Lead theft: a heavy toll on heritage

By Kristian Foster

During our April travels, news reached us of the lead theft at St John the Baptist Church in Inglesham. The significance of this church to William Morris and the SPAB made it a particular talking point, and reinforced how devastating lead theft can be.

There’s the damage of losing such critical protection from the elements, the cost of the replacement materials, the insurance costs and the cost of alarms or additional security. When thinking about replacing the lost material one must consider the compromises to authenticity, detailing, appearance, workability and performance. Though there are alternatives to lead, we’ve grown to really appreciate how wonderful lead is.

Hands-on learning is one of the most rewarding elements of the Scholarship. It imbues us with a respectful understanding of the material, its detailing, workability and the skills of those crafting it. In just the last few weeks we’ve been fortunate to develop our understanding of lead.

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Aoife Murphy, cutting out Code 7 Lead Clips, St Mary’s West Tofts

We enjoyed several days with architect Ruth Blackman and family, of Birdsall Swash & Blackman Ltd, Norfolk. They’ve worked passionately for years to safeguard four empty churches in villages taken over for military training operations in 1942. The Stanford Training Area is accessible to contractors for a few days each year, during the lambing period. The most basic and essential repairs are undertaken. We joined S&L Restoration on the roof of St Mary in West Toffs, with its Pugin chancel.

Here we had the task of cutting strips of code 7 lead to form support clips for the base of a sacrificial valley flashing, preventing roof leakages in the infrequently accessed church is vital. Edges were scraped from clips to promote a clean bond during the hot works. The contractor easily demonstrated how to cut a clip, holding the cutter with one hand and gently pulling the lead strip with the other. We mostly reverted to the force of two hands on the snips!

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Scholar produced Lead Clips to secure the base of the flashing

Ruth organised a demonstration and a chance to core weld on some left over lead. Oxygen and acetylene gasses were combined and ignited to create the welding flame, the right blue colour indicated the required temperature. We lowered the flame onto the lead joint until the weld pooled, then rapidly flicked the flame to the side. We continued to melt the adjacent spot until this spot pooled and lead dripped across to combine with the previous melt. All the time carefully ensuring the flame didn’t burn through the lead below. It was all in the wrist and the timing.

Another week we spent a day with CEL Ltd near Peterborough where we watched the process of sand casting lead. We discussed the health and safety issues of working with lead, the fortnightly blood tests for poisoning and the time off required if lead levels in the bloodwork is too high. CEL had separate changing and shower facilities to ensure working overalls were cleaned onsite, not contaminating the family washing machine. Sinks were highly decorated with the required hand-washing techniques and special abrasive hand soaps.

Discussion also focused on the problems of theft and trusting large suppliers to provide authenticity. CEL began as a single lead worker, evolving to become a main and roofing contractor with the skills to remove and recast existing lead in addition to supplying it. Lead is valued due to its versatility, durability and ability to be recast and recycled constantly. Created using three methods, milled lead, machine cast and sand cast, the lead casters at CEL spend 45 minutes preparing the sand bed before sand casting. Meanwhile lead is heated to 400 degrees and recycled lead is added to the furnace. Pure lead ingots can be added to ensure the correct chemical mix, preventing a pour that is too brittle. With the sand bed ready, the slag is removed from the lead, which floats due to lead’s density.

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Smooth sand bed ready for casting

Pouring the lead onto the prepared table takes a matter of seconds. The speed of the pour can control the thickness or code of sheet, along with a skim.

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Lead quickly cooling once cast onto its sand bed

Sand casting allows CEL to provide the required size of sheet to reduce waste, measured cut and rolled after the casting. The cut sizes are weighed to ensure the correct thickness and ensure quality. CEL supply to Clare College, Sandhurst and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame at Reims to name a few.

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Rolled lead sheets ready for distribution

In addition to learning about the sand casting, we were also able to cast lead roses and discuss more decorative works. Lead is a versatile metal used in windows and statues such as the urns we noted in our first week’s visit to Hampton Court Palace.

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Scholars’ lead cast roses

With the two visits fresh in our minds we could really appreciate the discussion on the re-leading of the dome at Brompton Cemetery with MRDA Architects and contractors Bolt and Heeks. Here, previous details were being improved with better drip and expansion details to add longevity to the repairs.

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Repairs to the Dome at Brompton Cemetery

Lead was also used to offer drip details in timber frame repairs at projects visited throughout Shropshire with Treasures & Sons contractors, such as the 1640’s decorative gatehouse at Stokesay Castle, protecting impressive carvings.

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Protective Lead drip detail inserted at Stokesay Castle

These detailing issues were explored further in the recent SPAB Repair of Old Buildings Course, covering roofing in general and highlighting the issues of expansion and snow loads potentially allowing water ingress to lapped joints if poorly detailed.

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SPAB Repair of old buildings course, architect Peter Pace’s lecture on roofs

With such a valuable, ancient and versatile material, we hope that thefts do not deter its use or lead to irreplaceable losses or damage to buildings like the Inglesham Church and its paintings. A donation page for the repair of Inglesham Church has been set up by the Churches Conservation Trust.

Scholars on the road again

By Aoife Murphy

As our first month draws to a close we have been thinking about what has jumped out at us the most. We couldn’t actually choose though. This nonstop month has thrown so much exciting information our way.

I have particularly enjoyed trying out the trades. We have had the opportunity to try work in a forge, plaster using materials like wattle and daub, carve lime wood, carve chalk stone, hew timber and rub bricks. This has given me a new appreciation for the detail and skill involved.

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Blacksmithing with Owlsworth IJP

We’ve had a chance to visit well-known beautiful places such as Canterbury Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace. However we got a different view to most people. We got to go up on roofs, behind closed doors and into the workshops.

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Scholars and Fellows at Hampton Court Palace

Every site visit has been unique and interesting for a different reason. The smaller sites such as Brook Hall and Landguard Fort have been fascinating as the work being carried out tries to be respectful to previous reincarnations of the building.

The people we have visited every day are so passionate about their work. It’s a pleasure listening to their stories. My favourite topic is how they have fallen into conservation. Everyone has a unique path into the area. There is no direct route. You have to seek it out.

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Aoife woodworking

For the first two weeks we got to spend a lot of time with the Fellows. This is something I feel should be encouraged as much as possible. The different knowledge and points of view open great dialogue and discussion.

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Find our updates on Instagram at #spabscholar2017

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.

Cathedral Week

By Gethin Harvey

The cathedral week provides Scholars with an insight into the organisational structures associated with the running of cathedrals, and philosophies relating to their care, maintenance and repair. It is made possible through partnership with the Cathedral Architects Association and this year was organised by Nick Cox Architects at Winchester Cathedral.

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Winchester Cathedral

With the majority of my practical experience being with parish churches I’ve seen how dwindling congregations can lead to reduced usage of the buildings, shortage of funds for essential repairs and eventual redundancy. It was therefore of particular interest, to visit Winchester Cathedral to see how the balance is struck between liturgical function and financial responsibilities without compromising the sanctity of the place with overwhelming numbers of tourists. To aid our understanding we met with the receiver general, operations manager, enterprise manager, director of learning, head of marketing and communications as well as the head verger to discuss their individual roles and responsibilities.

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Scholars observing the paint conservation work at Winchester Cathedral

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Paint conservation on the bosses at Winchester Cathedral

Famously underpinned by the diver William Walker after the beech log raft foundations rotted causing the south transept to subside, the cathedral and its subsidiary buildings host a diverse range of conservation issues. These range from large scale structural works through to the conservation of rare decorative features such as the medieval encaustic tiles in the retrochoir. The cathedral currently has a £24.5 million conservation deficit on top of the £4 million a year required to keep it open; a vast amount of work, made more complicated by the logistics required to carry out the extensive programme of repairs without the disruption of services and events.

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Winchester Cathedral choir stalls

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Encaustic tiles

We were also able to meet the craftspeople to discuss the multiple repair projects which are progressing simultaneously, including:

– The meticulous work by Ruth McNeilage to remove the cream coloured, 20th century paint from the foliate bosses and conserve the historic paintwork beneath.

– Works to the windows by Steve Clare, to re-lead and replace missing glass where required, as well as introducing conservation glazing to stained glass panels.

Masonry repairs and repointing is being undertaken by the in-house stonemasons. Discussing the works with them highlighted the benefits of having a continuity of craftspeople and accumulated knowledge of the building. This level of knowledge is to be developed through detailed recording and documentation being carried out by Jon Crook and Peter Ferguson to provide a database of information on the cathedral’s construction which will prove invaluable for future projects.

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Stone letter carving by Scholars

Part of the new The Kings and Scribes project is to create new interpretation and exhibitions around the 12th century illuminated Winchester Bible; it will be at the centre of new exhibitions in the south transept. The proposal includes the installation of a lift which will puncture through an existing groin vault to provide access to the triforium. Whilst the impetus to make historical assets accessible to all is a laudable approach, the level of intervention required to make this a reality could result in disproportionate loss of the historic fabric we are trying to conserve and in this scenario we’d have preferred seeing something less intrusive.

We would like to thank all those involved for a great week and the CAA for their generous contributions to make it possible.

Protect our vernacular buildings

by Declan Cahill

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Stone cottage in the Peak District

Over the past five months we have travelled across most parts of England and have ventured into Wales and Scotland, which has shown me the variety of the vernacular buildings we have been lucky enough to inherit. As my favourite type of building, I love to see how these buildings vary from each other, how little details have been ingeniously introduced, how the building has developed with time and how the building sits within a landscape.

Vernacular buildings are those that are typical to a locality, that are made from local materials and by local craftspeople (and sometimes even just local people without a craft) and usually have no input from a surveyor, architect or engineer. After reading the various studies by Clifton-Taylor, Brunskill, John and Jane Penoyre and the Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working group I have started to feel that the gap between traditional construction and modern construction is ever-increasing.

Criss-crossing the country, we have been able to visit and see how buildings change in their form and materials. From the use of different stones, timber, brick, earth, lime, metal and glass on a building to the different forms of the timber frame, the stone farmsteads of Wales, Cumbria and Scotland, to the brick buildings in Cheshire and Shropshire and the earth buildings of the Solway Plain to suggest just a few. The variety of buildings that we have encountered has been truly remarkable.

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Field barn of the Peak District

However, one thing has become apparent to me over the last couple of months, our vernacular buildings and culture of building vernacularly is under threat. If we are going to save our traditions and our vernacular buildings we need to look into why they are at risk.

The knowledge and skill of the local craftspeople is being lost. This is partly due to the generation of local craftspeople retiring and their knowledge not being passed on. The current education system is also partly to blame for not providing opportunities to learn traditional building methods and only teaching modern construction skills. Modern cavity-based construction has become the norm whilst solid wall construction a rarity.

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Clay dabbin of the Solway Plain

In some respects the demand for traditionally built buildings has decreased. This is due to previous generations growing up in these vernacular buildings that weren’t properly maintained and stigmatising them as cold and drafty places to live. Those that take on our vernacular buildings do not always fully understand the materials and requirements of the building. The ventilation and breathability that are fundamental to a traditionally constructed building mean they are often mislabelled as drafty and inefficient. The movement of moisture through solid wall construction is perceived as a damp wall and inappropriate materials are used.

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Clay tile and lime render of Essex

The building regulations and our current standards of construction have been built on modern building methods, completely dismissing traditional construction. This has lead to unbefitting extensions to our historic buildings that aren’t constructed traditionally and use inappropriate materials. Modern buildings built in the countryside are often constructed and designed inappropriately. These buildings are being classed as vernacular when all they really do is use a local material for one aspect of the building.

We have become detached from the materials within our local geography and geology. The importation of materials from further afield is apparent on the majority of construction sites today. Recently at the annual Building Limes Forum conference Ben Bosence talked of the use of local aggregates and how he had researched what aggregates were available 100m, 1Km, 5Km, 10Km and 20Km from his house. The presentation was a timely reminder of how we need to reconnect with our locality.

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Timber frame and thatch in Oxfordshire

On our travels we have seen signs of hope for our ability to conserve our vernacular buildings and hopefully construct traditionally. From Richard Jordan teaching traditional construction skills in Derbyshire, to the projects we have visited in North Wales, the Peak District, Cumbria and Scotland. I can only hope that the meticulous attention given to our cathedrals and country houses is applied to the vernacular buildings that make our countryside so rich and unique.

The wonders of lime

By Declan Cahill

Since the last blog post the Scholars have spent two weeks in North Wales, a week on the SPAB’s bi-annual repair of old buildings course and a week in Somerset, the last four weeks have seen a focus on lime, both intentionally and unintentionally. Prior to the Scholarship, my involvement with the use of lime was project based, and my understanding of the historic use and characteristics of the material was fairly rudimentary. I thought I had a grasp on the different types of lime, however I still found myself questioning what I was specifying, the worry that seemed to hang over me was whether I was going to cause more damage through specifying a lime mortar that wasn’t cohesive with the existing building. After the last four weeks, I believe my apprehension was totally justified.

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Plas Tirion

Plas Tirion sits in the Conwy valley, and is home to the Natural Building Centre (NBC), we spent the day with Ned Scharer (owner of the NBC), who showed us how his use of lime to repair Plas Tirion underlies their philosophy of specifying the appropriate material for the location and the part of the building it is being used on. Therefore an understanding of the history of the building and its materials as well as an appreciation of the impact the weather has on these materials needs to sit at the beginning of the discussion regarding which is the correct lime to use when carrying out repair works. Knowing of our forthcoming trip to Italy, Ned was also able to introduce us to the art of fresco painting and gave us the opportunity to have a go ourselves.

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Declan and Gethin trying fresco painting

The rest of this week was spent with Elgan Jones, an architect of Purcell and 2014 Scholar, and Elinor Gray Williams of Donald Insall Associates, a Scholar from 2006. Site visits over the three days included both the grandness of castles of North Wales as well as more modest vernacular buildings and churches. We visited St. Cwyfan Church which was repaired in 2005 by Ned Scharer and included the use of broken shells and saltwater in the mortar mix and limewashes respectively. Read more about the limework at St Cwyfan’s Church-in-the-sea.

In the heart of the Brecon Beacons, the historic farm of Ty Mawr is the home of Nigel and Joyce Gervis, and Ty Mawr Lime Ltd. The visit to Ty Mawr helped us understand their involvement in the resurrection of the use of lime in historic buildings since the company was founded in 1995.

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Scholars and Fellows with Stafford Holmes and the lime kiln CAT

We then met up with the Fellows and Stafford Holmes to spend five days at the Centre of Alternative Technology (CAT) at Machlynlleth. The aim of our time at CAT was to carry out some maintenance works to the lime kiln, further our knowledge of lime and its uses, and to finally fire up the lime kiln to burn and slake lime. Our time with Stafford gave an insight into the wide range of uses of lime, and started to decipher how to approach the use of lime in conjunction with historic buildings. Stafford was able to teach us about the different types of lime and their appropriateness in different contexts, and by getting first hand experience of what is required in order to burn and slake lime has really helped me to understand the extensive and traditional use of lime in historic buildings. We also made a site visit to Portmeirion, which sparked interesting debate regarding pastiche and the relocation of historic buildings.

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Scholars and Fellows in Portmeirion

The five day repair of old buildings course consists of three days of lectures and two days of site visits. I cannot start to communicate the amount of information that is gained through attending the course, but I can say that it is an extremely useful starting point for those involved in conservation of historic buildings. The lectures on the various aspects of historic building fabric are given by experts in their individual field, and the two days of site visits allow you to see how this is put into practice. The spring course this year included site visits to the Queens House at Greenwich, the longest medieval barn at Frindsbury, Knole House in Kent and St. Mary’s Church and Hadlow Tower at Hadlow.

During National Mills Weekend I volunteered at Bradwell Mill just north of Milton Keynes. National Mills weekend is arranged every year to open up the windmills and watermills of the country to the general public. This year the William Morris Craft Fellowship Trust led a weekend of demonstrations and fundraising at Charlecote Mill. This helped raise £930 for the Trust.

We then headed down to Somerset where we spent time with Jo Hibbert, Scholar from 2002, who showed us a variety of projects she has been working on, including defence posts in Plymouth. We were also lucky enough to visit Carpentry Oak in Totnes and try our hand at stone carving with Westcountry Stonemasons in Ivybridge. Following our time with Jo we then spent a great day with Shaun from Somerset Stone Conservation, this allowed us to get some more hands on experience through helping to consolidate and re-point a railing plinth. An information-packed day was then spent with Philip Hughes, who was the first building surveyor scholar and is the current chairman of the SPAB technical panel. We visited projects at St. Lukes Pastoral Church in Wincanton, as well as the ongoing works at Wimborne St. Giles, which has been praised for its various approaches to conservation.

We finished the week and the last four weeks of the Scholarship at Woburn Abbey, where we were given a tour of the abbey by the curator, Matthew Hirst, and were able to have a look at the works being administered by Nick Cox Associates. The visit was also used to discuss our ideas for the Plunkett part of the Scholarship where we will spend the last three months of the programme visiting country houses to study a research topic of our choice.

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.

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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.

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.

Scholars and Fellows hit the conservation trail

Scholars and Fellows on the scaffolding at Hampton Court Palace

Scholars and Fellows on the scaffolding at Hampton Court Palace

This year’s Scholars and Fellows have started their countrywide tour. They have a packed programme to look forward to that will run from March to December.

The group have already visited the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace, where they have had a practical bricklaying session. In the next few weeks they can look forward to lead welding at Norman and Underwood, the lead-casters who made the King Richard III ossuary and the kind sponsors of the Scholars’ car this year, an introduction to milling at Charlecote Mill in Warwick and timber framing at the Kent Woodland Centre.

In the coming months their travels will take them to significant conservation projects, workshops and studios in all parts of the country where they will  learn about traditional building techniques from skilled craftspeople who have already established careers in the field. Don’t miss out on any blog posts, sign up for email updates from the Scholars and Fellows blog.

Image from left to right: Niall Bird, David Burdon, Oliver Wilson, Emma Teale, Joe Coombes-Jackman, Ben Hornberger and Joanna Daykin.