Frodsham Case Study by Heather Sutton

Architect: Purcelll Miller Tritton Liverpool
Main Contractor: Maysand

The restoration of the century-old conservatory in Castle Park, Frodsham combined detective work, painstaking research and good honest craftsmanship.Badly damaged in an arson attack, the conservatory refurbishment formed a significant part of a much broader £3.2m restoration of the park.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Big Lottery Parks for People, the other work included improving the historic gardens and new features in the park.

The conservatory project involved replacing the defective timbers using cedar and Douglas Fir, repairs to the lead work, the gutters and weather bars. We then installed new laminated ‘cylinder’ glass panes.

But a crucial element of helping this phoenix rise from the flames was in re-establishing the cast iron work, but before could attempt to replace what had been lost we had to work out just what that meant. We had to call in the detectives. At an early stage we teamed up with Wigan-based Lost Art who specialize in historic landscape furnishings for the cast iron. Like any job of this nature it started with historical research.

Thankfully, the local authority had done some digging and provided us with lots of old photographs of the original structure. Dominic Liptrot of Lost Art says: “We have many of the original catalogues from foundries dating back to 1860 so we look to see if we can recognize the work and see if we can identify a particular foundry. On this project we could not find an exact match  — I have a feeling it might have been a bespoke job.”

After studying the evidence Dominic’s team then set about developing plans for the cast iron structure. Once those were agreed Lost Art made wooden pattern prototypes and took them to site so that the scale could be gauged more accurately before have the cast iron made. It was important that the timberwork, leadwork and the cast iron element came together as one.

As ever the timescales were relatively tight but we worked well with Lost Art and the architects Purcelll Miller Tritton and developed a really good understanding. What could have been a very tricky assignment turned into a very real team effort.

Inside the Maysand team worked on repairs to the geometric tiled floor. The final touch came with the installation of new state-of-the-art wall wash lights which give the centre a magical glow in the evenings. The new-look conservatory is used as an information centre and community meeting space for events and exhibitions. It is also be part of the weddings package at Castle Park.

Chetham’s School by Heather Sutton

Chetham’s in Manchester is renowned as a world-class music school. It is also famous for its grade-1 listed medieval buildings, so when a very specialised restoration project became necessary, Maysand was asked to carry out the work. An experienced and respected team of professionals representatives from English Heritage, architect Alan Jackson of David Walker Design and engineer Fred Tandy worked together with Maysand to resolve timber problems in Chetham’s cloisters, and masonry decay in Fox Court.

Built in 1421 as a collegiate foundation for the cathedral next door, Chetham’s is red sandstone, with contrasting stone dressings and roofed in stone. The buildings are grouped around a central courtyard with a defensive entrance gate typical of medieval building style. or the cathedral fellows, each entered by a separate doorway from the cloister walks which are two-storeyed.

“Chetham’s is a fascinating place,” says Bryn Lisle, Maysand’s MD. “The Chetham’s Library was the first free public library in the world. The buildings are set right in city centre Manchester and its boundaries form part of the city’s original walls. In fact it’s one of the most complete late-medieval residential complexes to survive in the north west of England, so obviously we were really keen to get involved.”

The problem was that the beam end bearings in the cloisters had decayed and gaps were starting to appear. There was also evidence of wet rot and deathwatch beetle as a result of 500 years of water seepage so the team devised a method to reserve and retain as much of the original fabric as possible.

Architect Alan Jackson explains: “Normally we would tackle a problem like this from above, but the cloisters are directly below the library store which would have meant decanting around 100,000 books many antique and very rare. So we came up with a plan to carefully remove the bottom section of the beam and the wall plate, cut away rotten sections of the beam, let the steel plate into the remaining beam and then reinstate as much of the original timber as possible. It was quite an experimental solution.”
In the event, despite having to work around the school’s exam timetable, Maysand successfully completed the work in 8 weeks, including repairing or replacing masonry damaged by time and city centre pollution in Fox Court.

Architect Alan was more than happy with Maysand’s performance: “With a building that’s over 500 years old you can’t plan for everything so you have to be prepared to adapt the plans as you go, but that all adds to the interest. When it comes to the application of the theory though, you need someone who is not only skilled at their craft, but flexible and capable of working with the team too. Maysand was methodical, meticulous and dedicated and I’m happy that, together, we’ve achieved the best possible repair on this architectural gem.”