Wimpole’s award winning Gothic Tower

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Wimpole’s Gothic Tower, cared for by the National Trust, is one of only two UK winners in the Conservation category of the Awards which were revealed today by the European Commission and Europa Nostra.

A designed ruin

The Gothic Tower, designed to look like a picturesque medieval ruin, is based on a sketch by the architect Sanderson Miller in 1749 for his patron, Lord Hardwicke, the owner of Wimpole.
The design was later realised in an amended form under the supervision of the great landscape designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown from 1768-72.

The conservation project

Located in the magnificent parkland of Wimpole Estate, the Gothic Tower presented a complex conservation challenge for the National Trust. The work called for repair of the structure, stabilization of the stonework and reinstatement of missing components of the building, while preserving the weathered beauty and original ‘ruined’ appearance.
Folly 3Wendy Monkhouse, National Trust Curator in the East of England, said: “We’re delighted to have been recognized by the European Commission and Europa Nostra for the work we’ve done on the Gothic Tower – it’s the most prestigious heritage award in Europe, and it means a lot to the National Trust and to the staff and volunteers at Wimpole.
“Many people know and love the magnificent mansion and the 18th century farm, but the Tower was an almost forgotten ruin – a kind of sleeping beauty, literally surrounded by briar roses and nettles. Now, with its reinstated crenellations triumphant on the main Tower, it sits once more at the focal point of the landscape designed by Capability Brown, whose tercentenary we are celebrating this year.”

What the judges said

For the 2016 EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards, independent expert juries assessed a total of 187 applications, submitted by organisations and individuals from 36 countries across Europe, and selected the winners.
In Wimpole’s Gothic Tower, the Awards jury commented: “Intellectually, this project raises questions about the preservation of a designed ruin and inspires thought about the nature of conservation. It is informed by detailed research and archaeological recordings and is a model of cooperative endeavour. This is an extraordinary example of a restoration of an iconic ruin which has served as an example for the construction of similar structures in Europe.”

Your chance to vote for the Public Choice Award

Along with the other 27 award winners, Wimpole’s Gothic Tower will be further considered for one of seven Grand Prix awards along with one chosen in public vote.  Members of the public can now vote online until 8 May for the Public Choice Award to support their favourite project.

Steam by Shane O’Reilly

Our farm tracks get a bit of a rolling from steam engine, volunteer Shane explains all . . .

Wympole & Wratsworth

Here she comes Here she comes

It’s the smell of new Plasticine that takes me back to my early schooldays and the visual stimulus of a Rupert Bear annual that dragoons back memories of Christmas’ past. So what is it about steam that evokes such powerful emotions? No, I don’t mean the pure steam that comes from a boiling kettle but the steam associated with traction engines. This ‘steam’ is a beguiling mixture of burning coal, hot water and lubricating oil that can transform a man of a certain age into the small boy he once was by conjuring up pictures of railway stations of old. But I get ahead of myself. What were the forestry department doing with a steam engine?

Keeping the tracks and by-ways of the estate in usable order for the farm machinery, and the walking public, is one of the responsibilities that falls to us at this time…

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Animal pens and bunny hotels

Project Manager, Paul Coleman, updates us on things underground.

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The Folly is under siege, this time from below.  We continue with the scientific approach of investigations and are radaring the ground for bunnies !!

They may be cute until they dig too close to the walls with their burrows, forming an extensive network of tunnels which can and are causing problems with the stability of the walls.

The area around the Folly is peppered with rabbit activity – what we’ve been doing is investigating where they are and how big their warrens are. But how do you check whether their tunnels are causing a problem or not and the extent of them.  Well, just like on TimeTeam we are using specialists to see under the ground – Peter Masters of Cranfield University is our expert, using his specialist equipment which is dragged behind him to slowly show a picture of the ground around the Folly walls.

WP_20150227_11_44_37_ProHe is using a technique called Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR),  which send electro magnetic pulses to the ground which are bounced back to the receiver and allows us to map out structure and features buried below us.

Some of the holes are ok and not causing a problem but we’ve found 2 areas which will need to be stabilised.

Not only have we found bunny hotels, it has also shown areas of previous buildings (now long gone) which were located around the Folly – we believe these to have been the old animal pens when the Game Keeper was in residence.

Fact or fiction?

Paul Coleman, Project Manager, talks us through an interesting find at the folly.

We’ve found lots of things at the Folly during the works, especially whilst carry out out soil movement which unearth lots of broken pot, plate and ceramics – all telling a story of the people who have used the building and the estate over the years.

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But something fascinating turned up out of a huge pile of soil, a bullet and this is one of the things which has struck me about working at Wimpole that the estate has been used by many people for many years and you just don’t know what’s around us.  Using your imagination you start to try to connect with the people who used these special places in the past and start to make up your own stories…

The Fact . . .

A number of bullets, or their cartridge cases were found and you can date these,  so by carefully rubbing on the end you will see the ‘Head Stamp’ and this tells a lot.

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CP 43 VII

It tells us it was manufactured by Crompton Parkinson Ltd, Guiseley, Yorkshire.  Originally a electric supply company and component manufacturer,  who made a wide range of electrical goods including electric motors, electric generators, light bulbs, power cables and batteries.  This factory was set up as part of the 1939-1945 war emergency expansion plan to make ammunition for British Military.

The cartridge was made in 1943, right in the middle of World War 2.

Crompton Parkinson produced .303 caliber cartridges during the period 1940-1944. This cartridge had 174 metal grains in the pointed Mark VII bullet.

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The 303 was the main light round for the British Army used in the Lee Enfield Rifle (British Army Standard issue rifle adopted between 1895 and 1956), Vickers medium machine gun ,Browning(Vickers and BSA manufactured) .303 machine gun – the machine guns were either static ground mounted or used on aircraft such as supermarine spitfire, hawker hurricanes, Gloster Gladiator, Fairey Swordfish and Wellington Bomber.

Fiction  . . .

So why have we found a number of these spent cartridges,  we know part of the South Park was the site of an American military hospital built during the Second World War. After the war it was used for a short time as a teacher training college before it was demolished in the 1950s.  We are also on the flight path of Duxford – on a clear day you can see the reflections of the big hanger from up on the hill.

My story is one of the Folly at War, a time when the sky was charged with squadrons from many different countries.  Duxford airfield lay over the horizon and in 1943 it was assigned to the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) however a small but important squadron of British planes were retained and including a fearsome team of Spitfire.  The Folly was a beacon on the hill used as a triangulation point, a way marker for their approach and point for their final approach to land.

A clear sky with the moon setting a sliver glow across the park, the expanse of the Hall pinging into view, the heightened anticipation and adrenaline of arriving home after a long and gruelling sortie, the howl of the engines stirring a flock of geese near the lake, and a low flight across the park.  The Folly shines in the distance, edging its way above the tree line and yes, the adrenaline kicks in again – the speed of the plane can be sensed as the Folly rapidly gets bigger through the glass cockpit window.

In the field beyond the Hall,  the camp is bustling with activity and many of the men are sitting on the steps of their make shift huts smoking and listening to the low drone approaching, they know from the sound of the distinct whine and whistle that it is at least 3 planes, they stand to try to pick out from the moon light above the Hall the distinctive shape and wing formation.

The trio skim the top of the folly tower they bank hard left releasing a sharp burst of fire into the sky. The orange trail line of the bullets can be seen for miles,  the spent cases rattle off the wing and tumble to the ground.

Its not a display of power, but the exhilaration of coming home and a sense of pride running through their finger as they press the button on the joy stick, as a short burst of the cannon fire releases a line into the sky.

Fact, the browning had a Muzzle velocity which was rated at 2450 feet per second (that’s right quick) and an effective range to 2,190 yards, with maximum range to 4500 yards.  So using the Folly as a point of approach and the spitfire maximum speed of 340mph.  They would be passed the Wimpole Estate in a flash, releasing a cannon fire quickly would mean the spent cases dotted for some distance around the area and quite possibly those which have been found at the Folly.

It’s not just glass – it’s a work of art…

Window heads. hood and label- public facades

Paul Coleman, Project Manager, talks us through another dimension added to the Folly – glass and windows.  Why?

Glass possesses the quality of bringing life to a building, adding atmosphere and ambience – glass is seen both internally and externally and at the Folly gives some truly amazing reflective qualities.  Outside it is more dramatic where we see changes in the pattern of the glass, the refracted images caused by the irregular glass finish which handmade glass possesses, a soft wave and shimmer or ripple and a different texture to the building being offered.  The poetic stuff out of the way, lets talk fact….

The Folly was originally glazed but over the years windows were broken or vandalised and eventually in the 1980’s all openings were boarded up (unfortunately people in the past loved to throw stones at the old girl !!).

Boarded up windows at the Folly at Wimpole Estate Cambridgeshire

Boarded up windows

The windows were predominantly metal framed inserted into the gothic stone arches and glazed with leaded light windows – we see evidence of this on the early photos (which have been again our source of information to replicate the window style and design),

2 Early 20C Window pattern

We also had one surviving metal frame which we found removed from the stonework and buried under the piles of pigeon guano and another mangled piece broken and twisted.

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An uncovered window frame

A mangled window frame from the Folly at Wimpole Estate Cambridgeshire

A mangled mess

All of this again has led to us being able to piece together information to enable us to replicate the metal windows which are back in the building – traditional ironworker crafts and the team at Cliveden have helped replicate the windows.

But the glass,  we had a lucky find (well lots of little finds) – we had to excavate around the perimeter of the tower to reduce the ground level (as too high) a resulting 220 tonne pile of soil was heaped up.  And from this pile we started to see fragments of glass, leadwork for the windows and other interesting pots and pieces.  We excavated carefully to retrieve more, and this gave the final clues for the building – giving the glass type, thickness, pattern, size, colour and critically the lead work size to hold the glass in place.

5 Uncovered glass, lead and metal work

Uncovered glass, lead and metalwork

5a Windows being manufactured

Windows being manufactured

Window catch from inside - public facades

Simple handle detail

We found lots of different glass dating over a number of years which shows it had been repaired and replaced in many areas (caused by accidental breakage or unfortunately vandalism). Our glass expert looked at the varying samples and concluded :

The glass could be split up into three main groups:

  • The thin pieces with iridescence are  crown glass ( C18-19th), very early glass in deed,
  • Most of the rest of the thinner glass is sheet glass (C19th-early 20th), this was probably cylinder glass or bed glass,
  • The thicker pieces of glass are float glass post 1959 – this is very flat as you would see in a modern house,

Thicknesses range from 1.2mm crown, to 3.5mm float glass (modern glass) and colour varies from iridescent, clear polished, pink manganese tint, greenish iridescence, green tint and blue tint.

So, we knew we have leaded light windows,  Small square bits of glass held together with sections of leadwork which form a larger panel which fits into the metal frame of the window. Some of the windows are opening (hinged) and some are fixed – we see this on the old photo’s.

The lead work called Lead Cames – is an ‘H’ profile, where the glass slots into the legs and holds it into place,

6 Glass and lead cames

7 Glass and lead cames

Glass and lead cames

Looking for new glass…

It’s a challenge trying to match glass, as there are so many things to think about, mainly from my perspective it about the thickness, colour and texture.  Texture is important as when the glass is made in a traditional way, it has irregularities in it (the ripples, air bubbles, ridges) these all give life to the glass and when you look at an old building or through an old window, you get that distortion in the view which looks wonderful. Plus the light falling on or through it bends and reflects giving some weird and great patterns.

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Reflections of new glass

So we choose a modern glass produced to give traditional appearance and very thin (2-3mm thick), but one which had that movement in the glass and as seen, does give a truly wonderful appearance to the building.

To describe the type of glass we found,

Crown Glass –made by blowing and spinning a huge blob of glass which gradually enlarges to make a huge flat spinning disc. Several panes of crown glass could be cut from one disc,  the closer to the middle is where the thicker bits are and towards the edges it gets thinner.  The outer edges were prized, and would have been very expensive. The patterns in the glass are obviously circular,

Cylinder Glass – made by blowing a very large bottle shaped cylinder, the ends are cut off and then the tube is cut along its length.  Its then heated and unrolled to give a flat piece of glass.  It has a good pattern of ridges.

Bed or slab glass – made by flowing molten glass into a big flat caste, once hardened it would have been polished and ground flat,

Float glass – modern glass which is plain and has no texture to it,  the molten glass is floated over liquid tin to give a very uniform thickness and ‘clean’ glass, it is then repolished and ground flat,

So, its not just glass – it’s a work of art….

The big reveal

Project Manager, Paul Coleman, gives us an update on the Folly.

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The scaffold coming down

For those not fortunate to have visited Wimpole recently, what a view hits you.  From every approach you can we see the Folly, with its new crown as it rises above the park. The scaffolding is down, hoorrrraaaayy.

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The sound of chain saws lingers in the air as our ranger team start to get on top of the years of scrub which has surrounded the walls and has choked the ornate moat. Work to remove the felled timber has included using horses, horse logging, see our Forester Simon’s blog for more on this.  Over the next few months you will gradually see the ground being tendered, brambles removed, barbed wire taken down.

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So what’s happening now…..

  • The rear staircase is being crafted,
  • The support walls outside for the balcony start to get rebuilt,
  • We clear a vast pile of earth,
  • The doors get repaired,
  • Historic locks and door hinges get made to replicate ones from old photos,
  • Inside we continue to repair the lower floors,
  • We get to grip with flattening the ground where we made a little mess over the Winter,
  • . . . and most importantly we get to admire the fab conservation work on the walls

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If you visit the house, don’t forget to go to the Chancellors Dressing Room to admire the views.

We will be reporting on more conservation works over the next couple of weeks, so check the blog again.

Topping out at the Folly

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The crenelations all in place on the tower

Paul Coleman, Project Manager, updates us on the Folly project.

We’ve been celebrating at the Gothic Folly, bring together the craftsmen, consultants, National Trust advisors, staff, volunteers and sponsors who have all been involved so far in the project to mark the ‘topping out’ of the crenelations and the last stone inserted which marks the completion of this phase of works.

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Inserting the last stone!

But we’re not finished we have a few months work left on site, there is still lots to do but whilst its very cold we are encouraged to see the signs of spring as snowdrops poke up and trees come into bud.

For centuries, builders have celebrated the moment the building structure reaches its topmost point. This tradition was originally there to bring good luck on the building and ward of evil spirits.

This old age tradition of topping out , for many years involved a yew branch or sapling featured in the ceremony.  So at the Folly we will have a legacy of our ceremony, we are looking at the landscape around the building to research and put in place the historic planting scheme and for the building to have a fitting back drop.

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18th Century engraving of the Gothic Tower

We know from historic documents – the pen and ink drawings from 1749, 1774 water colour and 1777 engravings that the Folly may have had a backdrop resembling a Fir tree plantation.  This has long gone and we have an area of mixed species of self-sown trees which are encroaching on the views and this important area.

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Folly illustrated on the Frog Service

 

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Sanderson Millers original design for the Folly

 

The images resemble a fir or evergreen which had distinct drooping branches and the shape is very similar to that of a Deodar Cedar.

The deodar cedar is one of three cedars found in the British Isles along with the Lebanon cedar (Cedrus libani) and the Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica), but its shape is very different from the others.

From a quick search we have information that the Deodars were introducing into Britain in 1831, Atlas in 1844 and Lebanon in 1638, however the Folly was conceived in 1749-51 and completed in 1772 – so are we looking at artistic license or from the Architect or Landscapers of that time being well travelled individuals who had seen these desirable species on their world wide travels ?

However, I would like to think we are looking at the Deodar – as it has such a fitting history.  The tree is the Himalayan “Tree of God”, comes from the Sanskrit word ‘devadaru’, which means ‘timber of the gods or divine wood’.

The wood is fragrant and used to make incense, distilled into essential oil and is a disinfectant. The fragrance from the tree makes it insect repellent and due to its anti fungal and repellent properties has been used for making rooms for storage of meat and grain – but not at the Folly ! when the Game Keeper was in residence.

It is alleged that in its native country sufferers of asthma or breathing problems are advised to sit under a Deodar tree in early morning.

Bankes Harraden

However what ever tree we decide to be planted, it will be a celebration of both the works but also making the Folly sit at the top of the hill with a stunning backdrop of evergreen and over the years we will see these stately conifers giving the historic character back to the building.

So please give us your thoughts,  any budding tree experts would be welcome to join the debate.

Let’s play conservation spot the difference at the Folly….

Clunch weathers in many different ways however what we are seeing at the Folly is the semi hard face of the stone eroding in patches which leaves a soft fragile core face of stone exposed.  These areas are more susceptible to weathering and the decay accelerates as the water gets into the stones and it crumbles fast. In addition once the outer face is lost it reveals the original light cream stone colour which looks blotchy when viewed against the rest of the surrounding stone, the original has built up a patina over the last 240 years. We had a building which looked like a Friesian Cow, patches everywhere.

Area of clunch face loss

Area of clunch face loss

The conservators have been using their artistic touch to colour these areas to match the surrounding weathered and aged stone – the appearance is to capture the years of lichen and algae growth.

A repaired section (around the centre stone)

A repaired section (around the centre stone)

Not only will it blend with the surround stones but more importantly the coloured lime wash (shelter coat) holds the fragile surface in place (called consolidation,  it will bind the surface but allow it to breath. They have an artist’s palette of colour at hand and use a mixture of ingredients, greys, greens, browns, creams and whites.

Pallette test

Palette test

An array of stuff to test

An array of stuff to test

What’s in it … We use a base coat to add the background colours, this consists of : 5 Litre of “Cennini” limewash with casein 5 Litre of water 2.5 Tablespoons Cotswold stone dust 5 Tablespoons Raw Umber pigment and then over this the splodges, sponge effect, lines, with a typical green colour as 750 ml of the Base Mix, limewash with casein 25 ml Terra Vert 10 ml Raw Umber 5 ml Y47 Raw Sienna 2.5 ml Yellow Ochre 1 ml CSK Black there are then the other 5 colour mixes which are individually toned to make sure the Tower of the Folly looks perfect but is well protected.

Coloured sand and stone dust

Coloured sand and stone dust

Preparing lime shelter coat

Preparing lime shelter coat

The lime shelter coat prepared

The lime shelter coat prepared

They even add the white moss / lichen growths.

Repair to bottom left

Repair to bottom left

So can you spot the coloured patches.

A repaired section (look carefully)

A repaired section (look carefully)

Archaeology isn’t all about digging holes…

Paul Coleman, Project Manager updates us on paint.

It’s about uncovering the past to inform the future.

The scientific approach continues at the Folly where paint research has been undertaken to research and investigate the sequence of decorative colours which may have been used on the outside doors of the building.

What we want to do is try to find out what colours and paint types they used since the building was complete (1772) through to its occupation as the Game Keepers House (1805) up to present day.  We are trying to match the colour of the Game Keepers front door…..

The process is an archaeological investigation and we have employed Karen Morrissey a specialist paint researcher to look in depth at the building, colours and paint used.

The process involved taking bits of the paint which then are taken to the laboratory.  The samples were embedded in polystyrene resin, cut in half and the end polished which gives a cross section through the paint layers.  Using very high powered Microscopes under ultra violet and high power lighting – we are able to see each individual layer of paint.

Looking at the sample at 63x magnification, gives very impressive results.

Magnified cross section of paint layers

Magnified cross section of paint layers

Looking more like layers of cheese on toast or a vegetable lasagne, these images allow us to see the number of paint films, including primers and undercoats.

As well as the microscope work, samples were also sent away for testing to establish the presence of any natural, manmade or other pigments (colours), the type of pigment can be used to aid dating of the paint layer.

So, what have we found…..

Sample number 2

Ground floor door frame

 

The frame of the ground floor door is more interesting than the basement door – looking at the paint coatings to the timber and counting them, there are 13 schemes applied. The paints are generally stone and buff coloured lead oil paints; however there is one scheme of ‘invisible’ green and also one of very dark grey/ black early in the paint strata (schemes 2 and 3 respectively). These paints may be ‘impenetrable’ paints, which were manufactured from coal tar.

On one of the samples it shows that the oak timber frame appears weathered, suggesting that the timber may not have been painted originally or that its early coatings failed to protect the timber that well.

From the photographic evidence we can see circa 1880 that the doors were painted in a two tone colour (obviously in black and white in the photo !!!!) but gives an indication of the tonal difference which may be desired.

Problems can be experienced in paint analysis with such things as paint loss on the surface, weathering, deterioration of materials, colour fading and loss and as with the Folly there is evidence that some of the timber to the basement has been stripped with a blow torch.

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Ground floor door

 

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Gamekeepers door showing the two tone effect

The basement door is less interesting as there are only 3 paint layers,  with indication that the door has previously been stripped of all its paint.  However the Microscope images are much more dramatic…..

amber layer

The amber layer is the softwood frame

There is now the debate as to which of the 13 colours we should opt for –  so come along during the Summer to see if you like the Game Keepers front door.