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.

Aoife Murphy_blacksmithing Owlsworth IJP

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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Keeping your eyes open

by David Burdon

One of the unique features of the SPAB Lethaby Scholarship and a reason for its continuing appeal is the opportunity the Scholars and Fellows have each year to engage with traditional craftspeople across the UK and gain first-hand experience in the understanding and use of materials. An understanding of the material and its properties is an important starting point for anyone working with original fabric on historic buildings.

In a letter to A. H. Powell dated 28 March 1894, the architect Philip Webb wrote:

“If you can get the experience of twelve months or so in a live workshop, and the outlying buildings, you will be saved a constant series of troubles in your future work. It has only been by constantly keeping my eyes open, talking freely wherever possible with all kinds of workmen, and reasoning out the knowledge gained that I have had any professional piece of mind for the last forty years… You too must keep – if you would be wise in future – keep your eyes open. Keeping the eyes shut is just the trap into which regular workmen fall.”

In just the first two weeks of the program, the Scholars have been keeping their eyes open and talking freely with unique craftspeople across the UK.

Hall Conservation maintain a workshop near Greenwich in London. Established in 2009, the company are specialists in conservation particularly with regard to metals. The Scholars and Fellows were instructed on topics as wide-ranging as lead-based paints, lost wax methods of casting, the application of smalt (ground blue glass) coating to metalwork, and the application of protective wax to historic cannons. Under the direction of blacksmith Fellow Joe Coombes-Jackman, everyone also tried their hand at the forge and found a new respect for the ironwork that we will encounter over the coming months.


Hampton Court Palace is known to many as the home of the most significant collection of Tudor chimneys in the world, their decorative brick spirals a clear display of wealth. What is less well known is that they are in fact all Victorian recreations of the originals, and even these are in constant need of careful repair. Masonry expert Emma Simpson allowed the Scholars and Fellows to get down and dusty in the Palace’s brick workshop as we learnt to cut and rub bricks.


At the small parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Barnsley, 1985 SPAB Scholar and architect Andrew Townsend introduced the Scholars to roofer Colin Feltham who explained the intricacies of Cotswold stone “tile” roofing. As many of the original tiles are retained as possible, some just in need of re-dressing in order to find their way back onto the repaired roof. As is often the case, the tiles on this church were laid in diminishing courses, from 21-inch tiles at the bottom to 6-inch tiles at the ridge. In the re-roofing processes over the centuries, older tiles thus make their way to the top as they are reshaped each time.

The limestone stone tiles used on many roofs in the Cotswolds are known to those that use them as “presents”, owing to the way the bedding of the stone in the region is quarried, the ground virtually gifting those that search for it with exactly the right thickness of stone required. Scholars were able to quarry stone themselves under the instruction of David Carter from Goldhill Quarry in Crudwell. Using traditional methods still in use today, Scholars quarried and then shaped their very own piece of this 160 million year old “forest marble” into a stone tile.




Patina of age at Hampton Court Palace

by Charlie Wellingham

The highlight of a very busy first week of visits (thanks to all at SPAB HQ, thanks to Mark Powers, and thanks to all at the ASCHB conference!) was a trip out to Hampton Court Palace; the brick-built Tudor palace in west London dating back to the early 16th century, and extended by Christopher Wren in the late 17th century.

Hampton Court Palace_Charlie Wellingham

Hampton Court Palace, sketch by Charlie Wellingham

We were shown around by Emma from Simpson Brickwork Conservation, who is leading a small team responsible for repairing the heavily eroded masonry of the walled gardens to the north west of the Palace. She explained that one of the biggest challenges of brickwork conservation is the correct specification – and that no amount of skill or experience at laying will help if the wrong bricks are being used. This is achieved with a rigorous approach to surveying the existing conditions; taking detailed notes on the brick sizes, colours, textures and shapes (we quickly learnt that they are definitely not all red and rectangular!), as well as the bond, joint sizes and features such as plinths, cappings and buttresses.

Gate at Hampton Court Palace
It was very interesting to discuss with Emma the debates around reuse of salvaged bricks from other sites – often widespread practice in the industry as an effective way to match new work in with the patina of existing aging brickwork, when extending or repairing. On one hand this might be considered a responsible recycling of useful materials with a high embodied energy value, however extensive use can confuse the chronology of the fabric of the site, making the building more difficult to survey and understand in future. Further to this a higher demand for salvaged material may in fact encourage material scrapping, theft, or even building demolition.

Hampton Court

We all agreed that the well specified, well crafted bricks were a positive contemporary addition to the 14th century wall, and were in no danger of confusing an understanding of how the property had been maintained, and by who. We were happy to conclude the day by getting our hands dirty attempting a brick repair – under the welcome guidance of Emma!
Thanks also to Andrew Harris of Martin Ashley Architects who spent time with us in the morning, including a demonstration of the stunning oak doors recently completed in the Anne Boleyn Gate. It was clear from talking to Andrew that working on these doors was a real labour of love for the design and construction team, and that is was very likely these doors would still be in use in-situ in a hundred years’ time.

Scholars and Fellows at Hampton Court

Moulding, Knapping and Thatching in East Anglia

by Ross Perkin

Last week the Scholars embarked on a journey of discovery in East Anglia. The region’s identity is heavily linked to the natural material found there. East Anglia contains little stone but has a seam of clay suitable for making bricks. The extensive chalk belts contain a plentiful supply of flint which has been used for both rubble-work and knapped facing to walls for centuries. The use of long-straw as a traditional roofing thatch takes advantage of the expansive and fertile agricultural landscape.

The week started with a visit to Bulmer Brick and Tile Company near Sudbury in Suffolk. CEO Peter Minter spent a full day with us and outlined the history of one of the oldest producers of handmade bricks in Britain. Clay is taken from the ground behind the brickworks and goes through a milling and mixing process. After this it is thrown into a wooden mould and air-dried for a number of days before completion in a traditional brick kiln. The Scholars each made three bricks which are to be used at Hampton Court Palace (if they pass quality control procedures!).

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Scholar Richard making a brick at Bulmer Brick and Tile Ltd with Peter Minter

We then travelled up to Norwich to meet Nick Warns (Scholar, 1984). Here we visited two flint churches. The walls of the church at Winterton-on-sea were built with an unknapped flint core with loosely knapped flint facing. The walls of St Mary’s in Great Yarmouth were a closely knapped flint face with a brick core. The different construction methods resulted in very different conservation approaches.

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Rebuilt, fully pointed, knapped flint above existing knapped flint at Winterton-on-Sea Church

Later in the week the scholars visited Shawn Kholucy (Scholar, 1981) in Hoxne, Suffolk where we saw some exquisitely close-knapped, flush-work flint at St Peter and Paul, Eye.

Eye Parish Church, Suffolk

Close-knapped, flush-work flint at St Peter and Paul Eye Parish Church Suffolk with Shawn Kholucy


The tradition of long-straw thatching has developed primarily in Suffolk and South Norfolk. Master thatcher Graham Borrill spent an afternoon explaining to us the entire process of the craft from field to rooftop. Graham grows his own long-straw which is put through a drying and threshing process before it is arranged into ‘gabbles’ and laid out onto a roof. The long-straw differs visually from wheat and water-reed thatch which is used in other parts of the country. Graham inspired all of us Scholars with his tales of travelling as a roadie with the Rolling Stones.

From the Fellows’ sketchbooks

Throughout their 26 week long conservation tour the Fellows keep a sketchbook journal that they fill with notes and drawings from their travels to sites and workshops across the UK and abroad. Below are a few sketches from Tyrone Oakley and Johnnie Clarke from the first few weeks out on the road.

At Hampton Court Palace

TO_Hampton Court Palace2

by Tyrone Oakley

TO_Hampton Court Palace

by Tyrone Oakley

JC_Hampton Court

by Johnnie Clarke


The Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College and The Great Hall Westminster Palace

JC_painted hall

by Johnnie Clarke

TO_Painted Hall

by Tyrone Oakley


On site sketches


by Johnnie Clarke

JC_orchard barn

by Johnnie Clarke


by Tyrone Oakley


by Tyrone Oakley

Hampton Court Palace

Next on the conservation trail was Hampton Court Palace, where the group enjoyed a tour of the impressive roof. The palace started its life as a grand barn with a stone camera (room) that was used in 1236 by the Knights Hospitallers of St John Jerusalem as somewhere to store produce and keep their accounts. Excavations show that the original palace lacked any real residential accommodation. The building, as it stands today, is a mixture of Medieval, Tudor and Baroque architecture. Henry VIII, the palace’s most infamous resident, actually seized the palace from Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Wolsey had acquired the small manor house on the Hampton Court Palace site in 1514 and built a luxurious palace around it.

Hampton Court Palace roof conservation

Hampton Court Palace roof conservation

Our Scholars and Fellows were introduced to the building’s crumbling Reigate stone (half limestone/sandstone) and the on-site team taught them how to brush away the friable pieces or protect the stone with a lime shelter coat. It is not just modern surveyors who find Reigate stone problematic, in 1713 Sir Christopher Wren described it: ‘That which is to be most lamented, is the unhappy Choice of Materials, the Stone is decayed four inches deep, and falls of [sic] perpetually in great scales.’

The group also learned how to save the live lime ceilings with polyester resin and fibreglass tape. The beautiful diaper (criss-cross) pattern brickwork was dyed to increase the contrast. Andrew Harris, the architect on site, gave them magnets to test the Tijou railings to discern the newer materials from the old. The older railings were made of iron, whereas copper and brass have been used as replacements. Lead paint with linseed oil and turpentine was applied to protect the railings.

Learn more about the conservation work going on at Hampton Court Palace on their website.

Historic Royal Palaces, Hampton Court Palace. Andrew Harris of Martin Ashley Associates: architect, CWO: contractor, William Page: surveyor for Historic Royal Palaces; Clive Dawson: Engineer. Photo from Ross Perkin

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