Monday, 28 October 2013

Georgian Group Architectural Awards / Shortlist / Restoration of a Georgian Country House

There are two aspects to restoring country houses. One is about repairing fabric, perhaps dramatically so after a fire but also to address the depredations of time and longstanding neglect. The other, more subtle but no less important, is about revivifying a place, allowing it to recover its spirit. Our two shortlisted schemes, summarised below in alphabetical order, cover both aspects in varying degrees.

The first, Hadlow Tower in the Weald of Kent, might seem on the face of it an eccentric choice for this category. ‘Is this a country house?’ you might ask. The answer is ‘yes’, albeit the remnant of one. In its artificial state of splendid isolation it resembles a slightly madcap folly, but as at William Beckford’s Fonthill, on which it was modelled and where the Gothic tower reached 300 feet, it was actually built (in 1832) as part of a much larger country house. Hadlow is 100 feet shorter but far superior in sturdiness. Its condition had, however, deteriorated badly and ten years ago it was placed on the World Monuments Fund Watch List. Its saviour has been the Vivat Trust, which has rebuilt the 40ft lantern removed after storm damage in 1987 and has given the whole tower a sustaining coat of Roman cement, a render patented in the 1780s and later produced by Samuel Wyatt, brother of James who designed Fonthill. The craftsmanship and attention to detail have been deeply impressive and the result is spectacular both internally and externally.    

Our second scheme is Townhead, in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire. This fine early eighteenth century stone house was on the Buildings at Risk register and was languishing in deteriorating condition with significant structural movement and collapsing spine walls; its fragility was such that the panelling was almost holding it up.  Acquired in 2010 by the present owners, it has since been meticulously restored using traditional methods. The rendered north elevation has been freshly limewashed and the coursed rubble of the east front repointed in lime. Panelled rooms have been brought back from dereliction, as have overgrown outbuildings well on the path to terminal decay. This is a genuine rescue, because the house could easily have entered that crepuscular netherworld where it slid into terminal decrepitude. Instead, refreshed and revivified, it has recovered its long-absent joie de vivre as a family home. 

The awards will be presented by The Marquess of Salisbury on the evening on 29 October 2013.

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