Nice to see Newton Hall again today

Nice to be at Newton Hall, Hyde, Cheshire again. This is a medieval cruck hall dated 1380 which was restored in the late 1960s.

Controversially, it has a big glass box on one side illuminating the interior. Was this the first ugly glass box on an historic building? If so, it set a trend that is now half a century old – can glass boxes really claim to be modern any more?

Recording work was carried out in the 1990s when I was the local conservation officer and more recently there were substantial excavations in 2008 and 2012.

The 1960s restoration was prior to the reintroduction of lime mortars and today there are problems with inflexible cement-based wall panels leaking where they join the structural timbers. Inside, you can see daylight around some of the panels. The Hall has other problems too including the failure of its thatched roof. The 1960s restoration was truly visionary but has reached a point now where it needs repairing and a new lease of life.

Between homelessness and the FT’s How to Spend It, our culture has completely lost its way

Between homelessness and the FT’s How to Spend It, our culture has completely lost its way

Conserving a Great Building, Heritage statements

Originally a house called Hollins Hill, Haworth Art Gallery, Accrington was designed by the Arts & Crafts architect Walter Brierley (Photograph by Peter Graham)

Heritage statements, appraisals and significance studies when properly done are meant to guide architectural and conservation schemes of all types. Unfortunately, they are often researched and written after the designers have already designed the scheme! Getting clients and architects to hold back while the research is being done can be difficult. This is particularly true where a new use is involved and everyone rushes to the ‘end game’ of designing the alterations.

Some designers trust their instinct with historic buildings but I have found that a carefully researched heritage statement almost always adds to the appreciation of the heritage asset and sometimes can turn instinct on its head. Whether the case or not, undertaking a significance study after the key decisions have already been taken makes a nonsense of the significance led process.

By way of example, with one great building I worked on in Merseyside, the designers had instinctively decided that the significance lay in the building’s internal aesthetic value and the design was worked up accordingly. Later, when the significance statement was produced, it could be seen that the building’s true significance lay in its evidential values and very specific and pioneering layout. As a consequence, a less expensive more interesting intervention with less harm could have been created. By then it was too late… the design fee had been spent. On reflection, the design team had merely imposed their own prexisting opinions onto the historic building.

Appraisals require rigour, dedication and an open mind. The time-served procedure of three phases of work, ‘survey, analysis, plan’, is the right approach, perhaps rephrased as ‘research, appraise, conserve’. In the heyday of town planning and the creation of New Towns etc, great store was placed on orderly and somewhat mundane survey and analysis phases to guide the actual design. The late town planner, Nathaniel Lichfield, produced a whole book just on a sub-stage of this process, evaluating information, which became a standard text of the time. In present day architectural conservation, ‘conviction’ so often has the upper hand but a problem is that conviction is simply a mirror of the experience and prejudices of the persons involved. Conserving great buildings requires more than this. Despite my own personal experience and convictions, I generally come out of writing an appraisal with a different opinion than when I went into it.

Great buildings are multi-faceted and normally need several minds to fully understand them. The creators of great architecture were almost always of a greater stature than the conservators which caring for them (let us remember our place!). Conservation is therefore a team game involving study, sensitivity and a reflection on both the particular building and the artists who created it. Strong opinions based on poor research and analysis will obviously stymie intelligent and bespoke conservation, as will the imposition of generic responses such as, ‘The Victorians always did it this way’.

It takes time for the true significance of a building to grow in someone’s mind. On major buildings, there needs to be discussion and feedback of the team’s ideas into both the appraisal and conservation stages. It sounds structured but it often happens in a very organic way.

Previous post in this series – Conserving a Great Building, Restoration

Old Ribblesdale Hotel, Blackburn, restored

It took a while but now that the scaffold is down, the newly restored Ribblesdale looks lovely. The attractive colour scheme was a result of the careful analysis of the fabric and paint layers and is exactly as it was when the hotel first opened. It shows that the Victorian’s could use colour well and the overall design now feels harmoniously balanced. Great credit goes to the Blackburn with Darwen Council team and the Blakey Moor Townscape Heritage Initiative which brought this conservation scheme about. Click the image opposite to enlarge.

Old Ribblesdale Hotel, Blackburn

The first grant project of the Blakey Moor Townscape Heritage Initiative, Blackburn is now well under way. The old Ribblesdale Hotel was built just after 1900 and in more recent times was known as ‘Baroque’ owing to it’s corner dome. It’s really more of a blend of Jacobean and Elizabethan features in a busy style made popular by the Victorian architect of London’s Palace Theatre, Thomas Edward Collcutt (1840-1924), who also designed Blackburn Museum not so far away.

Despite the attention of lead thieves, the roof and structural work is now largely done and we are turning to the restoration of the decorative features, elements which express a whole range of traditional building crafts. 

The two dormers are topped by panels of ornamental plaster pargetting set into the gables. This is a traditional rural craft popular in the east of England, though I have seen a surviving historic example in Lancashire. It was revived in Victorian times by the Arts & Crafts Movement.

Unfortunately, our two two panels have been crudely over-painted in gloss paint which has trapped in moisture and led to heavy deterioration of the plaster and its canvas backing.  After some consideration, we have decided to go down the restoration route, rather than attempt a repair, and Blackburn master plasterer Karl Claydon has very kindly taken on the job of producing accurate replicas at short notice.

The contract administrator is Andrew Davies of Blackburn with Darwen Council and the main contractor is Rosslee Construction of Accrington.

Accrington THI – first shop restoration on site

Today, Accrington Townscape Heritage Initiative began conserving the town’s historic shops. This shop on Blackburn Road was built as a printers a few years after 1900 and now houses AYA, a firm of accountants.

As seen in the old photo, there was originally a sunblind which pulled out from behind the shop sign. The sign was rounded to accommodate the roller and the result cleverly emulates a classical pulvinated or ‘cushion’ frieze.

When the modern box sign was removed, we were delighted to find the timber frieze was still intact. It is beautifully joined to stone cushion friezes atop the pilasters at each end of the shop.

We exposed Edwardian paint layers which will be sampled before overpainting. By doing so on each THI project, we can build up a record of the various historic colours used on Accrington shops. The stone pilasters were overpainted brown followed by red and other colours. However, we could see smoke blackening beneath the brown paint indicating that the stone was not originally painted. We will therefore clean back to restore the original stone surface using Torc equipment.

Unfortunately, the underside of the cornice has almost completely eroded but there is just enough of the original moulding to create a template for new stone indents.

Other work includes further stone repair and a traditional styled replacement shop front.

The contract administrator is Craig Buck, IDC Architects, and the contractor is Rosslee Construction. Both are local Accrington firms.