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.”