It’s Friday 29th April 2011, and I have just spent the last couple of hours being glued to the television watching the Royal Wedding in awe of the spectacle, being in the company of approximately two billion people world wide who were also watching the ceremony. Along with many others, we have cracked open a bottle of champagne, and toasted the couples health and prosperity.
The pomp, ceremony, and circumstances are breath taking, and one has to admit that as a Nation, the British are experts at putting ceremonial occasions together. We have to wish the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge every good luck for their future lives, and hope that they find happiness in each others company as their serve our country in the future.
Whilst watching the service, I could not help but admire the Westminster Abbey, whether it be the North Door or the West Door, they form part of a very impressive building which has a history dating back 1000 years. Apparently Benedictine Monks first came to the site in the middle of the tenth century, initiating a tradition of daily worship on the site, which has continued up and until the present day. The Abbey saw its first coronation in 1066, and is the final resting place of seventeen monarchs. It is also the place where some of the most significant people in the nation’s history are buried; these include Churchill, and the grave of the unknown warrior. No doubt the Abbey will continue to form a focal point for Royal ceremonial occasions for many years to come.
As a surveyor, my thoughts then rambled onto our built heritage, aren’t we lucky to have such a wonderful rich tapestry of buildings in our country. Whether they be Norman or Gothic churches, black and white half timbered houses with thatched roofs, the Georgian stone buildings that form part of the Spa towns such as Cheltenham, Bath and Leamington or the rich Cotswold stone buildings with Stonsfield slate roofs found in the Cotswold towns, we are lucky to be able to borrow the buildings for our life time, look after them, and then pass them onto the next generation. Only today, I saw Thatcher’s working in the village of Wickhamford, replacing a roof on a building which must have dated back to the 1600’s. The technology hasn’t changed in all the years, but the building is still as functional when compared to one lets say built in the last 10 years.
Many historic buildings make a statement about our forefathers, the wealth they had available to invest in their building, and the technology they used in its construction. The growth of mechanical knowledge and the improvement in the types and uses of tools have also contributed substantially to change in building technology. Style and fashion have also imparted their effects on the design and appearance of buildings. With Westminster Abbey, the current structure was largely built in 1245. In those days, they didn’t have hydraulic power, or large cranes. There were no synthetic waterproof materials which today we just take for granted. Instead they had stone, lime mortar, lead, and slate.
The craftsmen in the middle Ages were very adept at using these building materials to create large demonstrative buildings which just seem to hold themselves up in a totally unsupported manner. Flying buttresses and vaulted ceilings were employed to create an illusion of grandeur which is still not lost on us today. Dressed stone was used to create the visible “working surfaces” of the building, but these hid the uneven surfaces that exist in the middle of the columns and walls. The gap was filled with a rubble infill. And rubble infill was exactly that, all the unwanted stone chippings, and waste material was thrown into the middle of the column to fill the gap, and this was expected to support the weight of the building.
There was quite an interesting experience at Worcester Cathedral, when bits of the supporting Columns below the bell tower started to fall out. The experts, who investigated the problem, were slightly shocked to find that modern traffic vibration had caused the rubble infill to settle, leaving the weight of the tower resting on the outer skin of dressed stone. Some fairly expensive repairs comprising stainless steel rods and ready mixed concrete were very quickly employed to remedy the problem, but the problem rather brought home the hazards modern living can cause to some of our medieval buildings.
As for building materials used throughout the ages, there again have been problems with longevity, and there continued resilience when exposed to modern pollution problems. Acid rain has been responsible for creating thousands of pounds worth of damage to churches, and houses constructed of limestone. As the rain lands, it quietly causes the stone to fizz as the acid converts the stone back into its component parts, leaving a badly eroded feature on the building.
From a cynical point of view, at least this damage allows us to maintain the building skills once used by our forefathers. Stone Masons, Carpenters, Thatcher’s are all still very much in evidence, spending hours being employed on maintaining the fabric of our built inheritance. Thank God we only borrow these buildings, but in that we also inherit the responsibility for their maintenance, so that they are handed down to the next generation in hopefully better condition than when we inherited their use. The cost of this maintenance work is high, but isn’t it worth it when for instance on the day of the Royal Wedding, one sees the majesty of the old combining with the current day events to create what will become a historic event when our future King and Queen tie the knot. The whole occasion made me feel proud to be British, and very lucky to live in this fabulous country of ours.
Original article by Tony Rowland
Timothy Lea and Griffiths Ltd
Member since: 10th July 2012
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