Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Saturday, 18 December 2010

George I's Christmas Pudding

George I, the pudding King, was served this pudding on Christmas Day 1714. The recipe makes one large or two small puddings.

3/4lb shredded suet
1/2lb stoned prunes
1/2lb mixed peel, cut into strips
1/2lb small raisins
1/2lb seedless sultanas
1/2lb currants
1/2lb sifted self-raising flour
1/2lb demerera sugar
1/2lb brown breadcrumbs
1/4lb dates
1/4lb glace cherries
1 tsp mixed spice
half a nutmeg, grated
half a dozen eggs, beaten to a froth
5 fl oz milk
the juice of half a lemon
1 large wineglass of brandy

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl with a teaspoon of salt. Mix and stir in the eggs, milk, lemon juice and brandy. Stand for thirteen hours in a cool place then turn into buttered basins. Boil for six hours. On Christmas Day, boil for a further two hours before serving. To boil: cover the basins with buttered greaseproof paper or foil, then secure each one with a cloth, tied tightly round the top of the bowl with a piece of string. Stand in a fish kettle or separately in large saucepans. Fill the pans with water which should reach halfway up the bowls. Top up from time to time with boiling water.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

2 for 1 memberships - great for Christmas

From today until 16 December we're offering 2 for 1 on Georgian Group memberships  - an excellent way to solve the present-buying problem with a thoughtful gift that will provide interest, enjoyment and stimulation all year long.

New members will receive a personalised card, a full-colour 80-page magazine and journal and a copy of a fascinating illustrated guide to Georgian fireplaces, just right for a fireside read over the Christmas holidays. And for the rest of the year they will have access to our clubroom, reference library and exclusive events programme giving opportunities to visit country houses and other Georgian buildings not open to the public.

Simply order online from the comfort of your own home

If you want to make one of the memberships a gift, just fill in the gift section on the order form. Or you can make both memberships gifts - just fill in the gift section for the first person on the online form and submit the form, then email us the name and address of the second person, together with any personal message, at office@georgiangroup.org.uk, calling the email 'Gift membership'. Make sure you order no later than 16 December for delivery to UK addresses (10 December for overseas addresses).

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Georgian Group membership - a great Christmas gift


Maybe it's still a little too early to be thinking about Christmas, but in a spirit of preparedness and avoidance of last-minute present-buying panic we thought we'd mention that membership of the Georgian Group makes an excellent gift. Now is a great time to join. The Georgian Group is a vibrant and growing community of more than 3300 members who  – apart from the satisfaction of knowing that they are helping to save Georgian buildings – receive a handsome Journal, a colour magazine with prize competitions, discounts on selected goods and services and access to an exclusive activities programme that includes visits to private houses not open to the public. Members also have their very own clubroom at our central London headquarters, where they can consult our extensive reference library or simply relax with a coffee. 

All gift memberships for 2010 will be sent with a special Georgian Group card including your personal message PLUS a free copy of our bestselling pictorial survey of Georgian chimneypieces - in addition to a colour journal and magazine.    
  

Monday, 15 November 2010

Is it time the Church of England visited Gamblers' Anonymous?

This article below from yesterday's Sunday Times has caused serious raised eyebrows at The Georgian Group as we've been trying for the last four years at least to persuade the Church Commissioners to consider the future of Bishops' Palaces a little more carefully than simply trying to flog to the highest bidder buildings that have been in Church ownership for up to 800 years.  We have got somewhere with Hartlebury Castle (ex Bishop of Worcester) and may yet get somewhere with Rose Castle (Bishop of Carlisle) but probably only because they aren't especially attractive to commercial bidders, so the Church Commissioners have been forced, reluctantly, to look at other less rapacious options. But Auckland Castle (pictured) may be different.

The reality is that these palaces are being sacrificed to plug the gap left by horrendously ill-judged investments by the Church Commissioners over the past twenty years. Basically they have come unstuck speculating (aka gambling) on the property markets and are trying to get a comparative pittance back selling their longstanding assets, but of course the whole policy is cloaked in the righteous language of getting the bishops closer to the people. That is disingenuous, tendentious nonsense; the 'palaces' are in fact excellent community resources, aside from being repositories of collective treasures, such as the unique Hurd Library and Keene Chapel at Hartlebury.

The Commissioners revert to the knee-jerk notion of selling off the Palaces every time a Bishop retires, as Durham did this summer; the money raised would be a convenient though in practical terms a nugatory fig-leaf. In our view, if the Church is to dispose of these unique buildings, they ought to be vested in charitable trusts (as seems possible at Hartlebury, if the necessary funds can be raised), so that the ensemble of contents and buildings is kept intact and the option remains of reusing them for future Bishops should the policy and attitude of the Church change.

From the Sunday Times, 14 November 2010:

The Church of England is planning to sell or redevelop one of the most venerable and imposing bishop’s residences in the country. Auckland Castle, the 800-year-old home of successive bishops of Durham, could be turned into an upmarket hotel or flats. An estate agent has already been approached and the church commissioners believe the plan could raise millions of pounds to help church activities.

Valuable paintings kept at the huge property in Bishop Auckland, 12 miles from Durham, may also be auctioned. For 250 years, 12 remarkable paintings of Jacob and his sons by the 17th-century Spanish artist Francisco Zurbaran have hung in the castle’s long dining room.

Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s have been sounded out and have indicated that the paintings could be worth £20m.

Zurbaran is often called the Spanish Caravaggio because of his religious subject matter and style. The paintings are the most precious objects in any of the 43 English bishops’ homes.

Local residents oppose the church’s plans. However, the church will be guided by two of its commissioners — Andreas Whittam Smith, the founding editor of The Independent, and the Tory MP Tony Baldry. Both favour selling the paintings and redeveloping the castle.

“The simple equation in my head is how much money can be raised to be used for the clergy,” said Whittam Smith. Baldry added: “The commissioners work to support the ministry of the church across the country. We are not custodians of great works of art.”

The castle, which also includes a private chapel, is regarded as too big for a bishop to occupy, although future bishops could live in a flat on the premises.

Baldry described the castle’s running costs as “ludicrous”. He said: “The issue is whether it is a practical and reasonable cost to maintain a bishop in a building built for a very different era.”
He said the public would still have access to the substantial castle grounds after any sale.

The church has already decided that two of its other castles, in Carlisle and Worcester, are no longer suitable for bishops to live in. The bishop of Worcester has already left, but neither property has yet been sold or redeveloped.

At Bishop Auckland the favoured option is to turn much of the castle into a hotel along the lines of paradores in Spain or pousadas in Portugal. These are usually former palaces or noblemen’s homes that have been converted to upmarket hotels, where the art is usually kept as a feature. Flats are another possibility, as are commercial premises.

The sale of the paintings is opposed by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, and Chris Higgins, the vice-chancellor of Durham University. The local MP, Helen Goodman, is also against the move and wants more access for the public to visit the castle and see the art.

Critics say the church commissioners are trying to push through the sale of the art and the castle while it is unoccupied. The last bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, who opposed the sale, stepped down in August. His replacement is some way off.

The commission has taken the unusual step of hiring a public relations firm, the London-based Chelgate, which specialises in crisis management. Whittam Smith said: “We’ve gone to them to protect our reputation because we are expecting flak over any sale.”

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Save Georgian workhouse from wrecking ball, says Simon Callow

From the London Evening Standard, 4 November

Actor Simon Callow has joined a group of celebrities trying to stop one of London's best-preserved Georgian workhouses from being demolished. The hospital trust that owns the old Strand Union Workhouse in Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia, has submitted proposals to replace the 18th-century building with a mixture of 142 homes, shops and offices.

But the plans to create a 10-storey building have angered residents as well as heritage enthusiasts worried about the loss of the historic workhouse, and campaigners are calling on the Government to give the building listed status.

Callow told the Standard: “I strongly believe that buildings and antiquities such as this should not be demolished. It is a real piece of living history that relates perfectly to Charles Dicken, his vision for the city and his lifelong anxiety about being put in the workhouse. To have a site like that is a wonderful thing.

“It is very easy to forget that workhouses were on the whole benevolent places, but they were open to the abuse that Dickens writes about. Our view is that it is a prime site, and it should not be turned into a museum, but there should be some acknowledgement of what it meant and the public should be able to see how it stood in relation to the city at the time.”

A group of 24 campaigners including Callow, comedian Griff Rhys Jones, historian Dan Cruickshank and local gallery owner Rebecca Hossack said in an open letter: “Nearly every other Georgian building of any note in this country is already listed. We urge the Government to protect this building from destruction because of its harmonious architectural proportions and compelling social history.

The current building is only four storeys high, and was used as a hospital annexe by its owner, University College Hospitals NHS Trust, until 2005. The workhouse, built on fields in the 1770s as the poorhouse for the parish of St Paul Covent Garden, lies within the Charlotte Street conservation area. Camden Council is yet to make a decision on the planning application.

A spokesman for the trust said: “The former annexe was entirely unsuitable for healthcare use, one of the reasons why we built the new world-class University College Hospital. Planning approval for the new hospital required us to provide a much-needed social housing development in Fitzrovia and after many years of negotiation it was agreed that it should be located on this site. We have consulted the local community and were pleased that the vast majority of people supported our plans.”

Further support for saving the Strand Union Workhouse in London

LISTING APPLICATION FOR STRAND UNION WORK HOUSE - LETTER TO CULTURE MINISTER JOHN PENROSE M.P. FROM CLLR. GLENYS ROBERTS

"Dear John Penrose,

Ed Vaizey will have shown you my impassioned plea for the spotlisting of the Strand Union Workhouse in Cleveland Street in which I hope you will take a personal interest. I am the West End Ward councillor and this was brought to my attention by my residents, who will be in the sad position of having to look at the modern replacement proposed by Camden Council and supported by the previous government.

The residents have prepared many documents pertinent to the listing application which has just been sent to English Heritage, but let me summarise:

This, the oldest surviving workhouse in London, was built in 1775-6 by leading Georgian church architect Thomas Hardwick. It has the famous proportions of Georgian architecture plus Victorian hospital wings based on Florence Nightingale's revolutionary pavilion designs for the treatment of the sick. It remains substantially as when first built -- staircases, windows, slate roofs, floors, fireplaces even some panelling for the most part intact. It has served the sick and poor for over 200 years, was a Second World War casualty post and recently part of the NHS. Its social history is compelling. Victorian Poor Law Reform began in this building. Charles Dickens got his inspiration from conditions within it, its formidable medical officer Dr. Joseph Rogers worked with Gladstone, Queen Victoria and the Duke of Westminster to improve life for the disadvantaged, and the inquests held within its walls by Thomas Wakley, founding editor of The Lancet, helped highlight the 'Burke and Hare' practice of providing bodies for dissection, leading to the 1832 Anatomy Act.

This is clearly an invaluable piece of London's past and could make a memorable contribution to the future. From my experience on Westminster's planning committee I can envisage how its generous proportions and central courtyard would enable it to be converted to flats of all sorts. Such a sympathetic conversion would uplift the neglected area of Fitzrovia in which it is situated, much as the warehouse conversions have done in Docklands.

When the last application for listing was made Frank Dobson [the local MP] did not agree - which gives the new Government a brilliant opportunity to show themselves more sensitive to our heritage by recycling a vital piece of popular history which it would be a crime to erase.

If you would like to see for yourself I will very happily arrange it. There is a very brief window before Camden make their planning decision,

Regards,
Glenys Roberts
Westminster Councillor"

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

2010 Architectural Awards: the Winners

Baroness Andrews OBE, Chairman of English Heritage, presented our eighth annual Architectural Awards at Christie's tonight.

The winners are:

RESTORATION OF A GEORGIAN COUNTRY HOUSE

Buckland House in Oxfordshire
, 1757 by Wood the Younger, has been comprehensively restored for Patrick McNally; when he bought the house it had lain empty for years and was on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk register. Taking on a house of these palatial dimensions, and in that condition, is a daunting challenge, not for the fainthearted, but the scale and consistent quality of the work and the unflashy attention to detail inspire awe: twenty-two student flats removed, twenty-six tons of lead recast and the stonework, ornamental plasterwork and joinery painstakingly conserved by skilled craftsmen, in an unstinting team effort that has reinvigorated a major Georgian country house that had lost its way.

RESTORATION OF A GEORGIAN BUILDING IN AN URBAN SETTING

Buckingham Palace and Lancaster House, stonework repairs. At Buckingham Palace an entire elevation, facing the inner courtyard immediately behind the public front, has been cleaned and restored, with layers of deadening paint stripped off to reveal the bright Caen stone of the Blore façade and the Bath stone of Nash’s pedimented centrepiece, which originally faced the Mall when the palace courtyard was open to the east. The 1820s tympanum sculpture by Baily has been miraculously enlivened by the same treatment. Impressive ambition has also been shown at Lancaster House, where the Bath stone sings again after years of gentle dirt-encrusted decay. The results are a revelation and the projects themselves are a powerful statement of unabashed Government commitment to the care and preservation of public buildings.

REUSE OF A GEORGIAN BUILDING

Dandridge’s Mill in Oxfordshire, an 1820s silk mill. The building was disused and derelict by 2007 and its new owners have sensitively converted the mill to apartments, carefully maintaining the internal volumes, which so often are carelessly and crudely subdivided. What impressed us as much as anything here, though, was the literal re-energising of the building, the old mill pond being reused to generate hydro-electricity for the development by means of an ingenious Archimedes Screw. This is imaginative, inventive and commendably self-sufficient, but it also powerfully evokes the original purpose of the mill, a place of machinery, industry and creation. A millpond put to work in what is now a domestic context is hugely more satisfying than a tame water feature.

RESTORATION OF A GEORGIAN CHURCH

St Alkmund’s in Shrewsbury is mediaeval in origin but the nave and chancel were designed in the 1790s by John Carline in a Gothic idiom. The Reverend Richard Hayes has been superbly solicitous of the church in his care, walking the breadth of Scotland among other penances to raise funds for its repair. His labours have borne splendid fruit. The remarkable iron traceried windows and boundary railings, all cast at Coalbrookdale, have been superbly restored, as has the 1790s east window by Francis Eginton and fixtures such as Carline’s altar table, all below a new slate roof. In all this there is a recognition, too rarely seen, that glorious architecture, carefully conserved, is not a hindrance but a help in spreading the message of the Church.

RESTORATION OF A GEORGIAN GARDEN OR LANDSCAPE

Valentines Park in Ilford, on the London/Essex border, is a far-sighted restoration of a jewel of a Rococo garden built by Robert Surman, deputy cashier to the South Sea Company. The house and garden miraculously survive in amongst dense urban development. But decay and neglect had attracted vandals and other reprobates, as decay and neglect always do. Now, beautifully restored with the Long Water dredged and the shell grottoes, dovecote and flint alcove seat pieced back together, there is a palpable sense of uplift that radiates far beyond the garden walls. It has, according to one resident, raised the tone of the whole borough.

NEW BUILDING IN THE CLASSICAL TRADITION

The Pipe Partridge Building at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, encloses a quad with an arcaded elevation that acts as a curtain-raiser to a lecture theatre, beautifully detailed with signature flourishes, from ceiling pendentives to acanthus finials. This may be undergraduate accommodation, but there is no sign of the cut corners, cheap fittings and value engineering that mar similar buildings elsewhere. The architects have picked up Raymond Erith’s cue and used fully-loadbearing brick, warmly pointed with lime mortar, and the buildings fits comfortably within the LMH tradition of enlightened architectural patronage.

THE GILES WORSLEY AWARD FOR A NEW BUILDING IN A GEORGIAN CONTEXT

The Southgate Centre in Bath, by Chapman Taylor, is a 13 acre retail/residential development, within a World Heritage Site, that replaces a 1971 shopping centre. Both that and its new successor were clad in Bath stone and of comparable height, but the new scheme is divided by open streets, broken down into digestible portions, set around a square and inspired by traditional Bath architecture. The materials, detailing, morphology and urban design combine to form a highly satisfying composition. This is no longer a grim area dominated by a monolithic shopping centre, to be hurried through en route from the railway station to Bath proper. Instead it offers pleasing prospects and tantalising glimpses, drawing you in rather than repelling: a place to linger and a fine introduction to the city for those arriving by train. Yes, it is a product of artifice, what the confused illiterati might call pastiche. But artifice was not always a term of abuse: to the Elizabethans, on the contrary, it was a compliment. This is street theatre at a heightened and refined level, and we should welcome it warmly.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Countdown to our Architectural Awards IV

Our 2010 Architectural Awards, sponsored by Savills, will be presented tomorrow evening by Baroness Andrews OBE, Chairman of English Heritage. In the run-up to the event, we are posting the shortlists for some of the key categories, along with the judges' comments.

Restoration of a Georgian Garden or Landscape category

This award is especially prone to the vagaries of timing, as landscape restoration schemes are prolonged affairs. As usual, we include within the category schemes that involve the restoration of garden buildings and monuments and this year we have shortlisted four relatively petite projects.
Chillington Hall in Staffordshire, home of the Giffards for eight hundred years, retains a superb parkland setting in spite of the close attentions of the M54; the fine follies are complemented by a more utilitarian 1730 brick dovecote, though natural decay had rendered it neither use nor ornament until the completion of an inspired restoration project that has reinstated the lost oak roof, cupola and windows. Thus rescued, the building takes its place once more as the centrepiece of a fine and atmospheric service courtyard.


The Heritage Trust for the North-West is one of Britain’s most impressive building preservation trusts, combining campaigning zeal with an ability to save otherwise hopeless buildings and then restore them using impeccable conservation methods. It has recently taken on Carr of York’s Lytham Hall in Lancashire, itself in good structural condition but nonetheless requiring £5m of restoration work, and as a first step has restored the early nineteenth century brick Privy, built in charming Gothick style. Partly collapsed and at risk by 2008, it has now been conservatively repaired and rebuilt inside and out, with the project used to teach traditional building skills.

Queen Anne’s Summerhouse, on the Shuttleworth Estate in Bedfordshire, is another exemplary rescue project from the Landmark Trust. This handsome, foursquare 1712 folly has been restored with the sensitivity, attention to detail and mastery of traditional methods that we have come to expect from the Trust. The finely-pointed rubbed brick is once more resplendent following comprehensive restoration using traditional methods. The success of the project is a tribute to the vision of the Landmark Trust but also to craftsmen involved and to the trainees who worked alongside them, recarving for example the lost doorcase brackets.


Valentines Park in Ilford, on the London/Essex border, is a far-sighted restoration of a jewel of a Rococo garden built by Robert Surman, deputy cashier to South Sea Company. The house and garden miraculously survive in amongst dense urban development. But decay and neglect had attracted vandals and other reprobates, as decay and neglect always do. Now, beautifully restored with the Long Water dredged and the shell grottoes, dovecote and flint alcove seat pieced back together, there is a palpable sense of uplift that radiates far beyond the garden walls. It has, according to one resident, raised the tone of the whole borough.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Countdown to our Architectural Awards III

Our 2010 Architectural Awards, sponsored by Savills, will be presented on 3 November by Baroness Andrews OBE, Chairman of English Heritage. In the run-up to the event, we are posting the shortlists for some of the key categories, along with the judges' citations.

Restoration of a Georgian Country House category
There are two aspects to restoring country houses. One is about repairing fabric, perhaps dramatically so after a ruinous fire. But the other, more subtle but no less important, is about recovering the spirit of the place; coaxing it back to life after neglect or misuse; re-establishing its connection with the land and places around it, often after a long estrangement. Our two shortlisted schemes, summarised in alphabetical order, cover both aspects in varying degrees.

Buckland House in Oxfordshire, 1757 by Wood the Younger, has been comprehensively restored for Patrick McNally; when he bought the house it had lain empty for years and was on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk register. Taking on a house of these palatial dimensions, and in that condition, is a daunting challenge, not for the fainthearted, but the scale and consistent quality of the work and the unflashy attention to detail inspire awe: twenty-two student flats removed, twenty-six tons of lead recast and the stonework, ornamental plasterwork and joinery painstakingly conserved by skilled craftsmen, in an unstinting team effort that has reinvigorated a major Georgian country house that had lost its way.

Sandridge Park is a Nash house overlooking the Dart in Devon. Again, the new owners, the Yallops, have been white knights, investing significant resources – time, energy and careful thought as much as money – in piecing the house back together, rebuilding a section lost in the 1950s, removing a 1980s glass pitched roof and garage, filling in an indoor swimming pool and re-creating the 1805 conservatory (lost in the 1930s) using contemporary engravings. The depth of historical research is apparent in the result, and ironically Sandridge feels fresher, less dated, for having recovered its Nash spirit.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Countdown to our Architectural Awards II

Our 2010 Architectural Awards, sponsored by Savills, will be presented on 3 November by Baroness Andrews OBE, Chairman of English Heritage. In the run-up to the event, we are posting the shortlists for some of the key categories, along with the judges' citations. 

New Building in the Classical Tradition category
Three buildings by reliably impressive architects have been shortlisted for the New Building in the Classical Tradition award.  In alphabetical order, they are:

Francis Terry’s Howard Theatre at Downing College, Cambridge, which forms the final side of what is now a quad, opposite William Wilkins’s west range and at right angles to two other Terry buildings. Its Ketton stone exterior, articulated with a robust Doric colonnade, is a relatively austere and sober curtain-raiser to a delightful 160-seat theatre arranged in the Georgian manner, indeed inspired by Wilkins’ Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds, with side galleries set in a rectangular plan and an exuberant ceiling painted with classical scenes.


 
The new Pipe Partridge Building at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, also helps enclose a quad, also has an arcaded elevation and also contains a theatre, albeit a lecture theatre, but one beautifully detailed with signature flourishes, from ceiling pendentives to decorative iron acanthuses. This may be undergraduate accommodation, but there is no sign of the cut corners, cheap fittings and value engineering that mar similar buildings elsewhere. The architects have picked up Raymond Erith’s cue and used fully-loadbearing brick, warmly pointed with lime mortar, and the buildings fits comfortably within the LMH tradition of enlightened architectural patronage.


Wudston House in Wedhampton, Wiltshire is a delightfully improbable classical essay, a Palladian country villa with archetypal loggia set on a tight site in an English village. The hint of incongruity is quickly forgotten: this is a rigorous and serious building with a powerfully monochrome interior, but there is no sense of dry-as-dust pedantry: playfulness and imaginative flair are especially evident in the extraordinary staircase, an arrow-straight stone flight designed with an acute sense of theatre: a real flight of fancy. The decoration is deliberately spare, allowing the architecture to speak unhindered, but the single decorative flourish, in the form of large stucco panels by Geoffrey Preston, is brilliantly conceived and realised.
 

Countdown to our Architectural Awards I

Our 2010 Architectural Awards, sponsored by Savills, will be presented on 3 November by Baroness Andrews OBE, Chairman of English Heritage. In the run-up to the event, we are posting the shortlists for some of the key categories, along with the judges' citations. 

First up is the Restoration of a Georgian Building in an Urban Setting category, always keenly fought. We are all well aware these days of the key rôle that historic buildings play in urban regeneration, and part of the purpose of this award is to acknowledge the contribution made by restored Georgian buildings to the quality and vitality of our towns and cities. Four projects, listed here in alphabetical order, have been shortlisted.  

The first encompasses major stonework repairs at Buckingham Palace and Lancaster House - neighbouring buildings and with equal claims to grandeur, though Queen Victoria conceded defeat on the point: “I have come from my house to your palace”, she said to the Duchess of Sutherland on visiting what was then Stafford House. At Buckingham Palace an entire elevation, facing the inner courtyard immediately behind the public front, has been cleaned and restored, with layers of deadening paint stripped off to reveal the bright Caen stone of the Blore façade and the Bath stone of Nash’s pedimented centrepiece, which originally faced the Mall when the palace courtyard was open to the east. The 1820s tympanum sculpture by Baily has been miraculously enlivened by the same treatment. Impressive ambition has also been shown at Lancaster House, where the Bath stone sings again after years of gentle dirt-encrusted decay. The results are a revelation and the projects themselves are a powerful statement of unabashed Government commitment to the care and preservation of public buildings.

The restoration of 42 King Street in Thorne near Doncaster is typical of the excellent work being done quietly in unfashionable places by building preservation trusts, a real salvation army for our built heritage. Here we have a 1747 merchants’ house in a state of collapse, unlisted and in a conservation area that was designated last year by English Heritage as being at risk. It is in such places that attritional damage to historic buildings is done year by year, with negative consequences that go far beyond the realm of heritage. Much of historic Thorne went in the 1960s and 1970s but this building has been rescued from the brink and rescued carefully, so that the story it tells remains intact: among the finds recorded here were Mediterranean volcanic ash aggregates in the floors, a tangible relic of Thorne’s shipping past.    


810 Tottenham High Road in North London is half of the earliest pair of Georgian townhouses in London; 808 was restored in 2002 and received an inaugural Georgian Group award. Its neighbour has been derelict and at risk for a quarter of a century, but now with grant-aid from English Heritage the shop in the front yard has been removed and the house, beautifully restored, is once again an uplifting adornment to a major thoroughfare, a statement of optimism rather than a reason for pessimism.

55-57 Westgate Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne is again uplifting, a reversal of the depressing despoliation of street frontages in our major cities. The legibility and appearance, front and rear, of this fine 1750 townhouse has been transformed by the reinstatement of the stone façade, sash windows and dormers and by sensitive reroofing. The unity of the building has been restored and it reads once more as a dignified classical composition.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The rocking stones of Surrey

Regional variations in building methods are becoming rarer as uniform materials and techniques take hold. Of the three key cost variables in UK building - labour, materials and transport - it is now the first two that are the most expensive and the last that is relatively cheap, leading to a state of affairs where developers source the cheapest materials and put them up as quickly as possible in a way that is standardised across the whole country. In the Georgian period the opposite was broadly true: transport was hugely expensive but labour and materials were cheap, so for example local stone was used and numerous skilled craftsmen were employed to erect it.

And so it is now chiefly in historic buildings that regional variations are evident, as here in Albury Park near Guildford in Surrey, where a technique known as galletting, or the insertion of smaller stones into mortar, is shown to good effect. This can be purely ornamental but in the main its purpose was practical: it was used where the only stones available were hard and had irregular edges, so that when one was laid on another the stones were unsteady and a large gap was left between them. Because the stones were hard, it was easier to fill the gaps with mortar than reshape the stones to give them a flatter edge. But the mortar was less durable than the stone; and the stone was non-absorbent, meaning the mortar adhered badly. The result was weakness on two fronts. To help overcome this, small wedges (often chippings from the masons' workshops, but in this instance pellets of local ironstone) were inserted in the mortar to add strength and counteract the natural rocking between the stone courses.

The practice, which in England is confined to areas where it was structurally necessary (Norfolk and the Weald, which lacked building stone), became known as galletting, after the French word galet for water-worn pebble. The technique dates back to mediaeval times and continues even today for ornamental purposes. Here at Albury, a Tudor house, the present galletting dates from a substantial remodelling by Pugin in the 1840s.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Restoring workaday service stairs

The principal stairs at 6 Fitzroy Square, running from the hall up to the second floor, are made of beautifully-cut, finely-finished Portland Stone: made to be seen, and to be seen on. The separate staircase down to the basement is in some ways a different proposition: a straightforward workaday route for servants with no pretensions to delicacy of design or construction. The stair rail has plain, black-painted iron balusters, ramrod-straight; the steps are cubes, unsmoothed and unshaped, left rough-hewn on the underside with tooling marks left open to view on the outer edge. This is very much below-stairs; yet the effect is impressive and pleasing, the honesty and lack of refinement giving a feeling of monumentality.


This effect had been lost, or hidden, until now, with the stairs boxed in to form a cleaning cupboard and the steps covered with glued linoleum fixed with plastic nosings nailed into the stone. We were expecting the steps underneath all this to be in poor repair, and indeed were advised by one or two stone specialists that the mess we were likely to uncover was such that it would be better to forget about restoration and carpet them. But in fact the nosings have left only small nail holes, easily filled with Portland stone dust; and the brittle lino on the horizontal treads has lifted to reveal well-preserved, clean stone. Only on the vertical risers, where far more glue was used to keep the lino in place, has any real residue been left. Here, a special poultice has been applied which, together with elbow grease, should ease the glue off to leave a reasonably clean step. The outer edges have been brushed to remove paint, leaving the patina of old distemper and the tooling ridges made by the original masons. The underside has been left open, the whitewashed stones with their rough quarry marks forming a spectacle in themselves.  

                          

Monday, 6 September 2010

New backing for our Blackburn campaign

Our efforts to preserve the threatened former police house in King Street, Blackburn continue to receive backing and we are hopeful that a positive result will be achieved. A decision has yet to be reached by Blackburn and Darwen Council but councillors cannot have failed to be impressed by the comments left on this blog by local residents and others in favour of keeping the building. Support for the conservation campaign has now come from another Blackburn resident, Professor David Smalley, who says:

"I am writing to give my support for the retention of the Old Police Station in King Street, Blackburn. As one who was born in Blackburn I have seen a gradual dismantling of much that could and should have been saved in the town. The removal of the fine pipe organ in the public hall after a very minor fire was a public disgrace, as it was in part a memorial to the dead of World War 1, paid for largely by public donations.

Three Georgian so-called ‘pavilions’ of no particular merit alongside the Cathedral escaped demolition and have been ‘restored’ at the cost of several million pounds. They are and were very plain cuboids - no priceless plaster ceilings or wall paintings or unusual features here - and yet vast amounts of public money have been lavished upon them. They actually interfere with the view of the cathedral from the north side, and as was predicted, the Council has had real trouble in letting them. Even now, after years of intensive marketing, they are still not fully leased. One is used for Council funded short exhibitions.

By contrast the Georgian Police Station is a building of real interest. As one of the few remaining Georgian buildings in Blackburn it is at least as worthy of retention as the three Georgian ‘boxes’ by the Cathedral. As a non-Blackburnian telling Blackburnians what they should and shouldn’t have, Mr. Straw needs to walk a few yards to the west of the building and he will see large areas of cleared land ripe for road building. This includes the former site of the old St. Peter’s School, latterly an annexe of St. Wilfrid’s C.of E. High School. Adjoining are some old neglected Victorian buildings that need to come down in any case. The bottom end of Montague Street on the west side consists largely of grassed areas and an abandoned residential home in ‘Sixties’ style (now boarded up).

Blackburn Council was ruled by one Party for almost half a century and knew exactly what it was doing when it planned the route to plough through this Georgian building in the first place. One cannot escape the opinion that from the beginning the plan has been a carefully calculated step by step affair leading to a position in which those who are against the demolition can be portrayed as objectors whereas the objectionable behaviour is that of those who hatched the plan. Has the neglect of the site in recent years been a deliberate attempt to make it look like a condemned building? As in many of these cases the aims and objectives of having an orbital route round the town are perhaps laudable in principle, but some of the ways in which it is achieved are questionable or even objectionable. Sensible cities like York, Lancaster, Edinburgh, Dublin, Bath, Cheltenham, etc. have kept their Georgian buildings and ‘redundant’ churches. Blackburn is now vigorously demolishing the ‘new’ model Blackburn of the 1960’s. I need say no more".

Impressive groundswell of support for threatened Georgian workhouse

The unlisted Georgian workhouse in Cleveland Street, London W1, is currently threatened with demolition but there's been an impressive groundswell of grassroots support for keeping it. The Georgian Group has objected to demolition and has repeated its request for listing, which was refused under the last Government despite an English Heritage recommendation to list. Local residents, concerned to prevent a distinctive historic building being replaced with identikit development, have orchestrated an impressive conservation campaign that has found widespread support, including from Westminster Councillor Glenys Roberts and Emeritus Professor David Watkin.

In a letter to the local authority, the London Borough of Camden, Cllr Roberts says:

"This distinguished building abuts my constituency. Its rich history as part of the social fabric of an area, which unlike some parts of London is still in touch with its roots, offers the perfect opportunity to update it whilst keeping the original structure. Many people think there is merit in listing such an evocative building with which Charles Dickens was familiar and which have him the subject matter which made him a world class author. But even the fact that it is not at present protected, offers the imaginative conservationist developer free rein in designing a future for it which preserves the best, whilst modernising those aspects which bear updating . There is a successful precedent for this sort of development in the warehouses of Docklands which has turned from a rundown area unto a desirable one precisely because of this philosophy. The Strand Union workhouse with its solid design and generous proportions deserves the same treatment. With a new internal configuration the workhouse could provide either social or private sector housing plus commercial use and still testify to the social conscience of our forebears by retaining its landmark looks. I would be very much opposed to demolishing it as a whole and would urge the Council to explore ways of doing justice to this site, which will preserve the workhouse".

David Watkin, Emeritus Professor of the History of Architecture at Cambridge and Vice-Chairman of The Georgian Group, says: 

"The proposed demolition of this building has recently been brought to my attention and I am writing to object to this as it is a monument of architectural and historical importance, originally part of the parish of St Paul, Covent Garden. As a late-eighteenth-century workhouse, it has naturally been subject to some alteration, but is still worthy of a three-line description in Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England,
London, vol. 3, North West (1991). The Work House is capable of being further adapted as residential accommodation without compromising its character, while the proposed replacement is totally out of scale with its setting which has preserved much of its Georgian character".

A petition in favour of saving and converting the building is now being organised by local residents. If you are interested in signing it please email us at office@georgiangroup.org.uk.     



Monday, 30 August 2010

Sash windows installed

Sash windows have been installed in the basement of 6 Fitzroy Square to replace the full-width barred crittal window put in (in 1971) by a previous occupant, the NatWest Bank. The work involves reinstating not just the windows but the parts of the front facade between and above the sashes, all of which was removed to accommodate the crittal window. By way of an added complication, the crittal window sat within a massive steel-girder frame, which has been kept on the advice of structural engineers; fortunately, with some minor tweaking, the box sashes and shutter housings fit comfortably within it.

The bespoke sashes have been hand-crafted by traditional joiners, with the design based on surviving eight-over-eight sashes elsewhere in the terrace. By the 1790s, when the east side of Fitzroy Square was built, six-over-six sashes were used on the main floors, but slightly more old-fashioned eight-over-eight sashes were installed in basements, a service area where the expense of larger panes was unnecessary - and given that the basement windows were a matter of feet away from the coal vaults and a matter of inches away from the heavily-trafficked steps down to the basement, damage to panes was far more likely than in upper floors, so it made sense to put in smaller panes that were cheaper to replace. Conventional six-over-six sashes will be reinstated on the ground floor, where again the original sashes were replaced by the bank (this time in favour of single panes with frosted margin lights).















For the glazing bar profiles, we have copied a delicate moulding detail from a single surviving mahogany sash at the rear of 6 Fitzroy Square. The boxes within which the windows themselves are mounted are also hand-made, the product of many hours' labour by craftsmen, but they are almost completely hidden when installation is complete. This is a legacy of fire protection measures introduced in the 1774 Building Act, which stipulated that the box sash be covered by masonry, with only the frame of the window itself exposed. The depth of the reveal (the window is set back several inches from the face of the building) also has its origins in eighteenth century fire protection legislation.             

The reinstated walls are being rendered flush and then painted a colour specially developed by paint expert Patrick Baty to imitate Portland stone. The ground floor and basement have been painted since the mid nineteenth century as a way of masking dirt-ingrained stone, and it has been decided to continue that practice, largely because 150 years of absorption of paint oils and other residues would leave the stone permanently stained and uneven in appearance. The Portland stone on the upper three floors has always been, and remains, exposed, with a whole array of fossils clearly visible from the pavement, along with some patching-in following damage in the war, when four Adam houses in Fitzroy Square were destroyed by bombs. (Their facades were rebuilt in the 1950s).              

The reinstatement of the front facade to the Adam design, part of a wider basement improvement project, is being funded by our American Friends, whose support we gratefully acknowledge. Fittings for the new sashes and their shutters have been kindly donated by Charles Brooking, who runs the excellent Brooking Collection.    

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A curious case of iron-stained stone

The local sandstone at Belsay, in Northumberland, is shot through with iron ore deposits, with the result that the cut stone, used for building in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is liberally flecked with black spots that become more prominent with weathering. The effect is distinctive and odd, as if buildings have been randomly sprayed with grapeshot. Good examples are in Belsay village, where the quality of the ashlar used for ordinary shops, as seen here, is a telltale sign of aristocratic patronage, and also at Belsay Hall itself, a staggeringly austere essay in Greek Revival architecture created in the 1810s when the Monck family decamped from the nearby castle, where they had lived since the 14th century and which still exists in a wonderfully unspoilt setting. Well worth a visit.

 

Monday, 26 July 2010

Reinstating vertical sliding shutters

Most traditional wooden shutters fold into housings at the sides of the window and open horizontally. Less common are sliding shutters, or sash shutters, which normally rise vertically from the sill, although sometimes they slide across from the side. The mahogany sliding shutters in the corridor window at 6 Fitzroy Square have long since gone, but the heavy mahogany sashes are still there (albeit without their pulleys). With advice and practical assistance from Charles Brooking, founder of the extraordinary Brooking Collection of salvaged historic fabric, we are reinstating the shutters. The picture shows Charles sizing up brass pulleys, recycled from lost buildings, for use in the restoration project. Here he is holding one that came from a demolished workhouse in Minster on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

    

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Cars and railings don't mix

Iron railings had a torrid time in Britain in the twentieth century, being ripped out systematically during the War - ostensibly to be melted down for armaments, although in reality many were uselessly stockpiled. The recovery was long and hard, reinstatement being no sort of priority in the post-war austerity years; the crude wooden stakes and wire mesh that replaced them persisted in many places until very recently and still aren't altogether gone, a good example of how cheap stopgap solutions end up becoming more or less permanent. But from 1990 onwards numerous squares in London have had their railings put back, among them Fitzroy Square where the Georgian Group is based. All excellent stuff, but as the first line of defence railings remain vulnerable to all sorts of threats, including neglect (which brings on decay and eventual collapse) and accidental damage. Our pictures show railings within 50 yards of Fitzroy Square that have suffered grievous damage over past eighteen months, including two that were uprooted by joyriders who then absconded. No amount of protective legislation can guard against this sort of bizarre and random occurrence, but at least the legislation does ensure that the railings are put back where they were, although not necessarily as they were; vigilance is needed to make sure that cast iron railings aren't replaced by inferior substitutes made from laser-cut mild steel.        

Reintroducing timber sashes

The facade of 6 Fitzroy Square, our grade I listed Robert Adam townhouse, is being restored to its original Adam design. The most dramatic change will come with the removal of forty-year-old barred crittal windows (gaps between the frame and the brickwork were stuffed with newspaper dating from 1970) and their replacement with timber sashes. The new sash frame, made by joiners at Fullers, is shown here, complete with nineteenth century brass pulleys kindly donated by Charles Brooking of the Brooking Collection. Also visible, in the lower left photograph, is the niche cut in the Portland stone steps to accommodate the sill of the original sashes; the niche has been a useful marker, allowing the new sashes to be replaced in their historic position. 


  

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Fitzroy Square Restoration: laths arrive

Consistent with our general mission, we are using traditional construction methods in our basement improvement project. In its present configuration, our basement is in fact largely a product of the twentieth century, when it was rebuilt to accommodate bank strongrooms, with the Robert Adam building propped up above; so some of the ceilings are made of modern plasterboard, but others are lath and plaster, and where these need to be repaired we are using like-for-like materials and techniques.

Laths are narrow strips of wood nailed across ceiling joists (or wall studs) and then plastered, the laths forming a key for the plaster. In the Georgian period, horsehair was often added to the plaster to help it bind to the laths and although we haven't used horsehair on this occasion in the basement, we have done so recently in our ground floor rooms. Laths are rarely used at all nowadays, having generally been replaced by cheaper plasterboard or drywall, but they do offer greater flexibility and tolerance of stress.

Broken laths awaiting replacement (above).




Bundles of new laths  (left).