Sketching and skittles

by Dearbhail Keating

Each year the Lutyens Trust spend a week at the wonderful Goddards in Surrey. Earlier this month we were very fortunate to be invited to spend three days with them. Built by Edwin Lutyens between 1898 and 1900, Goddards is considered by many to be one of his finest works. Arriving at Goddards on a beautiful summer’s evening was very special, the famous Lutyens chimneys peeping over the hedges made for a spectacular welcome. After three months on the road the prospect of being in one place for three nights was bliss (something I think any SPAB Scholar will relate to)!


First stop after a tour around the house was the skittles alley. Goddards was originally built as a holiday retreat for ladies of small means and this was funded by Frederick Mirrielees, Lutyens’ client, who set up a charity in his own name to support the building. As British summers are not always kind, areas for inside entertainment were incorporated into the design. A games gallery (which has subsequently been converted into bedrooms and bathrooms) and skittles alley were the amusements of choice. It took a good few games before any of us managed a strike but this gave us plenty of time to appreciate the meticulous attention to detail throughout the house, from latches to the doorbell to the skittles themselves – everything is a fine example of talented craftspeople and a credit to Lutyens who made time to consider every detail.

Door knocker at Goddards

Door knocker at Goddards

Goddards is now ran by the Landmark Trust on a long lease from the Lutyens Trust and is available to rent as a holiday let. The skittles alley is still periodically open to the local community as it was in the past. Throughout the stay there was a real feeling of the building being alive with activity and people which is so refreshing when in so many buildings nowadays (and some understandably so) you are forced to ‘walk between the red ropes’.

Skittles alley2_DKLutyens collaborated with Gertrude Jeckyll on the landscape design at Goddards and the time we spent sat among the flowers sketching in the summer sun was quite lovely!

Goddards by Charlie Wellingham

Goddards by Charlie Wellingham

Goddards by Elgan Jones

Goddards by Elgan Jones

During our stay we spent time at Chinthurst Hill, another of Lutyens’ designs where again he collaborated with Jeckyll. The house is much larger than Goddards and designed to quite a different brief. Standing in front of it and being told Lutyens designed it in his mid twenties certainly made the whole spectacle even more impressive. Chinthurst was split into three houses over its history and only recently the current owner has returned it to a single dwelling and is currently carrying out a lot of work to the gardens replanting them to Jeckyll’s original design. The long walk is an example of where this has been very successful. Long walk_DKBefore making tracks we scoured the outbuildings to find the croquet set to ensure we had the full ‘Goddards experience’ – after a few games and me consistently losing we decided a league table would be established and the overall victor awarded at the end of the Scholarship! (Croquet photo) A very enjoyable few days, a very relaxing few days and a very inspiring few days. Huge thanks to the Lutyens Trust for their kind hospitality.


Seven weeks in

Hello again! Actually, we are a lot further into our adventure than the title suggests, but let’s return to the first few weeks of the scholarship and fill you in on some of the visits that you may not have heard about.

Following on from where we finished in my last post we then visited a former scholar and SPAB stalwart Andrew Townsend who was recently appointed cathedral architect to the iconic Tewkesbury Abbey. Andrew brought us to sites which included St. Cyriac’s Church in Laycock, the Church of St. James the Great in Dauntsey, Cirencester Cathedral in the Cotswolds, and St. Peter’s Filkins in the Diocese of Oxford. All these buildings provided us with much to ponder, but most evocative was the visit to Tewkesbury Abbey.

Andrew had asked us to come up with an efficient method of carrying out a survey of the ledger stones which covered the majority of the floor space of the abbey. This involved recording the condition, layout and the memorial inscriptions of each ledger stone – and it also gave us a chance to sit down, sketch and take in our surroundings. We noticed the exposed masonry all around and the bareness of the columns, walls, and the webs of the vaulted ceilings. All of these would, before the intervention of Victorian and nineteenth century restorers, have been plastered in lime. The prolific English architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) was responsible for the removal of this historic plaster, but he believed he was improving the aesthetics of the Abbey interior. It was during this work that another man by the name of William Morris happened to walk into the Abbey as the labourers were scraping off the historic fabric from the heights of their temporary scaffolding. Morris couldn’t believe what he was seeing and although he had been disturbed by other restoration projects before that day, it was this particular episode which gave him the impetus to set up the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).

After Tewkesbury we made our way to another SPAB scholar and architect, Nick Cox, at the empowering Blenheim Palace. Bath stone is the main building material here with Portland stone used where needed as a weathering detail such as in the copings. Analysis of the stone showed that copperace (iron sulphate) had been used for aesthetic purposes historically to patinate the natural honey colour of the Bath stone into a dark brown/orange colour. We witnessed three types of stone repair techniques being used on site, which included stone mortar repairs (sometimes referred to as plastic repairs) where a lime mortar is used to regain the profiles of the original ashlar while providing a protective layer to the historic original fabric underneath. Then there was use of stone indents where only localised stone decay or damage has occurred and thirdly there was full stone replacement where the architect and client have decided that too much of the original stone has been lost, possibly weakening the structural integrity of the wall and a new like-for-like stone is inserted in its place.

Plastic Repairs at Blenheim Palace

Nick then led us to Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire. Today it is largely a Palladian house but has origins dating back to 1145 when monastic buildings, founded by Hugh de Bolebec, once stood. The Palladian house is a result of the architect Henry Flitcroft in 1747 but there was also additions made by Henry Holland in 1786. The park was landscaped by Humphry Repton in 1802 while Jeffry Wyatt is responsible for the flower houses. From a distance the west front of Woburn Abbey is stunning in its classical proportions although on close inspection of the stone facade a poor finish is observed which doesn’t sit with the building’s overall grandeur. Window cills and matching stone surrounds, quoin stones and bases appear to be out of sync, resting too proud of the main building stone. This unfortunately is the result of many attempts to solve an inherent design weakness in the building. This weakness lays in the choice of original building stone known as Tottenhoe clunch (chalk) stone. The west front of Woburn has much Tottenhoe stone still present, but in the 1980s a ‘dressing back’ technique was used which involved removing the weathered surface of the stone and bringing it back to a more solid facing. The eighteenth century facade profiles have now been lost and the 1980s skin has become weathered – so how does one go about specifying new conservative repairs? Some, in the past, have used Portland stone to replace the badly weathered chalk stone, but this clearly is no match for the colour and texture of Tottenhoe and changes the appearance of the building as a whole. If you specify Tottenhoe as a like-for-like replacement then you run the risk of putting further expense on your client as the stone is sure to decay in the same way in the future. Furthermore if you decide to use full stone replacement do you dress the new stone back to the eighteenth century profile? This new facade line may have to be based on hypothesis. Is this acceptable in conservation terms?

A bit of a conundrum for the Abbey architect who is currently searching for a sympathetic and satisfactory solution.

Next, London was calling as we visited the offices of Alan Baxter and Associates, consulting engineers to St. Paul’s Cathedral for many years now, who took us on a tour of this marvellous edifice. We were taken behind the scenes, through the many concealed passages within the solid masonry walls. We accessed the roofspace looking at the timber roof trusses which are located just above the stone vaults of the internal ceilings of the cathedral. We then took a walk out onto the roof which gave us a panoramic view of the city of London.

After London we were hosted by Philip Hughes (Building Surveyor and SPAB Scholar) at one of his current projects, St. Giles House in Wimborne. This building dates from the seventeenth century and is currently the residence of the Earl of Shaftesbury. The project has a blend of highly sensitive conservative repairs and necessary building restoration works. Proposals include the reintroduction of highly decorative interior finishes which were lost to over-enthusiastic and misinformed twentieth century dry rot removers and the rebuilding of external architectural features such as the north tower and loggia which were demolished in the nineteenth century. Some of the repair techniques used on site are plastic repairs to brick and stone elements of exterior facades, micro-pinning used to repair minor cracks in stone features such as copings, lintels, and reveals, and Helibar used in mortar joints to bridge structural cracking in the brick walls. Between 1740 and 1970 the elevations were rendered in Roman cement but in 1970 this was removed and the brick has been exposed to the inclement weather conditions ever since. In many cases the harder fire skin has been lost through freeze thaw action. It is believed the original bricks were sourced from within the estate and replacements are extremely difficult to come by today. In some situations redundant bricks from the house have been crushed and the brick dust used in the mortar mix for the plastic repairs.

Within the grounds a menacing grotto of about 1750 awaits at the end of a canal perched above a culvert. It was built for Anthony, fourth Earl of Shaftesbury and some have said that it was finished by John Castles of Marylebone while others suggest that a nameless Italian, who never allowed anyone watch him work, was responsible. It performs the illusion of being a spring or water source to feed the serpentine lake. The grotto was previously invisible from the house, hidden by fir trees and yews. Unfortunately, many of these trees have been and will be removed as part of the current landscape restoration appraisal which has found that the existing trees have come to the end of their life and are at risk of collapse. The grotto has a rusticated front of flint and stone, the left door leads you into a type of cavern while the right door is an entrance to a dummy passage. Inside there are two rooms. The first is merely a vestibule to the second taller and wider main room. The entrance to the second room is supported by a gothick arch surmounted with curved branches of dim stone. The main room makes use of natural daylight via several skylights and a rococo iron window. The back wall contains a fireplace which is flanked by two air ventilation grilles either side. The vestibule is decorated with minerals such as flints, spar, quartz, grey granite, coral, felspar, broken mirrors and coloured glass. The ceiling is generally covered in coral decorated branches and the floor with pebbles. The main room is dominated by shell work. The walls come alive with protruding and twisted branches covered in shells. Barbara Jones’s timeless publication Follies & Grottoes (1953) suggests that the designer of the grotto interior may have been trying to create an underground aquarium environment with the first room being “the surface of the reef” and the second room “the bed of sea inside it”. The presence of tropical shells collected from around the world and even the vertebra of a whale give credence to this hypothesis. Either way, the grotto was a luxury that would have taken many years and many thousands of pounds during the eighteenth century to complete. It may have been used for hosting feasts and tea parties for the Shaftesbury’s distinguished visitors. The ambience within the grotto was sure to have been enhanced under candle light as the flames flickered across the decorated interior surfaces. Added to this there were many other fascinating garden building and follies that punctuated this landscape such as the pepperpot gate lodges, sham castle (or towers), hermit’s alcove, Shakespeare’s seat, cascade, pavilion, sham gates, temple and Chinese wooden bridge. Only some are still present on site today. Suzannah Fleming has carried out a study of the estate but she was unable to identify the designer of the landscape. She did however suggest that Charles Bridgeman may have been involved at St Giles.

We then left Wimborne and made our way up to the edges of the scenic suburbs of Machynlleth in North Wales, the location for the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), where we were challenged with breathing new life into a neglected lime kiln that was slowly being consumed by Mother Nature.

Under the guidance of the architect and lime specialist Stafford Holmes we tackled the reclamation of this stone slate constructed pit kiln. We also endeavoured to build new slaking and putty settling tanks out of the local stone slate, but alas we were beaten by the constraints of time. After removing vegetation we ignited an initial fire inside the kiln to attempt to dry it out. This was left overnight before we introduced the limestone and commenced the real burn. The limestone we used was chalk as this was all that we had available to burn at the time. We broke the limestone up into regular sizes, weighed them out into 25kg buckets and placed them into the kiln in 100kg layers separated by a 50kg layer of coke. The kindling was lit and the kiln was left overnight to smoulder.

On return the next day we sought to slake one piece of quicklime, but there was no reaction with the water. The heat generated in our kiln was insufficient to cause the limestone to lose all of its carbon dioxide. This most likely was due to the fact that the kiln had been left dormant for so long and also our choice of burning material. Chalk limestone readily absorbs water and it had been stored outside uncovered for over a year, therefore it was far from the ideal material to burn! However, we made do with what we had and it was a lesson in how important it is to select, protect, and prepare good materials. We emptied the kiln, then refilled it with limestone and coke as before and left it for another night over the flames. Fortunately, when we returned the next morning and placed the quicklime into our bucket of water we had a more extravagant reaction. All the quicklime was then slaked and we separated it out into smaller containers immersed in water so that carbonation could not occur. The lime putty was ready to be mixed with sand and turned into mortar to be used for any future works on some grateful historic structure!

Owned by the Prince’s Regeneration Trust (PRT), the Old Duchy Palace in Lostwithiel is a grade 1 listed property. It is a hall that once formed part of a wider complex of buildings that acted as the administrative centre for the domain of the Duke of Cornwall in the late thirteenth century. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the hall was used as a Freemasons’ temple. The purchase price added to the repair and refurbishment costs far outweigh any selling-on price that the client could hope to receive. This is a common problem with so many of our heritage buildings in need of rehabilitation – they are not commercially viable when it comes to reuse. This conservation deficit will need to be covered by grants which the PRT in collaboration with the Cornwall Buildings Preservation Trust are working at trying to procure. Luckily they have already secured significant grants from English Heritage and the European Development Fund (ERDF) which will allow works to be completed. On site we spent a day with stone conservator Sarah Hollowood of Carrek Historic Building Conservation Contractors ( The structure is built of stone slate and is badly weathered in most places. Carrek are gently defrassing the friable edges with a brush and raking out the mortar joints for repointing. The pointing mortar used was an NHL2 from France mixed with local sharp sand, coal dust and a black aggregate which was used to match coal pieces used in the original mortar. A coat of arms on the gable end was covered in a thick black sulphation. Sulphation prevents the stone from breathing and can lead to decay of the stone underneath. It was decided to use a poultice of ammonia carbonate and sepiolite (clay dust). The surface was well-dampened before the poultice was applied as you don’t want the ammonia carbonate to penetrate the stone itself. Trial areas of the coat of arms received the poultice first and these were covered in clean-film as an extra precaution to prevent drying out. The first application was a weak mix and left for a couple of hours before inspection. When Sarah was confident that the poultice was working and not damaging the stone fabric she then was able to leave the poultice on overnight.

Our next outing was to the town of Ottery St. Mary in Devon with the cob builder, Kevin McCabe. Using materials from his own land Kevin is constructing a new home on a grand scale. The site provides him with cob that is 40% clay and 60% silt. This lays on a stratum of sand which is also beneficial to the mix. However, if you have too much sand the cob will soak up too much moisture which can lead to collapse of the structure. Alternatively using just enough sand will lead to less shrinkage occurring. This is quite the opposite of clay where high shrinkage can occur, but it can also take in a lot of moisture without collapsing. The ratio of sand to clay in this region of Devon is very good which according to Kevin is why there are a high proportion of cob buildings in the area. Kevin had excavated a pit in his future back garden where he mixed the cob with the shovel of his digger. He added two bales of straw and water into the pit also. From the pit Kevin was working he was able to produce about twenty-five tonnes of cob. The cob was then transferred from the pit to another area of the site where he had constructed a concrete slab. The cob was dropped onto this slab and spread out by continuously driving back and forth across the cob. This ensures a well-mixed building material. The cob walls and columns are generally constructed in lifts of about 600-700mm in height using pitch forks to lift the cob into position in tandem with manual stamping and mallets to ensure proper compaction and squaring. Cob building is not an exact science, but it is a proven method of construction with many historic cob building structures still performing adequately to this day.

At Wells Cathedral we again met up with Nick Cox, and he was joined this time by the wonderful Jill Channer, an enthusiastic conservator and stained glass consultant. After a lecture by Jill we took a tour through the dusty back corridors of this eminent building. We observed at close-hand the poor state of the medieval stained glass in the choir east window from the heights of the impressive suspended temporary scaffolding. We noticed how in some places medieval glass had been moved out of its original context and placed in another position on the window during previous repair works. This gave a confused pattern close up but from the ground it was unnoticeable.

We left the cathedral and made our way to the workshop of the glass conservator, Steve Clare. We watched as he meticulously repaired the stained glass from Wells Cathedral which had been carefully recorded and then moved to his workshop a few days earlier.

Finally, during our trip to IJP Owlsworth Conservation workshop with Mick Poynter we visited Hollywell House in Farringdon. We observed as Mick was repairing a decorative grade 1 listed ceiling. The existing plasterwork ceiling is in an earth plaster and appears to have been applied in one coat, but Mick has decided to treat the replacement plaster as a typical lime plastered ceiling and apply the new earth plaster in three coats. The mouldings in the ceiling are pure plaster of Paris. An interesting ceiling and it was worth seeing! We also got to have a go at making door handles and hooks at IJP’s forge which Charlie demonstrates in the photograph below.

Okay that’s it for now, it was another long one and there’s still so much we have to fill you in on!

We have covered a lot of ground to date, from Penzance in the south west of England to the Orkneys off the coast of Scotland, from Machynlleth in west Wales to beautiful Valletta in Malta and yet our journey is not over. Our last and final expedition, which will draw to a close our first six months of the “Bricks and Mortar” Lethaby Scholarship, is a tour of the Emerald Isle. The SPAB have kindly allowed me to introduce my colleagues to my home country.

We are all looking forward to it!

On a side note, one of the benefits of living in the UK at this time is that I got to witness close-hand the inspirational Paralympics games. On Friday the 7th of September I watched my good friend, Mark Rohan (representing Ireland) win two gold medals for hand cycling. We played on the same Gaelic football team together, many years ago, before his terrible accident  left him paralysed from the chest down. The race was an unbelievable experience, very exciting, and an extremely proud moment for us all. Well done Mark and all the athletes from around the world who took part!

Until next time, keep well. Justin

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