Sunday, 31 January 2010

'Free February' on Twitter

This offer is now closed.

The Georgian Group is saying thank you to its followers on Twitter by offering a year's free membership of the Group to all those who follow it in February. Existing Twitter followers are as welcome to take up the offer as new followers. The offer applies to new memberships of the Group. To claim your free year's membership, please email 'FF claim' to office@georgiangroup.org.uk giving your Twitter username and your name, address and telephone number.

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. As a member you also have your very own clubroom at our central London headquarters, where you can consult our extensive reference library or simply relax with a coffee.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Read our latest Annual Report

The Georgian Group's latest Annual Report, available free online, summarises our recent work across the broad spectrum of our activities, from campaigning to education. Among the casework covered is our involvement with Scraptoft Hall on the eastern edge of Leicester. A late seventeenth century country house altered and recased in around 1720 for Laetitia Wigley, it was converted to university use after the Second World War but is now disused and decaying with clear evidence of vandalism which, though petty, has been persistent enough to have a significant cumulative effect. At the same time, the setting has been badly degraded with the building of a large housing estate on the former campus. In this kind of case the best answer is usually to get the property back into use and it can be tempting to jump at the first opportunity that presents itself; tempting, but sometimes misguided. Here we were faced with a proposed conversion to a 97-bed care home allied to demolition and rebuilding of the service range, conversion of the remaining outbuildings and further extensive new building in the grounds. The effect would have been ruinous, a blighting of the historic building masquerading as salvation. In our view, no scheme which was financially dependent on such a massive new development could seriously be regarded as optimal viable use. English Heritage responded to our request for backing and a public inquiry was held in 2009, the outcome of which is awaited. Our picture shows Scraptoft in 2007: much of the glass and many of the glazing bars (note the thickness, correct for the 1720 date) have now been smashed, presenting a sad and increasingly derelict spectacle. But as the picture also shows, the house is a magnificant specimen, well worth saving.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Oxford's High - marred by street clutter


The High in Oxford offers one of the great urban views in England as the street sweeps in a curve past All Souls towards Queen's and Magdalen beyond. A magnificent setpiece, worth cherishing. But clearly someone in the Highways Department was troubled by the nagging thought that something was missing - and added these traffic signs, thus obscuring Hawksmoor's grand front at Queen's behind a rash of bossy notices.

Nannying signs like this weren't needed even in the laissez-faire days of bus deregulation in the 1980s, when the High was full of nose-to-tail buses that nonetheless managed to control themselves. Have those in charge at Oxford Town Hall overdosed on an-aesthetics that numb their visual awareness?

'Hamlet Court must be saved', says IoW councillor

Cllr George Brown, Isle of Wight Councillor for Cowes North, today gave his backing to the campaign to save Hamlet Court, attributed to Nash but now threatened by developers.  "It is essential", he said, "to protect this important building from destruction or further encroachment. The character of the aspect of West Cowes from the Solent has already been undermined by new construction approved on appeal, having been turned down by the Isle of Wight Council Planning Committee. Hamlet Court is one of the few remaining bastions. It must be saved".

Welcome to Bedford Square (that's the thing behind the clutter)


Just visible behind the street clutter is Grade I listed Bedford Square, the only surviving complete Georgian Square in Central London. The newest addition to the paraphernalia is the information board in the centre of the picture, which gives maps of the neighbourhood at different scales and estimates of the time it would take to walk to various points of interest. This was erected recently by Transport for London as part of its 'Legible London' programme - and without planning permission, as TfL claimed permitted development rights under which certain statutory bodies may undertake public works without the rigmarole of planning permission.   

We're dubious about the permitted development point. This covers development undertaken by TfL in fulfilment of its duties as a statutory undertaker - and so would cover bus stops but not, we imagine, a sign such as this which has nothing to do with those duties, any more than a telecoms company would be covered if it wanted to set up a stall selling mobiles.

Moreover, we're not quite sure what purpose the sign serves. In 2010 almost everyone has immediate access to a hand-held electronic A-Z, together with copious other visitor information, via a few clicks on a mobile, and yet this is the very time TfL chooses to deface a conservation area with a lumbering great static A-Z. Never has this board been less needed than now. And the part of the sign taken up with telling people how long in minutes it takes to walk from Bedford Square to, say, Great Ormond Street is curiously pointless as the information will be misleading and inaccurate for the majority of people who read it.

Despite commendable efforts over the years by English Heritage and others, street clutter remains a cacophonous blight that prevents proper appreciation of historic buildings. Many of us have learnt to edit it out, but when it grows to the volume shown in this picture that becomes increasingly difficult. 


Matthew Parris complains about street clutter... 

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Image of the Week No3

Each week we publish a picture (of a Georgian building) that's caught our attention by virtue of artistic merit or architectural/historic interest or because it shows a familiar building in a new or unusual light. We welcome contributions from home or abroad, so please get in touch  (office@georgiangroup.org.uk) if you've taken a photograph you'd like to see on our blog. Include something about the building and the circumstances of the shot if possible.  

Our third image, a composite before and after shot, shows Belmont House on Shetland, the most northerly Isles of Scotland, pre and post restoration. The project won our 2007 award for the restoration of a Georgian country house. 

Built in 1775, Belmont is the most ambitious classical house in the Northern Isles and the most northerly classical house in the United Kingdom. This profound isolation contributed to its neglect. It was left derelict by an absentee owner and by 2004 it was boarded up.

The Belmont Trust, essentially a consortium of local conservationists, then bravely stepped into the breach. Necessarily, but also encouragingly, local people (including students) have put many hours into bringing Belmont back from a roofless, ruined state.

External restoration is now complete. A later extension has been demolished to restore the fine classical proportions, the house has been made structurally secure by jacking up the floors, the roof has been replaced using reclaimed Scottish slates and sashes have been reinstated using handblown glass. The house and the restored pavilions have been covered in sparkling apricot limewashed harl. Gate pillars have been rebuilt using existing materials. Altogether a remarkable achievement in difficult circumstances.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Fire strikes again


Another Georgian country house, Holnest Park in Dorset (pictured right in a photograph by Brian Kingsland), has been severely damaged by fire and at the time of writing is in danger of collapsing. Fire, either deliberate or in this case accidental (by way of an electic blanket), is nowadays the main threat to historic buildings and it is alarming how many fires occur (as, famously, at Uppark in Sussex) when restoration or refurbishment work is taking place and workmen's tools such as blowtorches are left unattended. In some ways, historic buildings are never in greater danger than when being restored. Plus, of course, they are likely to contain naturally flammable materials, such as wood, and are much less likely to be fitted with state-of-the-art fire retardants such as conventional fire doors, which may conflict with building conservation requirements. Ironically, those buildings which, from an historical perspective, we can least afford to lose to fire are also those which are most vulnerable. So extra vigilance is required. Should the worst happen, insurance will normally cover reinstatement, although nothing can replace the patina of age. But authentic rebuilding can be an opportunity, as at Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace and Uppark itself, for investment in traditional craft skills. Our concern at Holnest, once the extent of damage has been assessed, will be to ensure the salvage of as much original fabric as possible and its reincorporation in the rebuilt house.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Sheerness: sustained involvement in a deprived community

The Georgian Group tries to be lean, fast-moving and versatile; yes, our formal role as a statutory consultee, commenting on planning applications, is key, but there are plenty of complementary ways we can exert positive influence on a locality. Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey, one of the parts of Kent that scores highest on official indices of deprivation,  is a case in point. Here the Group has made a concentrated effort to encourage preservation of what remains of the 1820s Royal Dockyard, from where the Fighting Temeraire, famously depicted by Turner, was towed out to sea on its last voyage.

The Dockyard remnants include a little-altered run of junior officers' houses called Naval Terrace. Through our charitable estate agency arm, GeorgianProperty.com, we have sold one house in the terrace to a sympathetic buyer and hope shortly to be handling the sale of another. We have given an award to a third householder for his painstaking recreation of the original garden design; a further house, restored in exemplary fashion, will be entered for our awards this year. Another property is on our charitable locations hire directory, GeorgianLocations.com. And we are helping to pay for the re-creation and reinstatement of the iron railings that enclosed the front of the terrace until the Royal Dockyard shut and degradation set in. Beyond that, we are actively involved in seeking solutions for the derelict 1820s church that sits alongside the terrace and also for the further terrace, currently entirely vacant, that sits behind it within the precincts of the working dock.     

Why this sustained and diverse involvement? Partly because the late Georgian buildings in Naval Terrace, and those around them, have intrinsic value. And partly because of our hope that resuscitation of the historic dockyard will act as a catalyst for wider regeneration in Sheerness.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Nash building threatened on Isle of Wight


The startling image at the top, of Cowes on the Isle of Wight, shows the extent of relatively recent demolition of (largely Victorian) waterfront houses. All the crossed-out houses have now gone. 'Obliteration' might indeed be a better word, and would be entirely accurate were it not for the fact that one villa, Hamlet Court, survives. But for how much longer? It has been turned down for national listing (and is not even on the local council list) in spite of a strong link to John Nash to which even the famously fastidious architectural historian Sir Howard Colvin gave credence shortly before his death in 2007. We are renewing our calls for listing, but meanwhile developers are circling. Their appetite for inappropriate development is shown by the aggressively ahistorical residential block (Vantage Point, shown in the lower picture) that is currently being built immediately alongside Hamlet Court, which can just be seen, dwarfed, on the far right. What price a similar block rising shortly where Hamlet Court now stands? If that happens, we shall have lost a building designed, quite possibly by Nash, for Lord Belfast, later 2nd Marquess of Donegal. At the time (1832), Lord Belfast was also commissioning Joseph White to design a new brig, of a type that would revolutionise the development of Admiralty ships. Hamlet Court features on all the nineteenth century Brannon engravings of Cowes waterfront, a vista we have now all but lost through successive planning consents. Its disappearance would diminish Cowes and echo another scandalous demolition of a late Georgian building on an island in the English Channel - that of Sir John Soane's Colomberie House on Jersey, torn down in the 1990s.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Restoration opportunity in East London


GeorgianProperty.com, the charitable estate agency run by the Georgian Group, is pleased to offer a four-storey brick townhouse in Cable Street, London E1. Dating from the late 1780s (see contemporary map, left) and listed Grade II, it forms part of an intact Georgian terrace that itself sits within an enclave of historic buildings that survived wartime bombing. The centrepiece is the superb Hawksmoor church of St George-in-the-East – there are direct views through to its magnificent tower across the small, secluded back garden.

The property, fresh on the market at £595,000, is next to the charming coachway entrance to the Mews, now a gated development and named Hawksmoor Mews in homage to one of the greatest of Georgian architects. Wilton's Music Hall, a wonderfully atmospheric venue, is a couple of hundred yards further west along Cable Street. And the street itself has an honoured place in the annals of British democracy, as the scene of famed resistance by Eastenders to Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts. Even now, the spread of affluence notwithstanding, there are easily-read traces of this earthy and richly-layered history.

Originally built for sea captains from the nearby London docks (now the home of News International), the house is unmodernised and presents an excellent restoration/investment opportunity and a rare opportunity to acquire a complete Georgian townhouse within very easy reach of The City, Canary Wharf and St Katharine Docks. A Docklands Light Railway station is within easy walking distance, as are local shops. Waitrose St Katharine Docks is a short distance away.   

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Success at Norwood House, Yorkshire

The Georgian Group last night attended a meeting of the planning committee of East Riding of Yorkshire District Council to argue for a rethink on plans for Norwood House, a fine Grade I listed 1760s townhouse in Beverley. Our intervention was successful - the current scheme, involving the creation of a car park in the back garden, was refused consent and we will now work with the owners and local authority to achieve a more acceptable scheme. Historically, the back garden at Norwood has been lawn running down to a ha-ha, beyond which is an open field. Our concern was to preserve this informal, rustic aspect and also the open views from the exceptionally fine interiors at Norwood; and so it was important to block the latest scheme, which would have cluttered the garden with thirty parking spaces and introduced alien planting, including a hedge immediately outside the library window. The house has had a tough time recently - it suffered a damaging fire in 2004 after being vacated by a girls' school and though competent repairs have been undertaken it has since lain empty and vulnerable. So it needs a use - but a sympathetic one which fully respects the integrity of both the house and its setting. The current owners are capable of achieving this and we look forward to helping them do so. Read more...

Monday, 18 January 2010

Image of the Week No2

Each week we'll publish a picture (of a Georgian building) that's caught our attention by virtue of artistic merit or architectural/historic interest or because it shows a familiar building in a new or unusual light. We welcome contributions from home or abroad, so please get in touch  (office@georgiangroup.org.uk) if you've taken a photograph you'd like to see on our blog. Include something about the building and the circumstances of the shot if possible.  

Our second image, taken by Robert Bargery, shows the restored Darnley Mausoleum at Cobham in Kent, designed by Wyatt in the 1790s and never actually used. In the twentieth century, the building was virtually destroyed by vandals and arsonists in a sustained and deliberate campaign. One of the many low points was on Guy Fawkes Night 1980, when a bonfire of car tyres was set ablaze inside the mausoleum, finally destroying the crypt ceiling and blitzing the catacombs. The picture below shows the determination of those who sought, casually, to destroy it. The exemplary restoration of a brutally-damaged building in the middle of nowhere and with no prospect of commercial use deserves the highest praise. The Georgian Group helped the project with a £20,000 grant, the largest we have ever given. More about the restoration project...


Sunday, 17 January 2010

Momentum grows to rebuild Euston Arch

For the first time in half a century there's a realistic prospect of recovering one of the great lost masterpieces of the early railway age, Philip Hardwick's Euston Arch, which stood sentinel at Euston Station in London until demolished in the early 1960s despite a last-ditch personal appeal to the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, by John Betjeman and other conservation luminaries.

This opportunity to correct one the great pieces of twentieth century architectural vandalism arises because of a projected redevelopment of the Euston Station forecourt (it adds insult to injury that the buildings that replace masterpieces are often so flawed that they themselves need replacing after a relatively short time) and also because stones from the Euston Arch have just been salvaged from the bed of the River Lea in East London as part of a pre-Olympics clean-up. The stones were dumped there unceremoniously after the Arch was demolished. Those that have been recovered, under the supervision of Dan Cruickshank and with help from British Waterways, are now in the safekeeping of the Euston Arch Trust, whose rebuilding campaign is gathering pace.

The recent faithful rebuilding of the Frauenkirche in Dresden, destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, shows that the loss of great buildings needn't be terminal. Particularly where (as with the Euston Arch) a good deal of original fabric survives, there is eternal hope of resurrection. What could be more uplifting? And if we seek a monument for the Olympics, what could be better, or appeal more to a classically-educated Mayor, than the erection of a Doric propylaeum inspired by the architecture of Rome?


Ruperra Castle saved from housing development

Ruperra Castle, Grade II* listed and one of the most important Renaissance houses in South Wales, has been spared a damaging housing development in its grounds following a public inquiry at which objections were led by the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust and the Ancient Monuments Society. Ruperra, built in 1626 and remodelled by Thomas Hardwick after a fire in 1785, is in poor condition; parts of it are in danger of imminent collapse and the housing project, involving eighteen new houses and the conversion of the castle itself into eleven flats, was put forward as a means of financing its restoration (so-called enabling development). But the inquiry inspector, Mr. A.D. Poulter, found that the scheme was not sustainable and that there would be significant harm to the landscape and historic setting. Action is certainly needed to bring Ruperra back from the brink and in these cases it can be tempting to fall gratefully into the arms of those offering what appears to be salvation. But the temptation should be resisted if what is offered would radically compromise the special character and interest of the historic building. That would certainly have been so here, and we are delighted that the judgement of the conservation lobby has been vindicated at public inquiry, with the inspector concluding that there was 'a realistic prospect that more sympathetic proposals could be developed and could be viable'. Read the inspector's report.     

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Seeing through glass

"Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall", ran the Elizabethan rhyming jibe when Bess of Hardwick's palatial country house was built in Derbyshire in the 1590s. There's a hint of envy in it, of course. Large windows were and are functionally desirable in the dull English weather but glass was expensive in the late sixteenth century so having lots of it, and displaying it ostentatiously, was an assertion of status and a public reminder of personal wealth. (Bess was England's second richest woman). These days, the reverse is just as likely to be true. The expense of cladding a large building in something other than glass can be prodigious - it has been said that the British Museum's recent concession in sinking below ground one of the pavilions that forms part of its planned Exhibition and Conservation Centre was prompted at least as much by cost considerations as by heritage-based ones. Yes, excavation is expensive, but the savings on above-ground cladding make it potentially cost-neutral. At any rate, glass is now ubiquitous; tediously so when handled by lesser architects, to the extent that one cries out for something richer and more rewarding such as Alan Short's School of Slavonic & East European Studies in Bloomsbury (pictured). Notice how, paradoxically, the interior hierarchy of the building is differentiated much more clearly by this largely opaque facade. An all-glass facade, for all its apparent transparency, would have made it harder to read the interior, partly because (as the picture shows) glass actually reads as a dark mass for most of the time. The Georgians understood that - take a look at Vitruvius Britannicus and you'll see that all the windows are drawn in black. We're now so conditioned to vast expanses of glass in new architecture that buildings like Short's elicit a gasp of delighted surprise in much the same way that an innovative glass building such as the Oriel Chambers in Liverpool must have done when it appeared in Water Street in 1864. And it's unsurprising that one of the most uplifting pieces of English architecture in the past fifteen years is, ironically, underground: Michael Hopkins's Westminster Jubilee Line Station, where windows weren't an option. These days, old-fashioned solidity is startlingly novel, and pleasurably so.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Dodging bullets with tall buildings

Tall buildings policies are generally thought of as restrictive - the guiding impulse being to protect views and historic character, as in London - but the paradox is that anything restrictive is also permissive. If tall buildings are proscribed in certain places, then the implication is that they're permissible, in principle at least, elsewhere and the law of unintended consequences means that you might actually encourage them in places where you haven't banned them. This was our concern last year when Bath looked at a tall buildings policy - in our view, nothing other than a blanket proscription is tolerable in first-rank historic cities such as Bath and Oxford, and by ring-fencing the city centre you might prompt canny developers to scent an opportunity on the periphery. Today's news that Northern Ireland environment minister Edwin Poots is to implement a fresh tall buildings policy for Belfast demonstrates that such policies are not always driven by the best interests of conservation: Poots is quoted as saying that "People are looking to maximise land use. Tall buildings are acceptable but not in all locations." The objective of the exercise, in other words, is more to identify where you may build them than to state where you may not. The result can be visually very messy indeed. Take London, for example, where the policy is directed solely at protecting specified viewing corridors, principally those to St Paul's from outlying eminences such as Parliament Hill and King Henry's Mound in Richmond Park. This leads to some very odd results, with tall buildings permitted in the centre of London as long as they sit outside - sometimes inches outside - the protected viewing corridor. The reductio ad absurdum of the policy is that some buildings, such as the so-called Cheese Grater, are morphed to avoid impinging on the corridor: its moniker derives from the fact that it's heavily chamfered, almost like a comic-book hero sucking in his midriff to avoid a bullet. Less absurd, perhaps, to adopt a cordon sanitaire such as that in Paris; it would work well in London, were the possibility not scuppered by the politics of competition between the City of London and Canary Wharf.      

Thursday, 14 January 2010

More unlisted Georgian buildings demolished

This truncated historic terrace in Upper St Martin's Lane, London WC2 was the last vestige of the Georgian street - all of it has now gone to make way for a shopping development, although it is a matter of yards from the historic Seven Dials quarter and sympathetic redevelopment of the sixties block to the left could have knitted these four houses back into the tight urban grain of Covent Garden. We argued for exactly that, and for the Seven Dials conservation area to be extended to embrace them, but the developers won the day with a plan for an antiseptic, chain-store shopping centre that will see the replacement of both the Georgian houses and the sixties block. Except that, curiously, the sixties block is still standing while a new building is already rising on the cleared site of the rump Georgian terrace. Have the plans been scaled down in response to recessionary pressures? If so, it's ironic that the part of the site with greatest townscape and historic value has gone while that with least has survived. Especially as the site owner, and client for the scheme, is The Worshipful Company of Mercers, an ancient City of London livery company with a charitable foundation that has a commendable record of funding the restoration of historic buildings. As Thoreau said (in the 1850s) 'If you should ever be betrayed into any of these philanthropies, do not let your left hand know what your right hand does, for it is not worth knowing'.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Saving (and recording) pubs

The Department for Culture today updated the listing description for The Old Spotted Dog in Forest Gate, East London, but the pub itself (in a part-Georgian building) has sadly now closed. In 2008 one pub closed every week on average and although many are not in Georgian buildings their names often have echoes that go back further than the architecture and their signs are often highly resonant. To lose this is to lose not only a drinking place but an evocation of local history and a thought-provoking, open-air art gallery. Fortunately we still have The Jeremy Bentham close to where his Auto-Icon (his dressed skeleton topped with a wax head) is displayed at University College London, and the Henry Holland survives next to Selfridges, as does the Grafton Arms near Fitzroy Square (FitzRoy meaning 'illegitimate son of the King' and the first Duke of Grafton being exactly that). But the Baynard Castle in the City and the Antigallican in Tooley Street, Southwark, have both gone. Part of the problem is that the breweries are behaving like the proverbial dog in the manger and applying restrictive covenants so that pubs they offload cannot be reopened as pubs by new owners.  Some breweries have bowed to pressure and dropped these and other covenants have been successfully challenged. In the meantime, please do share with us photographs of pubs with Georgian connections (even if the building is later) and we'll encourage people to patronise them.

Georgian Group Journal 2011 - call for papers

Published annually and edited by Dr Geoffrey Tyack, our Journal is the authoritative journal of record for early modern architecture in Britain. It covers architecture and related aspects of material culture, such as sculpture, painting, building management and land development, in the period 1660-1840. The latest volume includes articles by Dr Simon Thurley on Kensington Palace, Richard Hewlings on White Lodge, David Wilson on Rysbrack's bust of The Earl of Macclesfield, Maxwell Craven on St Helen's House in Derby and Dr Sue Berry on Georgian Brighton.

Papers are now invited for Volume XIX, to be published in May 2011. We are seeking high-quality, original submissions (in the form of full articles of 3000-7500 words and notes & queries of up to 600 words) that further knowledge and understanding in relevant areas. Manuscripts should be emailed to robert@georgiangroup.org.uk by 30 September 2010. Full guidance for authors.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Revealed architecture - your views wanted


We’re looking for unusual views of Georgian buildings - especially those temporarily revealed by new development, which can often provide a rare opportunity to record elevations and details that are usually obscured. Sometimes the architect might never have intended them to be on view, in other instances they will have been hidden by later development, but in either case we are interested in receiving your pictures, current or historic, of revealed Georgian architecture.
To kick off, we reproduce this image of the east elevation of 22 Arlington Street, off Piccadilly, designed by William Kent for The Hon. Henry Pelham in the early 1740s. Once known as Wimborne House and now as Kent House, the building was recently acquired by The Ritz Hotel. Our photograph, courtesy of Donald Insall Associates, dates from 1975 and shows a rare long view of the east elevation during the building of Eagle Star House, which has obscured the house from the street for the past thirty-five years. Donald Insall restored the elevation during the Eagle Star construction project and one might hope that further redevelopment of the Eagle Star site will allow Kent House to be visible once more from Arlington Street.

Please send your examples with as much relevant annotation as you can provide to michael@georgiangroup.org.uk.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Image of the Week No1

Each week we'll publish a picture (of a Georgian building) that's caught our attention by virtue of artistic merit or architectural/historic interest or because it shows a familiar building in a new or unusual light. We welcome contributions from home or abroad, so please get in touch  (office@georgiangroup.org.uk) if you've taken a photograph you'd like to see on our blog. Include something about the building and the circumstances of the shot if possible.    


Our first image, taken by Simon Wardle, shows the octagon at St James’s Church in Teignmouth, Devon, a fine but little-known creation of 1817-21 by W.E. Rolfe, a pupil of Soane’s. 

Sunday, 10 January 2010

New research renews calls for the retention of original sash windows


For the first time in England, scientific evidence is available to counter some of the misconceptions about the energy efficiency of original timber sash windows, a unique feature of England’s built heritage which is under threat and fast disappearing.

English Heritage has released the findings of a study into the thermal performance of traditional sash windows using a 2x2 timber sliding sash window dating which had been rescued from a skip. The results showed that even the simplest repair and basic improvements would bring significant reduction of draughts and heat loss and that using a combination of these methods would upgrade a window to meet Building Regulations targets.

The principal findings are that:
  • simple repairs to mend cracks and eliminate gaps can significantly reduce the amount of air infiltration or draughts. On the window that was tested, air infiltration was reduced by one third;
  • air infiltration through a sash window in good condition can be reduced by as much as 86% by adding draught proofing;
  • heat loss through contact with the glass and frames can be significantly reduced by adopting simple measures like closing thick curtains and plain roller blinds. In the test, heat loss was reduced by 41% and 38% respectively;
  • more elaborate measures reduce heat loss even more and can improve windows to meet modern Building Regulations, which target a U value for windows of 2 or below. In a test with good quality secondary glazing, this value was 1.7. Well-fitted, closed shutters also produce similarly good results. The best result is when the two methods are used together, resulting in a 62% reduction in heat loss and a U-value of 1.6.
The research comes at a time when many public and privately owned historic buildings will be subject to refurbishment and retro-fitting to improve their energy performance in order to meet the Government’s ambitious climate change targets.

Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: “It is very encouraging to see that more buildings are being refurbished to meet modern energy requirements, but all too often a drastic and insensitive approach has led to the degradation of our streetscapes. Many original timber sash windows have lasted more than two hundred years and are capable of lasting another century.  This piece of research provides the hard evidence that shows how easy it is to upgrade them and supports our call for their retention.”


Chris Wood, Head of Building Conservation and Research Team at English Heritage, who commissioned the research at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “There is a lot of misunderstanding about the potential for historic buildings to be brought up to date. We hope this research will herald serious rethinking, and help homeowners and local authorities refurbish historic buildings with the confidence that modern standards can be met without compromising historic character.”

Read the full report.

Royal Coat of Arms conserved with help from The Georgian Group


Through the F. E. Cleary Heritage Fund (commonly known as The Cleary Fund), The Georgian Group gives small grants each year towards the repair and restoration of Georgian buildings and monuments in the United Kingdom. This adds a highly practical and positive dimension to our conservation work; in many instances, even though the amount of money given is small in absolute terms, the grant makes a major difference to the viability of a restoration scheme. The intention is to pump-prime schemes, prompt other sources to make grants and to fund specific elements in larger schemes. One of our most recent grants has helped towards the restoration of a framed canvas depicting the Royal Arms of George I at St Mary's Church, Kingswood, Gloucestershire. Our picture, just taken, shows the arms cleaned and conserved. The Sovereign's Arms are often found in English churches, sometimes carved from wood or less often from stone, sometimes painted as here, as a symbol of the Monarch's position as Supreme Governor of The Church of England.

The Trials of Queen Caroline

Caroline of Brunswick’s histrionics are well-documented. Here, Lucy Worsley sheds light on her lesser-known but equally long-suffering namesake, Caroline of Anspach

Queen Caroline (1683–1737), a very human ray of Enlightenment in the otherwise murky and rather nasty world of the early Georgian court, had many excellent qualities, enough to make this clever, funny but almost forgotten queen my favourite of all. A warm, friendly, personality, she was endlessly laughing, crying, complaining about bores, teasing her servants, hobnobbing with intellectuals whenever she could escape drawing room duties.  (She had to mediate in the epic row between her two pet philosophers, Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, about which of them had discovered calculus). She was also interested in radical religion, art and science and was one of the first to have her children inoculated against smallpox.  The art of injecting a child with a little pus to bring on a mild bout was brought back to England from Constantinople by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and when Caroline had her own children treated, there was uproar: how could something so counterintuitive possibly work, associated as it was with women and Turks?  But work it did, and by supporting inoculation Caroline very publicly placed her faith in medicine and struck a blow for science. 

She was born in Anspach, a tiny German state; orphaned early, she was shunted by her relations from court to minor court round Germany.  Blonde with a sweet smile and pretty hands, if rather plump, she eventually caught the eye of George Augustus, the son of the Elector of Hanover. He met her in romantic disguise as a private gentleman – incognito – before suffering a coup de foudre and passionately declaring his hand. In 1714, following the Hanoverian Succession, Caroline became Princess of Wales, daughter-in-law of George I. But George I had a violent hatred of Caroline and his son, who he rightly thought were plotting against him, and restricted access to their children. The eldest son, Frederick, was made to stay behind in Hanover as the family’s representative there. Her next son was seized, after Caroline’s husband refused to apologise after a stupid court quarrel.  (The Hanoverian habit of mangling the English language was to blame: George Augustus snarled angrily that he would ‘find’ the Duke of Newcastle to give him a piece of his mind but the Duke misheard it as ‘fight’ and thought he had been challenged to a duel.)  Unfortunately this second son died in the king’s care after just a few months: Caroline saw him just once before the end.  And Caroline was allowed to see her three girls only on Sundays. So she had a second, junior family: two more girls and a boy, to whom she was an excellent mother.  

In 1727 Caroline’s husband became king and they moved together into Kensington Palace. Historians give him credit for acting as a constitutional rather than an absolute monarch, but behind the scenes Caroline controlled much political business. One particularly rude political cartoon of the day shows her injecting a powerful sedative into his posterior in order to make him compliant.  The King occupied himself with mistresses, notably the unhappily-married Henrietta Howard, and especially in the last decade of her life Caroline found herself sidelined, stout and worn out by gout (she was rolled round the palace in the wheeled chair originally designed to carry a ‘Sea Goddess’ in a court masque). 

She consoled herself with her 3,000 books: we hear her laughing at Gulliver’s Travels; being read aloud to each day to pass the tedious hours at the toilette; sending out a lady-in-waiting to get her ‘all my Lord Bacon’s works’. Perversely, despite Caroline’s pioneering role in public health, the inadequacies of eighteenth-century medicine were eventually to kill her.  Documents in the Royal Archives record Caroline’s prodigious shopping sprees: red-heeled slippers, twenty fans a quarter, four silver girdles in a single month, two sets of whalebone hoops for skirts annually.  But she purchased curiously few sets of stays (forerunners of the corset).  This was with good reason.  Since her final pregnancy, Caroline had suffered from an umbilical hernia and could not bear to have anything tight around her middle. Nor could she bear to have anyone know about such an embarrassing disorder, and she always kept on her shift when being undressed by her ladies.  

Finally, in 1737, part of her bowel appeared through the hernia and she could not disguise the fact that she was seriously ill. Her doctors should have pushed the loop of bowel back inside and left the hole to heal, but instead they cut it off. Now Caroline’s digestive system was destroyed and she took ten days to die. During these last days, Caroline more than ever proved her steadfastness of spirit.  Although she was in agony, unable to swallow morphine, she kept up her courage. During daily operations she teased her surgeon Dr Ranby, telling him to imagine instead that he was cutting up his cross old wife whom he hated, and once, when an assistant’s wig caught fire from a candle burning in the darkened bedchamber, the operation had to stop while the queen laughed.  And in those ten horrible days, with all her children and all the court watching and waiting, her husband came back to Caroline. At eleven o’clock on the night of Sunday 20 November 1737, she said goodbye to her children, asked for the light to be put out, and died with her husband’s hand in hers.  He promised never to marry again and planned for their dust to mingle in a joint coffin. 

Reprinted from the latest issue of The Georgian, the magazine of the Georgian Group. Lucy Worsley is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces. Her next book, Courtiers, The Secret History of Kensington Palace, is  published by Faber & Faber on 6 May 2010. It tells the stories of the royal servants depicted in William Kent’s paintings on the King’s Grand Staircase at the palace. Hear Lucy Worsley at the Georgian Group on 3 June 2010

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Another part of Georgian London about to go?


This Georgian workhouse in the shadow of the BT Tower in Central London is under threat of demolition to make way for luxury housing. Originally called the Covent Garden Workhouse (and marked as such on Horwood's map - see below) and for much for twentieth century occupied by the National Health Service, it has for the past couple of years provided short-term accommodation for homeless people; but in expectation of an upturn in the housing market, developers have put in a planning application which if approved and implemented would see it disappear altogether. Remarkably, the building is unlisted. We tried to get it listed two years ago and were backed by English Heritage, but the Government turned down the request. Don't assume that all Georgian buildings have special legal protection - there are still plenty of pre-1840 buildings that have no additional statutory protection at all.

Find your way around Georgian London


Horwood's 1799 map, available online courtesy of Motco.com, is an excellent tool for orienting yourself around Georgian London. Bottom left of the extract shown here is Fitzroy Square, where the Georgian Group is based. Only the east and south sides, by Robert Adam, have at this stage been built - work was suspended for more than a quarter of a century following the death of Adam in 1792 and more particularly the advent of the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted from 1803 to 1815 but were preceded by a period of economic uncertainty that put a dampener on the speculative building trade. As with a good deal of Georgian London, Fitzroy Square was speculatively built; the aesthetic impact of Adam really stops at the facades, which are masterly compositions but behind which are fairly conventional townhouses with none of Adam's trademark interior decoration.

Pass on the salt - try grit instead


If you need to de-ice pavements that run alongside stone or brick buildings, try using grit instead of pounds of salt, which works itself into stone pores and, in the worst cases, can cause complete structural disintegration. Limestone is particularly susceptible. Dissolved road salt causes problems by migrating through the masonry with rising damp, typically visible as a 'tide mark' of staining above ground level. So avoid near historic buildings if possible.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Georgian houses are best long-term investment


Georgian houses attract a 43% price premium and have now recovered to less than 5% below their peak 2007 prices, according to new research form Savills and Knight Frank. As an investment, in other words, they significantly outperform other types; the next best performers are Victorian homes with a 20% premium. If you have a Georgian house to sell, why not try GeorgianProperty.com, the online agency that ploughs all its income back into the charitable work of the Georgian Group? So when you sell your home you're also helping to save Georgian  buildings. The house pictured here, in South Bucks, is currently on the market with Georgian Property.com for £595,000.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Saving Georgian Liverpool


This derelict terrace of around 1819 in Dale Street, Liverpool, was recently listed GII and is within a World Heritage Site and conservation area, but its condition had been allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that demolition had become a real possibility. Towards the end of 2008 we gave £1,000 to enable the Heritage Trust for the North West, a building preservation trust, to look at ways of saving the buildings. The grant had an immediate positive effect by making possible a structural survey which showed that the buildings could be restored without the need for a road closure. This had been a major sticking point with the City Council, whose offices are directly opposite. The terrace now seems likely to be saved and restored.

Busy year ahead

There's no room for complacency in our fight to preserve Georgian buildings; at any one time, even in 2010, several are under threat of demolition. We blogged on just one example at the end of 2009. We need your support, so please join us if you can.