Calling all architects, building professionals and craftspeople

Calling all architects, building professionals and craftspeople – have you got what it takes to be a 2018 SPAB Scholar or Fellow?

“From challenging personal conservation philosophies to trying out traditional crafts under the guidance of master craftspeople, the SPAB Scholarship has exceeded all expectations.” – 2016 Scholar, Gethin Harvey (architect).

“I feel confident discussing with anyone the pros and cons of various approaches to conservation. The Fellowship hasn’t just given me the knowledge to improve, it’s given me the confidence” – 2016 Fellow, Thom Evans (stonemason).

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Aoife Murphy (2017 Scholar) woodworking

The search is on for our 2018 Scholars and Fellows. If you’re an architect, building surveyor or engineer interested in building conservation then think about applying for the SPAB Scholarship. We’re also looking for craftspeople with a passion for old buildings and conservative repair for the Fellowship programme. Applicants must have completed their apprenticeship and demonstrate a high level of competence. These programmes offer a training opportunity like no other.

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Triona Byrne (2016 Scholar) mixing lime mortars at Duart Castle

After completing the nine-month programme, previous SPAB Scholars and Fellows have gone on to become experts in their field. Both the Scholarship and Fellowship programmes give successful applicants behind-the-scenes access to some of the country’s most fascinating built heritage projects.

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Scholars and Fellows (2015) on the scaffolding at Hampton Court Palace

We aim to give our Scholars and Fellows first-hand experience of conservative repair in action; they will be meeting professionals involved in the full range of building management issues, working on site and in workshops and studios throughout the UK. Scholars spend the first six months travelling from site to site together, in the last three months they study, together or apart, aspects of the nation’s country houses.

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Solid earth wall construction with 2014 Fellow Alex Gibbons

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2015 blacksmith Fellow Joe Coombes-Jackman

The Fellowship is a six month programme but 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 craftspeople. The final block is devoted to the individual needs and interests of each Fellow in consultation with their employers.

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2015 Fellows with Fellowship organiser, Pip Soodeen.

The application deadline for the Scholarship and the Fellowship is Friday 1 December. For more information and an application form please visit the Scholarship and Fellowship pages on the SPAB website. The Scholarship and Fellowship programmes run from mid March until the end of the year.

To get in touch with the programme organisers email education@spab.org.uk

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Conservation: Where do I start?

By Aoife Murphy

The Scholarship is giving us wonderful access to beautiful buildings and crafts all over the UK. It’s difficult to choose a blog topic. Do I focus on a craft or a building or an area or a person?

As an outsider who has not grown up in the UK I have decided to write a little on my experiences and how well set up I think the UK is. How there are amazing funding bodies, sources of information and enough of a population to keep crafts alive.

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SPAB Working Party in Lumsdale, Derbyshire

I have grown up in Ireland and lived in New Zealand for over 6 years. While growing up in Ireland I fell in love with old buildings near my home including an old monastic settlement in St Mullins, Borris House and Duiske Abbey in Graiguenamanagh. While studying engineering I found the most interesting projects for me involved older buildings rather than the building of new ones. Due to a recession as I was just qualifying I looked into conservation but the industry in Ireland was small and doors were firmly shut. I worked in Ireland for a while but as more and more projects went on hold I was forced to emigrate. This brought me to the opposite end of the world. A place dear to me but so far away from family and old friends.

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Works underway at the HLF0funded Landmark Trust House at Llwyn Celyn in the Brecon Beacons, Wales.

In New Zealand I saw churches such as the Sydenham Heritage Church torn down days after the earthquake in February 2011 without the church’s trust or the civil defence knowing. The church was built in 1878 which by UK standards is practically new. However by New Zealand standards it was one of the oldest buildings in the country. There was no proper assessment and no formal applications made. It was an emergency situation however and some unfortunate decisions were made. I have loved my time in Christchurch where I hope I made a considerable contribution to the repair of earthquake damaged homes.

Being on the Scholarship this year has opened my eyes to the conservation industry in the UK. There are many wonderful organisations willing to offer information such as the SPAB, the Georgian Group, the Victorian Society, the Twentieth Century Society, Historic England, the Building Limes Forum and many, many more. There are societies for amazing crafts, fellowships and scholarships to keep the industry alive and very passionate people. It’s wonderful. There are trusts set up to protect buildings, such as the Landmark Trust, as well as smaller individual ones. The Heritage Lottery Fund has managed to step in when the government stepped back to help fund a huge amount of buildings and skills. Their Places of Worship, Skills for the Future and Townscape Heritage grants to name a few have been invaluable. They have made sure that local involvement and learning has been an important part of each application, keeping an interest alive.

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A glimpse at some of the stones to be replaced at Salisbury Cathedral under the Major Repairs Programme that has lasted 30 years. Works funded by the Cathedral Trust.

I have felt so welcome coming in from abroad with little knowledge of how the system works here. I feel that although it is underfunded and that people in conservation are not particularly good at blowing their own trumpet as such, the industry is still flourishing and with so many young people interested it can only get stronger. I think we are moving away from the idea that ‘newer is better’, this can also be seen in the food, cosmetics and clothing industries. We are now seeing that whole foods, natural products and natural materials are returning. I think the conservation industry is seeing this too.

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Scholars Visit Haddon Hall during the Working Party in nearby Lumsdale, Derbyshire

I hope that other countries do look to how it works in the UK and I am delighted to see the likes of SPAB Ireland up and running.

Stop. Look. Listen.

by Lilian Tuohy Main

As we enter the third month of our conservation tour, a theme that continues to arise is the importance of observing before acting.

A unifying trait of historic buildings is their numerous ‘unknowns’. It is this intangible mystery that often makes a place compelling. However, for carrying out repair works to such buildings, the importance of knowing their history, and as much as practically possible about their existing fabric and condition can not be underestimated. Without fail, investing time in the early stages of a project proves to be in the best interest of the building and also results in more economic and time-efficient outcomes, as on-site ‘surprises’ are greatly reduced.

As Scholars, we spent two days surveying 47-49 High Street, Eton, affectionately known by locals as ‘The Cock Pitt’. Here we were set the task of surveying the principal frontage to the High Street, which appears to have been constructed in the first half of the 15th century, and it has been altered and extended on numerous occasions since, most notably in the 19th century.

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West Elevation view of 47-49 High Street, Eton

 

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Drawing up of the High Street elevation, which retains much of its 15th century character

As with any building of it’s age, 47-49 has many interesting and unique features. One that has continued to evoke a reaction is that of the knuckle bone floor at the eastern end of the site. The building was leased by John Rayne, a butcher, before 1551, and another butcher, William Russell also occupied one of the cottages in 1660 (HER Monument Record MRM16551). The floor may have been laid by either of these men – the arrangement being a typical feature of butcheries where bones were not in short supply, and the gaps between bones allowed blood to drain away (The Cock Pitt’ 47-49 High Street Eton, Heritage Statement, August 2015, Built Heritage Consultancy). In the 1930s, nos. 47 and 48 High Street were tearooms called ‘The Cock Pitt’. Allegedly the name was inherited from speculations in the 20th century that the vertebrae floor was a survival from a medieval cockpit, i.e. a venue for cock-fighting.

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Knuckle bone floor – the floor of sheeps’ vertebrae in an outhouse at the eastern end of the site. (Image by Kristian Foster)

Spending time on the busy High Street with tape measures and sketch books in hand, we were greeted by countless interested locals, thrilled and intrigued to know of future happenings to the building, now dilapidated and in need of repair.

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Surveying the timber frame. (Image by Kristian Foster)

When surveying the timber frame, all measurements were taken in imperial. The investigations and recording showed that the building had been rebuilt after having a Georgian or Victorian shopfront added, and that there was a steel beam hidden behind the jetty and sections of contemporary, hard cement render.

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Scholars conducting the hand-measured survey on-site

Timber expert Daniel Miles, mentored us over the two days spent at the building. Through observation and survey we identified evidence of a previous arrangement of a pair of half-Wealdens (a typical medieval timber-framed hall plan). With time, similar discoveries will, no doubt, come to light.

To be granted this time to look with and listen to knowledgeable craftspeople and professionals is proving to be an invaluable experience. The process of taking the time to look carefully and considerately is something we will take forward with us, as we continue the fortunate task of caring for such interesting and treasured buildings.

Scholars and Fellows: Where are they now?

Harry Wardill, 2011 Scholar and structural engineer, writes about the cultural preservation charity he set up in Myanmar. This article first appeared in The SPAB Magazine, autumn 2016. The SPAB Magazine is a benefit of SPAB membership.

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Harry Wardill (left) with Philip Gaches, a UK-based master plasterer

The city of Yangon (Rangoon) in Myanmar (Burma) is an enchanting place – whether it’s the smiling faces, tropical climate, bustling street life, gilded temples or crumbling British colonial architecture that appeal, it seems to be a place that captivates many. For me it is the perfect mix of all of these things, united to create something even greater than the sum of its parts. I came here at the end of 2014 to set up the cultural preservation charity Turquoise Mountain in Myanmar, one of the initial aims being to support the local Yangon Heritage Trust by delivering an exemplar renovation project – focusing on aforementioned ‘crumbling British colonial architecture’.

I arrived at a key moment in Myanmar’s history – what we now know to be on the path to democracy led by the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former Oxford resident Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – but then it was a much less certain time still under the former quasi military government. With this opening up of the country comes the desire, and increasing economic means, to develop. And it is this rapid and unregulated growth that poses a threat to the unique heritage and character of the city.

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491-501 Merchant Street before repairwork

Work began on site at our first project, 491-501 Merchant Street, in July 2015 and was completed in April of this year. This building was chosen because it embodies so many of the qualities and challenges of properties in the Downtown. It is a prominently placed, elegant colonial building with grand internal spaces and vibrant life in and around it, but it was in a very poor state, and littered with unsympathetic additions. The residents originally approached the Yangon Heritage Trust because the building was under threat of demolition – and they didn’t want this despite promises of space within a shiny new building proposed by an opportunistic landowner keen to realise monetary value from his site.

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Hand-drawn survey drawing of the front elevation of 491-501 Merchant Street by local architect Hla Thaung

The community, like the Downtown, is a real mix – from a Hindu teashop to a Muslim photocopier stall, from a spacious apartment with a family of 4 to a more compact place, home to an extended family of 20! To add to the excitement, everyone stayed in residence throughout the renovation works – even when the roof was stripped back to the original iron wood trusses. There were weekly community meetings, and as you can imagine, never a dull moment, but everything skilfully and diplomatically overseen by the ever-smiling Ko Ko, my dependable site engineer.

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Carpenters installing decorative eavesboard

To address the skills and knowledge shortage in relation to building conservation, a programme of training was delivered throughout the build – both day-to-day on site, and at special workshops open to the wider building community. The standard of these was set when master plasterer Philip Gaches was flown in from the UK for the first two-week workshop, which covered the relevant skills needed to repair the flat and decorative lime based plasterwork. Given this was the first time this kind of training was delivered in Yangon it was difficult to predict how it might go. Thanks to Philip’s mix of skill, rigour, adaptability, and sense of humour, in conjunction with great local support and the willingness to learn, a huge amount was achieved in a relatively short time, and it provided the model for future workshops. Most importantly, it meant that the craftsmen had the skills and knowledge they needed to get started on repairing the internal and external plaster elements – from in situ running of mouldings to hand modelling the acanthus leaves of Corinthian capitals.

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Repairing the roof

Future workshops covered topics such as conservative repair of architectural timberwork, clay tile roofing, and brickwork conservation to name a few. The base skill level of the best craftsman is very high- often issues exist around methodology, inappropriate materials, a tendency to over-restore or simply just not getting the right people for the job.
The rich living heritage within the building was recorded through photo portraits, oral histories and a documentary made entitled ‘Under One Roof’, which gives fascinating snapshots of Myanmar’s torrid history over the last decades, told through the voices of the residents. All this culminated in an exhibition that was held in part of the building, and a three-month programme of events aimed at getting as many different audience to engage with the project as possible – from traditional puppet shows for school children to a lively two day heritage themed debate in partnership with the Yangon Debate League.

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The oldest and youngest residents in the building

The project has gained the attention of the new democratically elected government and the public, secured the building, and laid the foundations for a local skilled conservation construction industry. In very simple terms, it has shown people that, with a little effort, Yangon’s historic buildings can be made fit for modern living – and what’s more, they have a beating heart.

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491-501 Merchant Street after repairwork

Watch the documentary ‘Under One Roof’ on Vimeo
Follow Turquoise Mountain in Myanmar on Facebook

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

Building Limes Forum

By Declan Cahill
Earlier this year I wrote a blog post on the wonders of lime which outlined a period on the Scholarship where we were beginning to understand the historic use of lime. Since writing that post, we have travelled across most of the UK and met a wide range of people who are involved in the repair and conservation of historic buildings. On saying our thanks and goodbyes, a common question was repeated: “Are you attending the Building Limes Forum in September?” As the conference has now become a well-integrated part of the Fellows’ and Scholars’ programme we were pleased to hear that we would get the chance to catch up with so many people we have met along the way.

BLF Delegates at St. Georges Hall

BLF Delegates at St. Georges Hall

The Building Limes Forum (BLF) is held annually in September and brings together a variety of people from across the UK and further afield for a three day conference on the use of lime in it’s different variations. The conference was held in Liverpool this year and included a programme of presentations, demonstrations and site visits, as well as the annual general meeting of the BLF. I was particularly interested in two topics that were discussed throughout the presentations and demonstrations: hot lime and how our use of naturally hydraulic limes needs to be questioned.

The conference was opened by Stafford Holmes, who presented a talk on “The Delight of Diversity”, giving everyone a reminder of the different geological limestone strata across the UK, and how both earth and lime have played an integral part in the construction of our historic buildings. The first talk on hot lime was given by Roger Curtis, technical research manager at Historic Environment Scotland (HES). He gave an insight into the research being lead by HES into hot lime mortars. I think it is important here to include Roger’s definition of hot lime in their research, that is “quicklime, being mixed on site with aggregates, often gauged. Using a traditional additive (or pozzolan) where necessary, using the material warm, cool or mature and for building, pointing or harling purposes.” Roger gave an overview of the past and current research being undertaken and the four studies that are due to be published in Spring 2017, these being:

Historic Examples of Hot Lime – Tom Addyman
Recent Examples – Craig Frew and Bill Revie
Historic text Extraction – Nigel Copsey
Consideration in the specification of Hot Mixed Mortars – Ros Artis

There is also going to be a database set up for the analysis of lime mortars. This was fully introduced by Anne Schmidt later in the conference. Roger also highlighted that there will be a hot mixed lime mortars seminar in December 2016

Triona mixing lime mortars at Duart Castle

Triona mixing lime mortars at Duart Castle

Roger’s talk lead nicely into a presentation by Nigel Copsey on his research of old texts on lime mortars. His research has highlighted how earth and lime have historically been used in tandem with one another, and how historically mortars would be mixed hot, most commonly using the common or ordinary method of mixing. Roger’s analysis has covered the continent and has included texts from France and Spain that had never previously been translated.

On the Saturday, the conference covered current research into hot lime by Alison Henry of Historic England and the development of mixes for exposed historic buildings by Lucie Fusade at the University of Bath. Cristiano Figueiredo, also of the University of Bath, presented his analysis on how fit for purpose BS – 459-1:2015 is in a conservation context. Sarah Scammel, another speaker from University of Bath, presented her research into the impact of calcite aggregates on the properties of air lime mortars. All of the talks were deeply insightful but have pointed towards how we are under-using quicklime and overusing natural hydraulic limes without really understanding their strengths and properties, and what boundaries the British Standard gives. This research will hopefully further our understanding of lime mortars in their different states and how they act with historic building fabric.

Mixing quicklime using the common or ordinary method

Mixing quicklime using the common or ordinary method

Sunday morning of the conference gave an overview of the various activities of building limes forums around the globe, as well as introducing next years location for the conference, Trondheim Cathedral, Norway between 7-10 September 2017.

The presentations of the conference were closed by David Wiggins, a structural engineer who has researched into lime mortar and sacrificial weathering. David covered the primary decay drivers of lime mortar, frost attack and salt crystallisation, and how the pointing mortar is a functioning aspect of solid masonry construction, actively removing moisture and salts from the wall. Crucial to the pointing mortar’s function is the free lime content that makes the mortars sacrificial. This is something that natural hydraulic limes do not have but a hot mix produces a mortar with a high free lime content.

The conference was a great weekend to learn about the current research and practise that is ongoing and being applied in the effort to repair and conserve our historic buildings. On behalf of the Scholars and Fellows, I would like to thank the Rathbone Foundation for funding the bursary that allowed us to attend the conference and hope that they will continue to support the Scholarship and Fellowship programmes in the future.

More information about the BLF, the 2017 conference and the upcoming Hot Mixed Lime Mortars Seminar & Workshop on 20 October.

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 philosophy of repair

by Declan Cahill

Over the past couple of weeks we have visited sites where we have been told about various approaches to the treatment of historic stonework. This has got us debating, discussing, agreeing and disagreeing about which approach would be the best one in each situation. As someone who believes that not one rule can be applied to all situations, I have found it very interesting to look at these approaches and to think if I would do the same, and if not what the alternatives might be. Since 1887 the Society and its members have been fighting for the timeless beauty of historic buildings that comes naturally with age. But what is important and sets each approach apart is what level of intervention is required to stave off decay, and that we do not lose this beauty by being too heavy handed in our intervention.

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Villa Saraceno

Recently we were very lucky to be invited to Villa Saraceno with the Landmark Trust. You can read more about our trip in a forthcoming blog post. Here I am going to touch on the approach they are taking towards the preservation of the stonework at the villa. The villa is predominantly brick built and rendered, with stone detailing to the windows and doors. The stone is a white limestone that was used in most of Palladio’s buildings. During our visit we got the chance to learn from Serse and Katrin from PT Color, who explained the methods they were using to preserve the stone and minimize the loss of flaking stone from a door jamb.

The conservators were using lime-based consolidants for flakes with larger openings and an acrylic resin on the finer flakes. The edges of the flakes were then closed using a lime-based mortar. On an annual basis the conservators visit the site and try to prolong the life of the worst delaminating stone. This painstaking process is very admirable, but on further discussion it’s important to think about the other factors that inform this decision.

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Stone consolidation at Villa Saraceno

Firstly the significance of the villa, it is an early incomplete example of Palladio’s design that incorporated the functionality of the farmstead with the grandeur and geometry of the country retreat. The white limestone of the area is inherently a softer limestone and the jamb that was being worked on faced the north west, thus exposing the stone to the worst weather conditions. The conservators’ argument against using shelter coats was that you would not see the original stone face. Do we let the stone age and decay, accepting that the stone will one day need replacing, or do we do our utmost to prolong the life of the stone? Are we preventing the stone from gracefully aging? And if we are to intervene at what stage do we begin this intervention?

Just seven days after standing in front of the door jamb at Villa Saraceno, we were back on English soil and visiting St. Leonard’s Middleton Parish Church to look at the south porch of this medieval church that has had minimum intervention since its conception in 1412. The parish’s website describes the porch as ‘romantically crumbling away’ and it is exactly this romanticism that the church is at risk of losing.

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‘Romantic’ south porch at St Leonard’s church

The parish has decided that now is the time for intervention, and the church architect’s proposal is to de-frass the stonework to give it a ‘carved’ face again. We were able to see a test panel that had been produced by a stonemason for discussion.

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Examples panels of de-frassed stonework

It is important to add that the present stonework is laminating but there isn’t any excessive loss of stone; it is in a state that is beautiful to look at due to the natural patina of age. By taking this approach the church’s aesthetic will be altered forever and layers will be lost from its history. We can only hope that the parish see what they will be losing and that a more respectful approach will be chosen.

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Natural patina to the south porch stonework

The case at Middleton reminded me of the origins of the SPAB when the Society was also known as the ‘Anti Scrape Society’. The Society was founded on a belief that we should approach the repair of historic fabric with minimum intervention and only act to prevent future damage. We must respect the original craftsperson’s work; that is currently in danger of being forgotten at Middleton but is being championed at Saraceno.

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Paint and plaster conservation at Gorton Monastery

Another site visit has taken us to Gorton Monastery, where Alan Gardener is applying these meticulous preservation and consolidation techniques to the consolidation of Victorian (and later) wall paintings, plaster and stone. Seeing similar techniques to those at Villa Saraceno being applied at Gorton is a timely reminder that we need to approach our work with respect and that historic fabric, no matter how old, has significance.

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.

Plas Tirion, North Wales

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.

Scholars and fellows with Stafford Holmes and the line kiln at CAT

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.

Scholars and fellows at Portmeirion

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.

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