Wednesday, 22 June 2016

MSc Historic Conservation: Field Trip to Bath, Somerset and Gloucestershire 2016

Every year, the students on the MSc Historic Conservation visit Bath and the surrounding area for a residential field trip. The site visits cover a variety of subjects and themes that are central to the course, including architectural history, urban design, heritage and the planning system, traditional building materials, building construction and repair, and conservation finance. The itinerary of the 2016 field trip, which took place on 26-28 May, is described below (with thanks to students and staff for the photos). Click on the blue links for more information...

Drawing tools belonging to the great Bath architect John Wood the Elder.

On the first day, the students visited the Museum of Bath Architecture. Housed in the 18th century Gothick Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel, the museum describes the architectural development of the city, from its Roman and medieval origins through its Georgian heyday right up to the present. Dr Amy Frost (Curator and Collections Manager, Bath Preservation Trust) gave a presentation and Q&A session on current planning and development pressures within the Bath World Heritage Site. The students then moved on to...

...Royal CrescentBuilt to the designs of John Wood the Younger  between 1767 and 1775, this vast semi-elliptical terrace of 30 houses, 538 feet across, is the most celebrated set-piece of Neoclassical architecture in the city – and perhaps in England. No. 1 Royal Crescent, the ‘best address in Bath’, is now open to the public as a museum…

…giving everyone the opportunity to raid the dressing-up box. Will you take tea, Miss Bennett? Meanwhile, back in the real world…

The students were given a tour of recent conservation projects in Bath by Adrian Neilson, Senior Conservation Officer at Bath and NE Somerset District Council. Here, Adrian is discussing the sensitive issue of stone cleaning of individual properties and its impact on the unified appearance of the Royal Crescent.

This photo shows the replica historic ironwork recently installed outside a 1780s townhouse in Great Pulteney Street. Most of the original wrought-iron railings and gates were carted off for scrap during the Second World War, but attempts have been made of late to reinstate these ornamental features – to designs drawn up in consultation with the local planning authority – and thus restore the original appearance of this magnificent street.

The first day ended with a visit to the Holburne Museum. Housed in a Grade I-listed former hotel building of 1794, the museum recently employed Eric Parry Architects to design a dramatic rear extension clad in plate glass and grey-green ceramic. It won a major RIBA award on completion in 2012, but its uncompromising modernity and dominant bulk are not to all tastes. The debate continues!

On the second day the students visited Wells Cathedral Stonemasons, a major stonework contractor specialising in repairs and alterations to historic buildings. Simon Armstrong (Director of WCS) gave a tour of the masons' yard, explaining the types of stone on site and the many processes involved in cutting and shaping them. With the help of some WCS apprentices the students then took part in a practical masonry workshop, trying their hand with various traditional stonemasons’ tools and techniques (the results are best described as mixed). And then...

...the party visited Wells Cathedral itself, taking a tour with one of the cathedral guides followed by a walk around the precincts. The photos show the view of the cathedral from Market Place, and the interior of the 13th century nave with the great scissor arches added in the 1340s to prevent the collapse of the central tower.

The cathedral’s west front features what is perhaps the finest display of high-medieval stone sculpture anywhere in England. Approximately 300 statues, mostly dating from about 1230, have survived, but the soft limestone has suffered increasing damage from weathering and air pollution. The restoration of the west front, carried out between 1974 and 1986, was a milestone in UK conservation practice, ushering in the use of lime-based consolidants in place of the more aggressive (and often counterproductive) techniques employed in earlier decades.

The students finished the second day with a visit to Vicars' Close (on the left) – a double row of 15th century clergy houses said to be the oldest intact residential street in Europe – and the moated Bishops' Palace (on the right).  

The final day began with a tour of Stoke Hill Mine and a talk from Matthew Hawker (Director and Mine Manager, Bath Stone Group). Stoke Hill is one of the major sources of Bath stone, the golden yellow oolitic limestone of which most of the city of Bath is built. The mine comprises several miles of underground tunnels, some 30 metres beneath the ridge of hills immediately south of the city. It has been worked since the late Middle Ages, but production ceased due to military requisitioning in WWII and did not resume. Stoke Hill finally reopened in 1982, when the development of mechanised techniques enabled the extraction of previously inaccessible beds of stone.

The final stop on the itinerary was Woodchester, a vast Victorian mansion buried deep in a Cotswold valley near Stroud. Commissioned by the Roman Catholic grandee William Leigh, the design – by the young architect Benjamin Bucknall – shows the influence of the great Gothic Revival designer-theorists AWN Pugin and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Work began in 1855, but the house was left unfinished on Leigh’s death in 1873, and remains so today, leaving an unparalleled display of neo-Gothic construction techniques as well as some serious conservation headaches. The students were given a talk and tour of the mansion with Ray Canham (Trustee, Woodchester Mansion Trust). The photos show some of the beautiful details in the mansion, including (middle row) a fireplace surround depicting the Garden of Eden, and a set of stone gargoyles functioning as shower nozzles and bath taps.

For more information about the MSc Historic Conservation at Oxford Brookes University, take a look at our website:

MSc Historic Conservation - student profile

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