Scholars and Fellows hit the conservation trail

Scholars and Fellows on the scaffolding at Hampton Court Palace

Scholars and Fellows on the scaffolding at Hampton Court Palace

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

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

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

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



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

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