A helping hand

The National Trust works with many partners to promote and conserve the landscape, flora and fauna at Wimpole Estate.  One huge success has been the contributions made through an Environmental Stewardship Agreement, which have enabled essential works to be carried out to improve the parkland.

This great work is explained below….

I’m Alice Bateman and I work for Natural England in our Cambridge office. I have been involved in the setting up of the Environmental Stewardship schemes like the one at Wimpole National Trust for the last six years.

Wimpole’s folly conservation project


I am delighted to be working with Paul Coleman and Richard Morris from Wimpole to support the natural environment and heritage works that are underway at the Estate. It’s ensuring that this wonderful historic building and its parkland landscape continues to benefit people and wildlife into the future.

Through an Environmental Stewardship agreement, we are supporting wildlife conservation and parkland restoration here. Natural England has funded the management plan that has guided the repairs work to the Folly and we are helping to fund the restoration work with a contribution of £200,000. The agreement is also helping to safeguard and improve important wildlife habitats on the estate such as planting new trees, grazing the parkland with rare breed sheep and cattle, and managing the land in ways that will benefit declining farmlands birds including Grey Partridge, Skylarks and Lapwing and rare arable plants such as the Wild Pansy, Venus Looking Glass and Dwarf Spurge.

I would really encourage you to take a walk round the estate and have a look at the impressive historic parkland landscape.

Genius Loci

Genius Loci

Originally referring to the presiding protective deity or spirit of the place, in contemporary usage, ‘genius loci’, refers to a location’s distinctive placeness, that is its past, current and future essence. In place making, the intention of creating place is embedded in evoking a deeper and more intuitive relationship between people and the places they inhabit.

So I have been cogitating on “Spirit of (the) Place”, me and several others if truth to be told.  It occurred to me as a lapsed scientist to go check the data and see what that says of Sop. Had a few problems finding said data but in the end found a couple of articles one of which was a submission to a learned architectural journal.

Once I had managed to decipher the polysyballic morass, which was no doubt intended to clarify and remove the curtains of ignorance, I came to the following conclusion: there is no easy definition of SoP.

All the articles agreed that a place could have its own spirit but that like Schroedingers Cat it would be changed or interpreted (or both) by its observer.  The one thing they all agreed on was ambiguity. While SoP could exist on its own, say in a wooded glen next a babbling brook exuding peace and tranquillity, that SoP is changed by how it is perceived and by the personality and desires of the observer.

If a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody there to hear it does it make a sound?

So what to me is the SoP of the Wimpole Estate?

This picture to me evokes the Spirit of Place.You decide what it means for you.
To me it’s the view of the house and being on a Shire drawn carriage on a sunny day and the way that all coalesces into a tingle up the back and a feeling of secure pleasure.

I was going to write more about the driving courses but I will save that for later and leave you to enjoy the house and the horse

A hive of activity inside the Folly

This week, Cliveden Conservation Conservator, Andrea Walker, talks us through the restoration work taking place inside the Folly.

2-The Upper Mezzanie, before removing decayed flrbrds

The Upper Mezzanine, before removing decayed floorboards

3-The Upper Mezzanine, cleaned and joist replacement in progress

The Upper Mezzanine, cleaned and joist replacement in progress

With the colder, wetter, winter weather descending upon us, our Wood Conservation Team seems pretty pleased with themselves – they’re the only ones working indoors!

1-investigating the floor from below

Investigating the floor from below

Working their way down, level by level, they are repairing and reinstating the floors inside the Main Tower.

The safest access is via the Prospect Room window. Luck for us, the stone tracery was missing and we were able to install a temporary door there. But with this as our only point of access, it has been tricky getting these lovely new long oak joists up and in through the space.






Because space is limited and for safety reasons with the lack of floors, we’ve kept the wood team to a maximum of 2 people while working inside the Tower.

New joists

The process is similar for each floor: open up the floor by clearing off all the detritus, clean floorboards if they exist, clear out between the joists, survey the timber, discuss and agree a method to preserve as much of the original timberwork as possible, measure up, order the materials and do the work.

In the opening up process, I’m sorry to say we haven’t come across any “concealed items” (such as shoes, newspapers, coins or dead cats). So far we’ve it’s been more pigeon poo (if you’ve been following The Folly blog you’ll know why this is not surprising) and more general detritus than anything else, however, in the floor below the Prospect Room, we discovered a large beehive.  Initially it was thought to only be located at the mouth of an open arrow slit in the room, but once the floorboards was up, it was evident the honeycombs extended as far back into the room as the landing, sandwiched between 2 joists.

4-a small amount of the honeycomb found in the floor

Honeycomb found in the floor

Beautiful! And it smelled lovely! But once the bees started to swarm…It did mean that, until the bees were removed, the Wood Team had to join the rest of us outdoors.

Nordic Walking at Wimpole

Two beginners to Nordic Walking talk about their experience of it during a couple of taster sessions run at Wimpole recently.

nordic walking

Nordic walking at Wimpole! What could be better?

Sandra says “It was a beautiful autumn morning in the most beautiful surroundings in which to try this new sport. I am an experienced long distance walker in cities and mountains, and wished to find something that would offer me a new challenge. I believe Nordic walking is that challenge.

Under the careful and thorough tuition of Mandy I was quickly able to grasp the basics and thoroughly enjoyed our jaunt through the beautiful country estate of Wimpole to the folly and back. I have now signed up to the 4 week course and am very much looking forward to learning more and honing my technique. I would highly recommend the taster session as a fantastic introduction to thus energetic and energising pastime!”

Val writes . . . My Grandson and I had a very nice hour on Sunday morning, with Mandy our teacher learning how to use the ski poles in Nordic walking. My grandson, who is fifteen years old and not really a sporty type, really enjoyed the experience. After having about twenty minutes getting used to the poles ( walking up and down on grass), Mandy took us walking around the grounds, ( it’s not that easy) especially when you go up an incline. When we had finished our lesson it felt strange walking normal again, I felt it was a very good workout, better than going to the gym.

To find out more 

Just like the Isle of Wight

This week, Paul Coleman, Project Manager, talks about the mortar mixing process up at the Folly.

1 Amazing coloured sands

Amazing coloured sand

At the Folly its just like the Isle of Wight, coloured sand of every shade and texture everywhere.

Conservation take on a scientific approach where we’ve been looking at mortars (the stuff that sticks the bricks and stones together). We’ve been sampling different old mortars in the laboratory, analysing them to determine their make up and ingredients. Taking samples of the material, setting them in resin and taking very, very thin slices of them – we then, under high resolution magnification, can see what they put in the mix.

Yes ‘ingredients’ as like any cake its about putting in the right stuff to match the appearance and texture but also to make sure it performs structurally (the stick and stay test) but allows water (rain) to absorb and evaporate and for it to be not too soft or hard— the latter will damage the surrounding stone. So it is a complex process of getting the right components to put in the mixing pot.  Porosity is important, as if water is trapped in the mortar or surrounding stone it will freeze and result in damage – so it has to breathe! A term we use widely with our old buildings (the process of absorption and evaporation)

So by adding different colours of sand, different texture of material (gritty, lumpy or smooth), sands, bits and bobs we are replicating the existing historic/old mortars.

2 Measuring the mixes for the samples

Measuring the mixes for the samples

So a typical mix includes for Brick Pointing (the stuff which you see between the bricks)

1 Hydraulic lime
1/2 Hydrated lime
1 coarse washed sand – light brown
1 fine sand – silver grey
1 ginger sand
1 coarse Bath stone dust
1/2 fine Bath stone dust
1/2 coarse Chalk chips
1/4 Grit
Small sprinkle of Scalpings

The result is a light golden mix with lots of texture, quite rough but in appearance has lots of bits and bobs which give it a coarse surface.

This is just one of the mixes being used and there are a number of different ones which we use for different locations and types of repair on the Folly ruin.

So building is not all bish bash bosh, we do think carefully about what we are doing.

The conservators use tools such as small hawk, mild steel pointing iron, brick jointer, water sprayer, small bucket trowel for application and hessian rag, soft and hard churn brush for finishing it.

3 Applying the mortar repair with care

Applying the mortar repair with care

4 Applied and ready to be brushed to open the face and reveal the texture

Applied and ready to be brushed to open the face and reveal the texture

5 The finished mortar joint

The finished mortar joint

6 Look closely at the colour, texture and bits and bobs

Look closely at the colour, texture and bits and bobs

So a wall is not just a wall !!, next time you look at an old building, be an forensic expert and look at the wall closely. Now look closer, see if you can spot the texture (rough, sandy, smooth, ragged), what colour (white, grey, orange, cream, beige), what bits are in it / inclusions (stone, grit, white lumps, shell)

So why is it important to spend so much effort on getting it right ?,  well not only do we want the walls to perform in the way they should. What is equally important is the visual character and interest, the colours, the texture – we spend a lot of time talking about the character of the building in conservation.

7 Character of the wall with texture, colour and movement

Character of the wall with texture, colour and movement

8 Old joint left hand side, new joint right hand side

Old joint left hand side, new joint right hand side

9 An overall appearance of Loveliness

An overall appearance of loveliness

Performance is important we need to make sure the mortar is breathable, and fits with its surrounding material (either stone or brick in the Follies case),  it should not be too hard as will cause damage to the surrounding materials, it has to be tough based on its level of exposure (on the top of the walls we use a harder mix as it is more exposed to weather).  Its all about knowing where the mortar is to go and how it should perform.  We need it to be compatible with the original historic materials also, so our mortar should have a vapour-permeability similar to, or greater than, that of adjacent historic materials, be visually compatible with surviving mortars and/or with the original appearance of the building and should reflect how the original building was put together and the methods used at that time.

10 Shades, patterns and colour

Shades, patterns and colour

So a little about the materials…..

Sand can come in a variety of colours (greys, blacks, greens, yellows, creams, oranges) Sands are usually described as “soft” or “sharp”. With lime mortars “sharp”, angular coarse sand provides good strength and if well-graded, aids water vapour permeability while “soft” sands often provide good colour – so we mix both to give different features.

The lime,  well this is another blog I’m afraid as this is the important stuff which binds the mix together and we select the type in accordance with the type of repair being undertaken.  We use Hydraulic, non hydraulic, hydrated, Lime putty in tubs and each come with a hardness rating….. very confusing….

Stone dust, adds colour and fine texture,

Chalk adds texture, the lumpy white bits,

Grit and scalping’s add texture, the lumpy black, grey and amber colours . . .

A view from the Balcony

Karen Teideman-Barrett, Conservation Architect at Donald Insall talks about designing the replacement balcony and stair at the Folly entrance.

19th Century Photograph with balcony and stair in place

19th Century photograph with balcony and stair in place

Work is underway at the Folly and the Towers and Walls are covered in scaffold.  Earlier in the project, the only way into the Gothic Tower was through the basement and squeezing through a narrow opening into the Ground Floor and, at the same time, ensuring that the pigeons kept out.

We know from historic photographs of the Folly, that there was a wooden stair leading to a balcony in front of the main entrance into the Tower.  This would have been in use during the time that the Tower was the Game keeper’s cottage, from 1805 until the late 1920s.   By the 1970s, this outside staircase was in very poor condition and had almost collapsed and so was taken down.  Now, a new balcony and stair is to be constructed in place of the former stair.

Shadow of Stair on Brickwork c1970s

Shadow of stair on brickwork c.1970s

- and today

. . . and today

Using historic photographs as our starting point, we took detailed measurements of the brickwork on the rear of the tower; we examined brick pockets in the walls that once held timber joists which supported the balcony; we looked at dark shadow lines on the brick where the stair was once positioned.

Yellow brick path uncovered by Oxford Archaeology

Yellow brick path uncovered by Oxford Archaeology

On the ground close to the Tower, investigation work by Oxford Archaeology has uncovered yellow brick paths around the door to the Basement.   These brick paths helped to position the stair and to judge its scale and width.  Some more soil may be cleared away from this area to see how far the brick extends around the basement entrance.

Having collected all this information we are able to develop the stair design and produce scaled drawings so that a new timber stair can be made and installed.  The reconstruction of the balcony will make sense of the two doors at the back of the Tower and will provide access so that the interior can be maintained.

Magnificent with a capital ‘M’

Gusting wind, horizontal rain, pigeons and cold are some of the unpleasant things about working on top of the Folly at Wimpole.  However, the project does have many benefits and one of them is the amazing view which you get of the Cambridgeshire countryside.

The conservation works continue and we have talked about the Crenulations which will adorn the tower in previous blogs – but it is now happening.  The top is prepared and we are about to see the first pieces of new stone inserted which will provide a fitting cap to the tower.

With the aid of modern technology you can now see exactly where our conservators are working and the Magnificent views across the park but watch out you need a head for heights, even whilst sitting in your arm chair. Open the link and scroll around for a 360 of the estate