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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The “Conservation Compass”

By Paul Walters

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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.

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

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

An education in old building repair

by Joanna Daykin

The SPAB repair course has been running since the 1950s with the aim to introduce the philosophy of conservative repair and specifically the SPAB approach to repairing old buildings, alongside the benefits of on-going repair to preserve the fabric of the building.

Two days of site visits are sandwiched between lecture days in Holborn. The first day focused on the principles and philosophy of repair and subsequent days looked at materials, structure and building elements. The great and the good of the SPAB shared their experiences and knowledge on each subject through case studies and pithy anecdotes which kept us all entertained as well as educating us.

The site visits helped to consolidate what we had been learning and provided an opportunity to discuss with other delegates about there work and experiences.

Wilton’s Music Hall
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The first visit was to Wilton’s Music Hall in east London.  Five terraced houses built in the 1690’s were knocked together and the music hall built in their gardens in 1858. It’s glory faded as music halls went out of fashion after the Victorian era. The building was refashioned as a Methodist mission and later as a rag warehouse. By the 1970’s it was in a seriously dilapidated condition before what is now Wilton’s Music Hall Trust took the project on, fundraised and repaired the building. The current repairs, designed by Tim Ronalds Architects and undertake by the contractor William Anelay Ltd, have very gentle approach to conservation and are aiming to retain the magical atmosphere which makes it feel like one has stepped back in time.

The Temperate House at Kew Gardens

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Opened in 1863, the Temperate House is the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world. Since 2013, Kew has been undertaking a five-year restoration project on the Temperate House and its surrounding landscape. The works involve new services and plant installations (including a biomass boiler), cleaning and redecoration of the glass house structure and a new education programme to improve visitor engagement. The huge scale of the project is daunting and co-ordination of the building process around precious and rare plants makes it even more tricky. The project team includes; architects : Donald Insall Associates, contractor : ISG plc., engineers : Ramboll.

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Manor Farm Barn, Frindsbury Extra nr Rochester
The barn was constructed as part of a wider monastic complex in 1403 to store tithes. It is believed to be the longest medieval timber-framed structure in Britain and is a very fine example of crown post trusses. The barn was subject to a number of arson attacks in 2003. The structure though badly charred and damaged, loosing a couple of end bays, was not destroyed. Now funding has been secured, temporary protection and urgent works are proposed to be followed up by more permanent repairs.

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The local community will be included in the process and a number of apprentices will be taken on – teaching them timber framing using mediaeval techniques and tools. We discussed the merit of choosing to repair the barn in this way as opposed to using modern materials and techniques along with the decision to removed the charring from the existing beams. The opinions between members of the group were widely varied as each had a slightly different aspect which they valued most i.e. education in crafts, honesty in repair, good new design. It was interesting to hear no one opinion prevailing above the others and it will be fascinating to see how the repairs to the barn are undertaken by the heritage team.

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Knole House
Knole is one of England’s largest houses, possibly a calendar house with its 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards. It’s quality Elizabethan and Stuart architecture is reflected in its lavish interior with ornate plaster ceilings, panelled walls and decorative joinery along with it precious collections. Originally an Archbishop’s palace, the house passed through royal hands to the Sackville family – Knole’s inhabitants from 1603 to today.

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The National Trust is carrying out one of its largest repair programmes with the support of Heritage Lottery Funding. The work is being carried out in three phases over eight years. The first phase of  external repairs is complete. The next phase is to open a new Bookshop Café and visitor centre in 2015 and continue to build a world-class conservation studio in which will facilitate the final stage of repairs; conserving the showrooms and there artefacts.

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The current phase of works by architects Rodney Melville and Partners has is being undertaken by contractors Fairhurst, Ward and Abbotts. The works have used utilised every type of repair philosophy to achieve an accessible and useful buildings to meet the needs of the house and the trust. This has sometimes been to minimise maintenance, improve sight lines or create more visitor friendly spaces.
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The Repair Course offers a great foundation for understanding what repair is and how to carry it out successfully. The next Repair Course in autumn 2015 is now fully booked but there are to bursary places left. For more information, please visit the Education pages of the SPAB website.

The voyage of discovery begins

Hello all! I am pleased to meet you and hope we can try and shed some light on what the Lethaby Scholarship entails and is all about over the next few months. There has only been 151 Scholars since this unique training in the repair of ancient buildings first began in 1930. It is a great honour for me to be selected as a Scholar in 2012 and it is extra special to be the first from the Republic of Ireland. We have just begun our nine month trek around the United Kingdom in search of ancient buildings that are currently in need of conservative repairs while under the guidance of some of the leading conservation professionals and craftspeople in the country. This will be an intensive and highly educational year for us all. We have no set schedule and are lucky to get a week or two’s notice of our upcoming visits but this all adds to the excitement of the scholarship and means we can attend sites at short notice if necessary. Unlike other formal education programmes we will have no final exams, which is a great bonus but we are obliged to keep a notebook of sketches and information along the year of the work we are seeing. These notebooks will be dissected and discussed at our monthly meetings with the education committee at the SPAB HQ at No. 37 Spital Square in London.

Our first week in London was hectic to say the least, as we moved from Kenwood House on the Hampstead Heath with the architect Ian Angus, to architect Andrew Harris and building surveyor (and former SPAB Scholar) Susan Mc Donough at Windsor Castle, and on to Hampton Court Palace with conservation bricklayer, Emma Simpson and historic royal palaces surveyor William Page in the space of three days!

We even managed to squeeze in a visit to the amazing workshop of Rupert Harris Conservation. Established in 1982 they are the leading conservators of metalwork and sculpture in the United Kingdom. We watched as Rupert Harris examined the ‘Spirit of Liberty’ bronze statue that had been coated with two layers of 23.5 carat gold leaf gilding before it was loaded onto the transport van and moved to its elevated perch above the clock tower at Cliveden house in Taplow. The original statue had been lost for many years but Rupert Harris Conservation carried out research and were able to locate the original mould in a museum in Semur-en-Auxois in France. They were then able to recast the 1860s statue at their workshop.

Also, some early eighteenth century lead garden statues with corroded iron armatures from Trent Park were being repaired and copied by Rupert Harris with the originals being returned to Trent Park and the copies sent to Stowe Gardens in Buckinghamshire, where they had been removed in the 1920s. The lead statue of Samson defeating a Philistine is pictured and was designed by John Nost based on Giambolgna’s marble original of about 1562.

Leaving the Republic of Ireland to travel around the United Kingdom was something I should have, in hindsight, given more thought to. Having no fixed base to call home for the best part of a year and very little funds available to make use of rental accommodation it suddenly became lucid as the plane landed at Heathrow airport that one was entering into the unknown. The ecstasy which had been present during the previous couple of weeks, on hearing the news that I would be one of three who would hold the famous SPAB Lethaby Scholarship in 2012, soon began to dissipate rather quickly. Luckily my fears were dampened as I soon realised that the SPAB are a close family unit who have built up a network of contacts since 1930 who are willing to open their doors to complete strangers and treat them with such warm hospitality. The SPAB call these people the hosts and without them the Scholarship could simply not function.  Within the first three weeks we have stayed with many amazing people in some extraordinary homes. One such place was Manor Farm, somewhere that would suffer my presence more often than others. Owned by the artist, Julia Sorrell and sculptor, Ian Sanders  their award winning cottage, which could easily have been created by the magical mind of J.K. Rowling, is unique in every way with wonderful warmth and a welcoming atmosphere, provided us with much laughter, entertainment and many great feasts. Not only did we get to view the many fine pieces of art created by our hosts but also a fascinating account and insight into the renowned artist, Alan Sorrell (1904-1974). Alan, father to Julia, is best remembered for his marvellous reconstruction drawings of historic Roman sites and monuments around Britain and Rome.

Our trip to Norfolk, on the second week, staying with the conservation architect Nicholas Warns, located below the spire of the magnificent Norwich Cathedral, involved many visits to the beautiful flint churches of the county.

Exposure to the defects that one is met with on churches was the theme such as blocked and inadequate gutters, lead roof detailing and stained glass windows to name a few. If one is interested in the construction details of flint buildings it is worth taking a look at the SPAB Technical Pamphlet 16 Care and Repair of Flint Walls, which includes some well illustrated drawings.

Earlier in the week we had visited Peter Minter, managing director of the family firm, Bulmer Brick and Tile Company Ltd. Formed in 1936 it was set up on a site that had been producing tiles since 1450. We spent two days in the brickyard observing the process of hand-made brick production. We even got to get our hands dirty by having a go at making a few bricks ourselves. Most interesting however was the sight of early twentieth century brick kilns that were still being used to this day. I believe there are only four of these kilns in the country at present and Bulmer’s possess three of them. Getting time to carry out sketching can be difficult during the visits as you don’t want to be missing important information that is being passed down by your host but one did manage to pull away from the group for twenty minutes to try and understand, record these interesting structures.

A visit to the timber framed “Pip’s Cottage” in Suffolk on week three, the home of stuccodore Anna Kettle, gave us the opportunity to work with lime putty and allowed us to gain grounding in the art of stuccowork.

Jim Boutwood brought us to the wonderful Cressing Temple timber framed barn, the gardens of Easton Lodge and Thaxted Church where we held a discourse on the merits of the historic and modern repair techniques used in the past such as tile stitching and stone replacements.

Other visits were to Douglas Kent’s fifteenth century hall house known as the Sun Inn where he continues to methodically analyse the structure and finishes ensuring that he leaves no stone unturned in his noble crusade to uncover every last bit of history of this fine building. At Tonbridge, Kent we witnessed the work being carried out on the sixty-five metre high masonry Hadlow Tower which is rendered in Roman cement. This nineteenth century Grade 1 listed building is being converted into luxury holiday accommodation by the Vivat Trust. It was quite a modern structure compared to what we had seen previously and provided a useful contrast to our visits.

Finally our last visit was to Essex with the conservation builder David Lodge. What a fountain of knowledge he possesses on the defects and most successful repair techniques for churches. His view on the introduction of French drains as a way to deal with rising damp really intrigued me. I had assumed this was good practice but evidently not always as they are prone to clogging up and can augment the original defect. A soakaway at least five metres away from the building is likely to prove a better solution in the long term.

The first three weeks of the 2012 Scholarship were spent with the fellows but we shall now separate into two groups and go our separate ways. We have really gelled as a group and got to know each other pretty well. They will be missed but not to worry we will meet up again in a few weeks at the Spring Repair Course in London!

That is it for now and I hope it wasn’t too tedious for you!

Till next time, keep well, Justin

2012 Scholars and Fellows set off

This week the SPAB welcomed its new Scholars and Fellows. This bright-eyed troop set off to start nine months of travel up and down the country, visiting historic properties and construction sites, learning directly from skilled craftsmen and architects. This blog will be charting their progress through personal reports and photographs, the occasional sketchbook. All at the SPAB HQ wish them luck!