Gathering pace as we head indoors…

Paul Coleman the Project Manager updates us on the lastest news from the Folly Project at Wimpole.

The Folly project is now in full swing with large areas of stonework repaired and conserved to the outside, however this week we have started to investigate the inside of the Folly and plan the 1st aid repairs to the structure.

Like the scene from a horror movie, cobwebs hanging from every surface, creaking doors and floor boards the interior of the Folly is in a very very fragile state.  Since its completion in 1772 and later conversion to the Game keepers cottage in 1805, up until the late 1920’s it was in use,  this kept the building alive and in someways in good order. The following decades have seen a rapid deterioration, especially in the 1970’s when the roof collapsed causing water to allow the rot and decay to take hold.  Added to this over 15 years of pigeons using the inside as a pigeon roost we see those fine spaces intended to be appreciated by the 2nd Earl of  Hardwick in 1772 and later the game keeper in need of emergency repair to stabilise and secure them.

7 Wall lath and plaster deteriorating

Wall lath and plaster deterioration

Decaying timber surrounds you, the acrid smell of pigeon guano fills the air, plaster is falling from the walls and the temporary builders lighting gives a warm glow inside – it is an assault on your senses but the rooms have a quality, an atmosphere of beauty through their gradual decay.

The Prospect Room sits at the top of the tower intended for entertaining and enjoyment with its Gothic arched doorways, windows and fireplace – but the floor structure in completely rotten, floor boards missing and the wall plaster crumbling.

4 Prospect room

Prospect Room fireplace and missing floors

5 Prospect room windows

Prospect room windows

8 Looking through the floors

Looking through the floors

The floor above the Prospect Room is completely missing and the floating circular staircase which ascends the building hugging the inside walls from the ground floor kitchen up through the tower is at a point of collapse.

6 Missing floor above

Missing Floor above Prospect Room

3 Plaster crumbling

Plaster walls deteriorating

When complete in 1772, the tower had a ground floor and one upper floor (the prospect room), later with the conversion for the gamekeepers cottage two additional floors were inserted between the ground floor and upper level, to allow bedrooms to be provided.

1 Ground floor kitchen range

Ground floor kitchen range










2 Staircase


1772 staircase handrail, enclosed in 1805 when additional floors were inserted into the building








We‘ve analysed the floor timbers remaining these were the original oak timbers, however the floor boards had been replaced in the past with more modern softwood boards.  The works will focus on making safe the floors and making the building weather tight, this will enable us to safely access the building to maintain it in the future and plan how we conserve or repair those special interior spaces.

We are also focusing on the windows to put back the leaded light metal windows,  there are large areas of repairs to reform these and we are working from historic photographs and small sections of glazing to reconstruct these.

9 Window fragment being copied

Window fragment being copied

A day in the life of a conservator at Wimpole

Andrea at Cliveden Conservation talks us through the day in the life of a conservator on site with the Folly Project at Wimpole.

Walking up to the Folly

Not a bad walk to work

Conservators work in all sorts of buildings, in varied locations, in all weather conditions. The Gothic Folly project is reasonably physically demanding: it’s a large site, on a hill in the middle of fields so everything takes a bit longer on the big scaffold, with many of ladders.

The members of our team live all over England and taking accommodation closer to Wimpole for the duration of the project has made our commute a bit easier.

Our day starts around 7.30am; we meet at our compound to sort our tasks for the day and gather our tools.

Hard capping repairs - Camilla

Hard capping repairs

Photo - Camilla under tarpoline

Checking the mortar

By 8am we’ve taken our places on the scaffold and work is in full swing: gathering water and materials, caring for pointing and mortar repairs from previous days, raking out joints, brushing down surfaces, knocking up a mix, making repairs, lime washing.






Morning Start - Liz and Steph

Morning start

Some of us chat while we work, others listen to the radio, some even sing. Sunny days are best; shirtsleeves rolled up and sunglasses on. When threatened by rain, we’ll have our rain gear close by and the extra tarpaulins at the ready to cover our work (and ourselves!).






Our Tea Time and Lunch breaks are called by a shout or a whistle across the folly. Once down the hill, with a hot drink and packed lunches in hand, we chat and catch up, grabbing mobile reception to make contact with the outside world, then head back up for the final push to the end of the day.


Grabbing some shade at lunch 2

Time for tea

Another shout across the folly signals it’s time to wrap up. We secure our work against the weather overnight, tidy, lock the site and head home for the evening, in time to get enough rest to get up and do it all over again the next day.

Ride the Estate

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Two of our magnificent Shires being ridden on the estate yesterday. Emma the boss is resplendent in the high viz jacket and riding Jacob who is just over 8 years old. Next to Emma is Melissa our seasonal groom on her last day with us before returning to university. Melissa is riding Harry who is 6 years old. We all hope she will come back next year (including Harry).
The shires are ridden as part of their exercise regime to keep them in tip top condition.
I was there as gate operative and spoke to several visitors who told me: “what a wonderful sight it is to see such splendid animals around the estate”. Lots of our customers mentioned how much they enjoy seeing our Shire horses either being ridden or pulling what someone described to me as “Wimpoles attractive carriage”.
Visitors tell me that seeing these beautiful animals around the estate adds so much to their enjoyment of their trip to Wimpole.Many of them express their gratitude that Wimpole is playing its part in protecting the Shire horse breed and making the effort to produce offspring like our yearling Wimpole Junes Lady

Is it just horse sense?



Sonny and Charlie discuss anthropomorphism and whether they are being overly optimistic about human capabilities

I have been thinking about the attachment that develops between humans and animals and how it can seem different depending on the animal and the situation.
While volunteering on the farm with the Shire Horses I have developed an emotional bond with all of them. This bond varies a bit with each horse and his or her personality (as perceived by me) but is strong with all of them. When I helped with the lambing in April there was no doubt that I bonded with the lambs I bottle fed – you can’t help it- but I still eat roast lamb. I haven’t developed an emotional bond with any of the stock animals (lambs apart).Why?
To bond or not to bond? Is it just that I see the horses as essentially a pet animal like a dog or cat and the sheep and cows as a stock animal and frankly a food source. I am confident that most visitors to the farm look at the horses as a pet animal – you can tell that from what they say and how they react. “can I stroke them?; whats his name?; how old is he?;I wish I had one” and so on. Do they react to the pigs and the cows in the same way? I don’t know, but we don’t eat horses do we.
I might just be a big softy.

Every day is a school day

Every day is a school day,  and the Gothic Folly is definitely throwing up some unusual terms and features.  Paul Coleman, Project Manager and Building Surveyor continues…..

Crenels, crenulation, merlons, machicolation, battlements, embrasures, coping and cap stones are all part of what made the ruin at Wimpole such a striking feature in the landscape giving it that sham castle appearance.  So what are these and why are they here?

When Sanderson Miller designed the Folly (1749-51) and when it was built in 1772, the intension was for it to have a romantic, castle-like appearance with mock fortifications; places from which to view the approaching enemy and defend your property. So we see a familiar castle design with stepped stone features, also called ‘crows teeth’ or crenulations.

Sanderson Miller’s original sketch

However, these features at the top of the building were constructed in a stone called clunch, a very very soft chalk limestone which in external locations does not weather that well and can suffer from rapid deterioration.  Exactly what happened at the Folly 100 years after its construction (1881), when we see the signs of the ruin becoming damaged by exposure to weather and the fortifications in a crumbling state. 


1881; crenulations deteriorating

 By the early 1900s they were in such a state with stonework failing and falling that they were eventually removed and replaced with a brick substitute.  So began the demise of the romantic appearance, with hard brickwork topping the tower.

early 1900s, stone replaced with brickwork

early 1900s, stone replaced with brickwork

1930s, further stone replaced with brickwork

1930s, further stone replaced with brickwork

Later in the 1980s the castellated effect was removed completely and we were left with a brick plain top with no character or reference to its former battlements.

As it is today, before restoration

figure 4c

A bald tower?

figure 4a Current (2)

Up on the roof…

figure 4b current

1980s flat brickwork to be replaced

All very well but what do those terms mean?

Battlements adorn the top of all good castles, town walls and churches; they are low walls for protection, tooth shaped in appearance with gaps where soldiers would stand to defend the building, popping out through the gaps to shoot the enemy with arrows or other missiles. The raised section between the gaps are the merlons.

So the technical bit, the up and down shape (tooth shape) has solid walls and gaps. A merlon is the solid upright bit of the battlement; merlons sometime have slits designed in them for looking through or firing – these are shown on Miller’s original drawings from 1749, however were never built into the stonework.  The space between merlons (the gaps) are called crenels.  The up and down appearance of merlons and crenels is called a crenulation.

 Where crenels (the gaps) were designed to fire cannons, they were called embrasures.

 To add some different terms, merlons can also be referred to a cops or kneelers.

The stones which cover a merlon (the very top piece) are called a cap stone or coping stone, used to protect and provide weathering to the wall.

And finally, machicolations: a very effective way of defending your castle.  They are an opening at high level where the battlements are stepped out to overhang the wall.  The opening allows stones, burning objects or boiling oil to be dropped onto your attacker.  These were common in European castles however when used in English buildings where more common on entry points to be defended such as gateways and draw bridges.

However, as the Folly is a sham, so are the crenulations and machicolations!  They were never used in anger or for defence but to add to the castle-like appearance of the building.

The current works at the Folly will see the 20th century brickwork at the top of the building removed and replaced with new stonework to replicate the historic design.  We are using old photographs and Sanderson Miller’s original pen and ink sketches to recreate the scale, design and appearance.

These works and the conservation of the stone can be seen first hand with our guided tours and you can gain access to the scaffold to see how we are repairing the building.  Why not challenge a guide to tell their machicolations from their crenulations when you go?!

Who’s working at the Gothic Tower?

Hello! We’re Cliveden Conservation and we’re carrying out the conservation project at Wimpole’s Gothic Tower.

CCW-team working on all levels copyWho are Cliveden Conservation?

We were founded in 1982, originally for the preservation of the National Trust buildings and statuary, then branched out and became our own company. Our enthusiastic and highly skilled conservators work out of our 3 workshops across England to conserve and restore buildings, stone, sculpture, plaster and the decorative arts. Our projects, small and large, take us to places all over the world, but we’ve maintained strong ties with the National Trust and are pleased to be leading the Gothic Tower conservation project.




What is the conservation project?

IMG_2938-de veg-before copy

Wall prior to conservation commencing

IMG_2942-de veg-after copy

Wall following removal of vegetation

In order to make the folly more accessible for the public, an amount of work needs to be done to bring it back to life and make it safe for visitors.

What that entails is

  • Archaeological investigations: to understand the full history of the folly
  • Removing vegetation: from the towers and ruined wall tops
  • Cleaning stone surfaces: to remove loose material and help the stone “breath”
  • Pointing and mortar repairs: making the folly’s stone and brickwork stable and safe to be around, and making the wall tops weatherproof
  • Measuring stones that will be replaced
  • Drawing plans

CCW-removing vegetation and dismantling precarious stone work copyAll these tasks have been carried out or are currently underway. The tasks we have ahead of us are the:

  • Replacement of decayed and damaged stonework
  • Shelter coating: to consolidate and help weatherproof stone surfaces
  • Reinstatement of historic elements: such as brick steps and the wooden porch at the base of the tower, doors, windows, and crenellations at the top of the tower

We have a great team here at the folly, working hard in all weather conditions. If you climb the scaffold on the Gothic Tower Scaffold Tours, you’ll be able to spot us busily working around the site. You may even see us working up close and personal as we work our way around the main tower.

Gothic Tower Conservation Project

Wimpole_folly 6

An engraving of the Gothic Tower at Wimpole

In June 1749 Sanderson Miller was asked by George Lyttelton to design a ruined Gothic castle for his friend Lord Hardwicke. This was to be similar to the one erected by Miller in the grounds of Hagley Hall in 1748-9.


The Gothic Tower surrounded by scaffold with the scaffold stairwell leading to two viewing platforms.

Those of you who are frequent visitors to Wimpole, either walking in the park or viewing the Gothic Tower from the garden, will have noticed recently that it has been enveloped in scaffolding.  This is to allow access to the structure whilst it undergoes major conservation works undertaken by Cliveden Conservation.


Stonework of the arrow slits






Made possible through funding from DEFRAs Higher Level Scheme (HLS) managed by Natural England, the conservation of the tower structure and stonework is part of the project due to be completed by December 2014. At the same time, further funding from the National Trust will allow the reinstatement of the windows, doors and external rear staircase.

So what’s the plan?
• Repairs to all stonework and walls
• Reinstatement of the crenellation on top of the tower, windows, doors and the external rear staircase.
• Conservation of flora and fauna with an increase in the short grass conservation areas
• Removal of fence line in front of the tower and improving public access to the exterior of the building.

Do you have a head for heights?


A great view beyond

Take this unique opportunity to climb the scaffold to experience the view from the same height as the Prospect Room within the tower and get a sense of what it would have been like for past visitors.  You’ll get a great view of the Hall and surrounding park from the scaffold and also find out about how it is being conserved from our volunteers.