Last edited 04 Sep 2022

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Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute / association Website

ASCHB Transactions


Transactions of ASCHB, the Association for Studies in the Conservation of Historic Buildings (Vol 44, 2022). Published since 1973.

The particular value of these transactions is the British case studies, as they often highlight important or overlooked buildings, their background history and the problems associated with their management. The successful repair solutions offered provide invaluable technical insights.

In this volume Lee Prosser gives an account of a masterpiece of the English baroque, the Orangery at Kensington Palace, one of the few architectural commissions by Queen Anne and holding an important position in architectural history. Authorship has been attributed variously to Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanbrugh, without this ever having been resolved satisfactorily. In the late 19th century the building helped inspire the Queen Anne revival.

After decades of use as a potting shed, it was restored in 1898 and given a new, Dutch-inspired garden in 1907; but for many years thereafter it formed little more than the shelter from the rain. For much of the 20th century the Orangery was a building with little useful purpose. It has recently been the subject of a regeneration project combining repair and selective cleaning. The article illustrates the very high quality of the brickwork and polychromy, and the painstaking approach needed to conserve much of the painted decoration, including carvings by Grinling Gibbons, careful paint analysis and cleaning.

An article by Erin Davidson discusses the current state of the somewhat contentious proposals for the Grade I listed Norwich Castle (which is also sited on a scheduled ancient monument) to generate a ‘world-class visitor experience’. The article is particularly noteworthy for explaining how the design aspirations by Feilden and Mawson have been tested against on-site investigation of the fabric, leading to amendment of the approvals originally granted.

At the other end of the scale, an article by Sherry Bates assesses a building in Barnett High Street where an early timber frame was discovered behind an unprepossessing facade and modern partitioning. The building had been listed Grade II in 1983 and perfunctorily misdescribed. Bates explains in detail the required reassessment and how this impacted the detailed conservation proposals. The approach to this project is well described, with exemplary illustrations. It is a textbook case as such seemingly humble buildings are quite often encountered but their heritage significance is often initially under-appreciated (some such are not necessarily even listed). The outcome can be very beneficial when they are assessed properly.

Following on from the Notre Dame fire, Steve Emery, fire officer for Oxford University, looks at the impact of fire on limestone. He describes an ongoing project to understand what effect heat has on the compressive strength of limestone and what this means in particular for the structural stability of English cathedrals if fire should occur, and identifies lessons for fire-fighting tactics. This is work in progress and the outcomes of fire testing are eagerly awaiting. Further work on the different structures of the roof timbers and how the spread of fire will progress has followed to inform how roofs will eventually collapse, and what effect this will have on the heated vaults below if left to burn. Comparisons can then be made on the various precautions that have been adopted around the country and whether they are appropriate for the particular circumstances.

With much continuing discussion about heritage significance and values-based practice, Kate Clark reprises some of the work that has been done since the 1990s (and in particular since Power of Place) on the development of heritage values and a continuous thread of reports regarding the values-based approach to managing change. Clark warns about what she sees as a recent, worrying move away from the more open and inclusive approaches to articulating value towards more closed approaches, based on discrete classifications of significance, determined by experts and fixed at the point of designation. She reminds us of the need to look for the hidden stories that are not being told, and to challenge received wisdom about the past rather than blindly checking boxes marked ‘significance’. This paper is particularly important and timely, reminding us of the need to question critically the values that shape our own practice.

Retrospection can often be useful in practice as well as process. Peter Rawlings sets out a case study on the use of earthen mortar when repairing a Grade II* dovecote at Barholm Old Hall in Lincolnshire. The south wall was repaired in the summer of 2016 as part of a comprehensive renovation of this building at risk. Earthen mortars were not used much in the UK after the 19th century, but they were successfully applied here. The article invaluably documents the context, assessment, trials and implementation, with a focus on how the earthen mortar was considered to have been successful some years after it was used.

This article originally appeared as ‘Transactions of ASCHB’ in the Institute of Historic Building Conservation’s (IHBC’s) Context 172, published in June 2022. It was written by Bob Kindred MBE.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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