at the Wallace Collection in London. This was an opportunity to learn more about post medieval glass production methods and to talk with glass scientists about current glass analysis techniques.

Bulmers Brick and Tile_Fellow Heather Griffith

Fellow Heather Griffith with Peter Minter, owner of Bulmer Brick and Tile Company

Bulmer Brick and Tile Company

Bulmer Brick and Tile Company

The Fellows were also delighted to get some hands-on experience of crafts such as blacksmithing (at Ratho Byres Forge), brick throwing (at Bulmer Brick and Tile Company), and thatching (with Kit Davis in Blewbury, Oxfordshire). The Fellows are currently in Lincoln, having had a fantastic few days with the works department staff at the Cathedral, exploring the turrets, triforia and roofspaces.

Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral

Meanwhile, the Scholars have been travelling around Oxfordshire and Leicestershire, learning about woodlands, timber framing and the dating of timber structures. They have also spent time learning about roofing with different types of stone, and how a roof is traditionally set out. They visited Norman and Underwood and saw lead being sand cast. They spent some time with SPAB Guardian, Nicholas Hobbs, a furniture designer and maker, to find out more about the work and care that goes into producing bespoke timber furniture. They’re currently enjoying exploring the vernacular buildings of north Wales and looking forward to seeing many more beautiful buildings in the weeks ahead.

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SPAB Scholars Triona Byrne and Gethin Harvey trying wattle and daub with Owlsworth IJP, a conservation construction company

Scholars and Fellows hit the conservation trail

by Triona Byrne

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Scholars and Fellows at SPAB HQ

It’s been an eventful first fortnight for the Scholars and Fellows as we hit the conservation trail, starting from SPAB HQ in Spital Square.

During the first two weeks, we spent time with SPAB Guardians Stephen Bull and Conor Meehan, learning about their careful repairs and conservation work at a Georgian building on Kennington Road, and the Union Chapel building in Islington. At Kennington Road, we learned how they are tackling the problem of differential settlement (up to 4 inches) across the building which makes for interesting sensations as one walks from one side of a room to another.

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Scholars and Fellows visit a repair project on Kennington Road, London

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Differential settlement at 285 Kennington Road

As well as visiting Kenwood House with Ian Angus, we travelled to Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex, where Tom Massey, 2014 Fellow, has carried out expert repairs to the castle gates (c. 1910) using a local English oak which will weather over time to seamlessly match the existing timber.

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Herstmonceux Castle gate repair by 2014 SPAB Fellow, Tom Massey

The Scholars were kindly invited to the V&A Museum to view a selection of architectural drawings in the Prints & Drawings Study Room. Along with drawings by Palladio, Sir John Soane and Eileen Gray, we got to look at original drawings and notes by Philip Webb, co-founder of the SPAB. These included his early drafts for text to be engraved on tombstones – like this one below for poor Charles who “fell asleep” on Good Friday 1879. We also viewed the free Philip Webb exhibition (ends 24 April 2016), which gives an interesting insight into his work with William Morris and his involvement in establishing the SPAB.

Philip Webb tombstone text

Tombstone text by Phillip Webb, part of the V&A Museum’s collection

Finally we spent a day learning the secrets of sketching with architect Mark Power. We wandered around the Southwark area, learning about light, shade, negative space and proportion. It concluded a very interesting and educational first fortnight.

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A sketch focussing on negative space by SPAB Fellow Heather Griffith

 

2016 Scholars and Fellows announced

This year’s Scholars are: Triona Byrne, an engineer from Co Kildare; Declan Cahill, a building surveyor from London/Manchester and Gethin Harvey, an architect based in Norwich.

This year’s Fellows are: Peter McCluskey, a slater/roughcaster from Glasgow; Thom Evans, a stonemason from Ceredigion; Lizzie Hippisley-Cox, a stained glass conservator from York and Heather Griffith, a stonemason from Stirling.

Subscribe to this blog to keep up to date with the Scholars’ and Fellows’ countrywide conservation tour, starting in mid-March.

Congratulations to our ‘graduating’ Fellows!

In November the SPAB, Fellows and their families were welcomed to the Carpenters’ Company Hall in London for this year’s Fellowship Presentation. Joe Coombes-Jackman (blacksmith), Ben Hornberger (carpenter) and Emma Teale (stone conservator) were awarded their certificates by the Chairman of the William Morris Craft Fellowship Founding Committee, Lord Cormack. After presenting their certificates and book prizes he noted that they were now part of the illustrious SPAB Fellowship alumni and assured them that “once a Fellow, always a Fellow”.

Fellows with Scholarship and Fellowship organiser, Pip Soodeen.

Fellows with Scholarship and Fellowship organiser, Pip Soodeen.

The Carpenters’ Company award was presented by the company’s Master, Michael Neal, to the SPAB’s 100th Fellow, Ben Hornberger. Ben thanked those that hosted the Fellows during their countrywide conservation tour, saying that they “pass on a lifetime of knowledge, they cook you meals and they welcome you into their home”. Unsurprisingly, Ben said, it was the carpentry-focussed visits that stood out the most for him.

Ben Hornberger, SPAB's 100th Fellow, giving his speech

Ben Hornberger, SPAB’s 100th Fellow, giving his speech.

Lord Cormack concluded the presentation by saying that the Fellowship “will flourish, our marvellous built heritage must endure for our children’s children”. The SPAB wishes this year’s Fellows the best of luck with their endeavours and looks forward to introducing 2016’s Fellows in the new year.

Lord Cormack giving his opening address at the Carpenters' Company Hall

Lord Cormack giving his opening address at the Carpenters’ Company Hall

 

Some of the SPAB Fellows from the last 29 years

Some of the SPAB Fellows from the last 29 years

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.

Scholarship
‘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.

 

Fellowship
“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.