Past Scholars and Fellows: Where are they now?

Nick Cox, architect at Blenheim Palace, former Vice-Chairman of the SPAB and member of the technical panel, recalls his Scholarship experience.

News_S&F Where are they now_Nick Cox

One of the greatest joys in my work is going to amazingly beautiful places. The glimpse of the west front of Wells Cathedral or the sight of Blenheim Palace across the Queen’s Pool with Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge across the lakes (Walpole’s “finest view in England”) will always be uplifting. In the field of human endeavour our cathedrals, churches and country houses represent some of the most inspiring creations crafted by human hand. They are a feast for one’s spirit.

But it is not just the large and grand – sometimes small and beautifully wrought works can
have the same delight. Recently one of my most moving experiences has been looking at the completed conservation of the Jesse window at Wells Cathedral. The intensity of the colour in the glass, the juxtaposition of the tints and the delight of the whole composition are quite overwhelming when viewed from six feet away.

I was always aware of the SPAB but it was a small posting on the noticeboard at Oxford Polytechnic,
where I was studying for my Diploma, that caught my eye. Next was a call to Rachel Bower (Scholarship and Fellowship organiser at the time) followed by a meeting with Andrew Townsend (Scholars and Fellows tutor) in a pub in Oxford after which there was no escape!

I began the Scholarship in 1990, and it offered a very different way of living for nine months. It is a remarkable programme for its diversity. Every day brought a new place, a new person and a new building. One of the constants was the other Scholars. The lifelong connection with them and so many at the SPAB is the great legacy of the Scholarship. Some highlights for me were painting the view from Culzean Castle for a week, and climbing inside the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. Two of my favourite projects after the Scholarship were the boathouses at Burghley House (Stamford, Lincolnshire) and Belton House (Grantham, Lincolnshire). Both were unusual in their use of materials – one built of terracotta blocks the other timber-framed with basket-weave render and Collyweston fishscale roof. The end result was so rewarding for everyone involved.

Left to right: Alun Walker (Fellow, blacksmith), Bernie Bartrum (Fellow, flint knapper, Tom Maude (Fellow, stonemason), Louise Bainbridge, (Scholar, architect), Nick Cox, Nicola Westbury (Scholar, architect), Rob Kilgour (Scholar, architect)

Left to right: Alun Walker (Fellow, blacksmith), Bernie Bartrum (Fellow, flint knapper, Tom Maude (Fellow, stonemason), Louise Bainbridge, (Scholar, architect), Nick Cox, Nicola Westbury (Scholar, architect), Rob Kilgour (Scholar, architect)

I also love projects that bring buildings and landscape together – it would be hard to deny the thrill of clambering around inside the Grand Bridge at Blenheim whilst carrying out a fabric inspection and looking out over the lake. Tricky technical issues always appeal to me: the study of decay of Totternhoe stone, the conservation of stained glass, the use of copperas on 18th-century stone work and the formation of different oxides on lead roofs and statues.

The Scholarship has had a huge impact on my career and provided insight into so many ways of working with buildings and craftspeople. It fostered a confidence in me to discuss ideas within a framework of values. These values continue to provide a touchstone to my thinking. The programme showed me that there is rarely only one answer to a building conservation problem and that if one is to avoid “tampering with either the fabric or ornament of a building as it stands” then analysis and open-minded discussion is fundamental to sound decisions about what you should do.

Nick Cox has just completed nine years as a SPAB Trustee. We’d like to thank him for his nine-year contribution to the Committee. The Scholars and Fellows programmes are a vital part of our work. If you would like to support these schemes see our website


The Bells

By Conor Meehan

Week 14 kicked off with a visit to the legendary Whitechapel Bell Foundry which has been casting bells of all shapes and sizes since 1570, including the famous Big Ben. This is a craft of immense precision which continues to the present day – Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast the bell which rang out at the beginning of the London Olympic Games.

Alan Hughes and Scholars at Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Alan Hughes and Scholars at Whitechapel Bell Foundry

The Scholars were shown around the entire foundry by the managing director, Alan Hughes who shared his vast knowledge of the craft process with us. This tour also included a run through of the bell and bell frame inspection that would be carried out in a typical church. We were on the look out for tell tale signs of ageing, damage, corrosion and tampering.

Whitechapel BellsThe following day, our newly acquired skills were put to the test as Alan brought us up the tower of the magnificent Norwich Cathedral where we assisted him with a condition survey of the bells and bell frame.

Norwich Cathedral bell and bell frame survey with Alan Hughes

Norwich Cathedral bell and bell frame survey with Alan Hughes

On Wednesday, we were hosted by the SPAB Scholar and architect, Nick Cox who we had previously spent time with at Wells Cathedral – on this occasion, we were introduced to the architectural historian, writer and broadcaster, Jeremy Musson. Both Nick and Jeremy guided us on our choices for the Plunket section* of the Scholarship, which is fast approaching, in the beautiful setting of Worton House, Oxfordshire where we were kindly hosted by Mr & Mrs Axtell, the owners. We also made a visit to the exquisite Blenheim Palace, where Nick and his associates have been working recently.

The magnificent Blenheim Palace, with Nick Cox Architects*The Plunket section of the Scholarship programme has run since 1980 and provides an extra three months of intensive study into architecture and the allied arts in some of the country’s finest stately homes. The Patrick Plunket Memorial Scholarship is named in memory of the 7th Lord Plunket, Deputy Mater of the Royal Household to Queen Elizabeth II

Week 14 Part 2 to follow tomorrow –  Calke Abbey, the ‘unstately home’