Reuse and Repair

by Joanna Daykin

Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory
This little known National Trust property, was initially formed as the chantry chapel of St Nicholas in the 14th-century, funded by the first Baron Beauchamp. Today the site is little used, except by the local farmer to graze his sheep. While at the property with 2009 Scholar Meriel O’Dowd we were encouraged to think about possible reuse opportunities for the collection of buildings. We discussed how reusing a few buildings can generate sufficient income for their maintenance and the repair of other buildings on the site.

Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory

Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory

The stables at Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory

The stables at Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory


Court House, Chard
The Manor Court House in Chard was built in 1540, straddling a burgage plot running back from the main Street. The Court House decorated with early Tudor strap work is mostly still intact. Many changes to the surrounding building having mutilated the original plan form. However a new business plan which proposes that the buildings be made into a number of flats reserving the court room for functions was discussed. Even though this will possibly lead to dramatic alterations it may conserve the court room and its beautiful plaster, providing a viable future and use for what is now a decaying and poorly maintained building.

Plaster at Court House Chard

Plaster at Court House Chard

Shell Grotto
This folly in the gardens of St Giles was extensively repaired as part of a DEFRA Parkland Grant. The initial inspection could only be undertaken after it was excavated from a mass of vegetation overgrowth. Decayed roofs and piles of shells were found beneath. A process of sorting and cleaning along with investigation into its original decoration was painstakingly undertaken. Sally Strachey Conservation carried out the repairs in two phases, first by pinning and strengthening the ceiling from above and replacing the roof. Only then were they able to restore the fantastic interior by pinning and reprinting in the shells.

Shell Grotto, St Giles

Shell Grotto, St Giles

Wimborne St Giles
The 1st Earl of Shaftesbury built Wimborne St Giles in 1651 in the classical Renaissance style. The house expanded over the years, but became too unruly and in the 19th century about a third of the house was pulled down. The house fell into further disrepair and in 2001 the house was put on English Heritage’s at Risk Register. When the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury inherited the house he not only halted the building’s decline but began to renew the house’s former beauty. Panelling and artefacts removed and stored throughout the estate were returned to the house and the grand rooms of the house restored. The most dramatically repaired room was the dining room where only part of the panelling survives. A decision was made to keep the panelling in its partial condition and the room decorated and hung with paintings for reuse. Other rooms in the house await their repair as new funds are generated through the reuse of the grand ground floor rooms.

S&F 2015_Wimbourne St GilesS&F 2015_Wimbourne St Giles interior

The works in the house were approached with a different philosophy to the shell grotto. The existing fabric was retained with minimal repair and no additional replacement. However the shell grotto was nearly entirely restored. The approaches were suitable for the different situations telling the story of the house, which has seen much dilapidation before its resurrection by the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury, Whereas the purpose of the shell grotto would have been lost without completely restoring its interior which creates its fantasy atmosphere.  In many ways both Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory and the Manor Court House in Chard are at risk of being lost and their stories forgotten if new uses are not found for their buildings.


Congratulations William Morris Craft Fellows!


Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General of the National Trust, was guest speaker at our 2014 William Morris Craft Fellowship ceremony at the Ironmongers’ Hall, London.

After presenting commemorative scrolls to this year’s Fellows – cob builder Alex Gibbons, stonemason Eoin Madigan and carpenter Tom Massey – Dame Helen spoke about growing concern at the shortage of building crafts workers in the heritage sector and the National Trust’s own commitment to apprenticeships in traditional building trades.

Describing The SPAB as “wise allies and supporters”, she congratulated the 2014 Fellows and reflected that conservation can never be about preservation in a steady state, but it is really about managing change – something that will play a central role in the developing careers of Alex, Eoin and Tom.

On behalf of the 2014 Fellows, Alex Gibbons thanked the Fellowship’s funders, donors and supporters. He also paid tribute to family and friends for their understanding. In the last nine months the trio have journeyed far from home, travelling from Cornwall to the Hebrides to learn, first hand, about building crafts from experts on project sites and in workshops across the country.

Alex said: “All three of us are self-employed and had to juggle our work with the Fellowship. We all made a conscious decision to make an investment in ourselves, our careers and our crafts. I know the knowledge and experience I’ve gained through this unique programme will stay with me throughout my career.”

Lord Patrick Cormack, Chairman of the William Morris Craft Fellowship Committee explained that the scheme had been established to celebrate and encourage traditional building crafts, noting that these increasingly rare skills should be recognised for “their own intrinsic importance.”

The application deadline for 2015’s Scholarship and Fellowship programme is 1 December 2014, apply now for this prestigious nine month training scheme.

Photo caption:  Left – right: Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General, National Trust, Matthew Slocombe, Director of SPAB, Fellows Alex Gibbons, Eoin Madigan and Tom Massey, Fellowship organiser Pip Soodeen and Fellowship Committee Chairman, Lord Patrick Cormack. (Credit: Ralph Hodgson)

Past Scholars and Fellows: Where are they now?

Dave Watts, National Trust’s Area Clerk of Works for South Derbyshire and 1995 Fellow, tells the SPAB about his love affair with brickwork.

1995 SPAB Fellows, Dave Watts, Mark Fowler and Sarah Pennal

1995 SPAB Fellows, Dave Watts, Mark Fowler and Sarah Pennal

At school I only ever excelled at sport so after leaving at 15 with only two O Levels I embarked on a bricklaying apprenticeship at British Rail in Derby. It was a tough environment and what followed was rather a baptism of fire, the work was very demanding and initially I wasn’t spoken to for 3 weeks as they thought I was the son of a gaffer! Thankfully three older bricklayers who were nearing retirement took me under their wing. They had the skills I wanted to learn and they could see my eagerness, I owe them a lot. I soon started to develop. A significant and proud moment came about three months in when one of the older bricklayers announced to the whole depot that I was already the best at repointing.
After this I knew I could be really good and my love affair with brickwork took off.  As soon as I entered college (City and Guilds day release) I took off and ended up being fast-tracked. I achieved my advanced craft certificate in three years rather than four and won several awards for best apprentice.

Work at the railway was mostly station, bridge and tunnel repairs/skew back arches. Working under the older craftsmen I really started to thrive. I began researching brickwork and started my book and tool collection. After working on new-build projects, which I hated, I moved on to the National Trust. I become Area Clerk of Works for South Derbyshire (based on the Calke Abbey estate) by the time I was 28.

When a previous SPAB Fellow, Ray Stevens was recruited to the team I began to hear more about the SPAB. I applied to the Fellowship in 1995 and spent the next nine months travelling the country increasing my knowledge of traditional materials in ancient and period buildings.  It was invaluable to me and it has influenced my work ever since. Obviously we visited countless fantastic buildings but it is probably from speaking with other craftsmen, surveyors and architects that I learned the most. Special places for me were St Pancras and Hampton Court Palace for all the various carved, gauged and moulded brickwork from many periods. As a Derbyshire man I also love the ‘crooked spire’ at the Church of St Mary and All Saints in Chesterfield – surely one of the best landmarks in the country – and though I am not a religious person I think there is something wonderful about the Lady Chapel at Ely Cathedral.  Calke Abbey itself remains very special to me.

After the Fellowship I became heavily involved in the William Morris Craft Fellowship Trust (the Trust helps to fund the SPAB Fellowship programme) for a number of years, several spent as secretary, which was great for networking with other Fellows. I do miss it, especially Tom Flemons, Andy Johnson and Janet Darby.

Even though I now only rarely get the chance to use my tools, I am still mad about brickwork. I think it’s because it involves such a high level of artistry to create a true piece of work or repair from just a heap of bricks and mortar. My wife is often chastising me for suddenly slowing the car down to look at a section of wall and for pausing the TV to comment on some background brickwork!

I have never really sought a further promotion at the National Trust. My role there suits me well and it’s where I am most effective, I enjoy having a close link with the men actually carrying out the work.

In recent years, one of my jobs that stands out is the refurbishment of Stoneywell Cottage in Leicestershire. It is a Grade II* listed Arts and Crafts building owned by the National Trust and only recently opened to the public. I can thoroughly recommend a visit.

If you think the SPAB Fellowship could be for you find out more about our 2015 programme. Application deadline is 1 December.

Calke Abbey, the ‘un-stately home’

by Conor Meehan

On Thursday, we joined Nick on a visit to Calke Abbey, where he is the overseeing architect of the present work. For me, this visit proved to be one of the highlights of the programme so far. Calke Abbey is a National Trust property which is unique in the way it is presented to the public. Hidden amongst ancient parklands, Calke Abbey is a snapshot of the decline of the country house estate, exhibiting peeling walls, rampant cracking and unruly vegetation.

Calke AbbeyThis freeze-frame accurately portrays how so many once proud country houses fell victim to neglect and were lost to the ravages of time. The National Trust has frozen Calke Abbey in this state of decline and visitors are encouraged to explore the estate while the building seems to suffer in silence!

Calke Abbey porch&interior.jpg

‘Melted’ stone of Calke Abbey’s porch; the country house in decline, Calke Abbey interior

After a tour of the building, Nick challenged us on the philosophy of the conservative repairs which are been carried out on the building presently. Although the elements are laying siege to the building and its fabric, large scale works and efforts are being conducted to preserve the structure in its present state, without improving the image of the building and without falsifying the effect. This challenging decision was discussed with the Scholars and the workers on the southern scaffolding, and the inevitable question regarding each individual repair was put to each of us – “What would you do?” It was this thought provoking exercise that illustrated clearly to me the real challenges that face every architect and engineer in the field of conservation – each building stands alone and must be judged on its own account. This insight into the philosophy of the conservation professional was stimulating and left a lasting impression on each of us. Thanks to all hosts for a great week!

Calke Abbey Vs. Time

A Medieval mill

I’m back again…. Now I know the Scholars and the other Fellows will be sharing their experiences and their opinions of the places we have visited with you very soon but to keep you all informed of our travels here’s a quick entry detailing part two of when the Fellows were let loose in the Peak District.

The second visit of the week was to Nether Alderly Mill, Cheshire, a 12th Century Flour Mill now in the possession of the National Trust who, along with Architect and Scholar Lucy Stewart, Lambert Walker Conservation and Restoration and The Norfolk Millwright Alliance, are bringing it back to life as an operating Flour Mill and visitor centre.

To enable this, major structural timber work and millwrighting is taking place and it is with the millwrights that the ‘controversial dilemma’, which many in the heritage sector face daily, lies.

Does one repair, in this case a machine, to its original working state keeping the past alive or maintain it in its current condition leaving it as a museum piece and an item of yester year?

This dilemma then poses further questions such as ‘’If you do agree to repair then what point in time are you trying to achieve as after all it is a machine, and if you do change the gears and cogs, is it still the same historic Mill or a 21st Century contraption??’’ But on the other hand if repairs aren’t made then it no longer serves its original purpose as a working mill!

The argument of conservation vs restoration has been resolved to an extent at Nether Alderly, as the aim is to now produce its own brand of flour using just one of the grinding stones whilst the other is to be maintained in its current state. This decision was not by any means an easy one to reach, but seems to be one that will protect and conserve the mill for future generations. If you’re interested in mills and mill conservation, visit our SPAB Mills Section site.

Back on the road… all the best, Emily.