The winning repair of storm-damaged Saltaire United Reformed Church





Saltaire United Reformed Church (URC) was named the King of Prussia Gold Medal winner at the National Churches Awards 2023. The award celebrates innovative, high-quality conservation or repairs. David Bloxam, Head of Architectural Projects of Cliveden Conservation, and Russell Trudgen, conservation-accredited senior architect and director of Arctic Associates, describe the restoration process of the storm-damaged church.

Saltaire URC is a remarkable Grade I Listed building within the Saltaire UNESCO World Heritage Village, attracting visitors worldwide every year. The church is a glorious example of Italianate religious architecture in West Yorkshire and was constructed in 1859 under the guidance of Sir Titus Salt, mill owner and the renowned congregational church architects Lockwood and Mawson.
In 2020, Storm Dennis hit the UK, causing considerable damage to the church. The ceiling nearest the tower partially collapsed exposing a troubling issue with water infiltration through the stonework into the roof space. The church appointed West Yorkshire-based architectural practice Arctic Associates Ltd.

Russell Trudgen talks about his involvement with the project. "Arctic Associates specialises in listed and heritage buildings, and we were honoured to be asked by the church to investigate the root cause of the rainwater penetration. Aided by a high-level platform lift, we could closely examine and assess the internal condition of the ceiling plaster, around the collapsed area and externally the tower, particularly the junction at the eastern apex and drum.

Whilst lead cover flashings protected most of the dome and tower, the lower stone tabling surrounding the drum's base lacked such shielding. Exposed to the elements, mortar joints to these stone ledges were vulnerable to deterioration from frost action and the colonisation by pioneer plant species, causing them to fail and allow water to enter the wall core local to the collapsed plaster ceiling. The two established saplings growing in the coping stones provided further evidence of a saturated wall core. On the north and south sides of the eastern gable, two substantial kneeler stones adorned with carved lion heads also had noticeable open joints.

To monitor the moisture levels within the tower walls before and after, wooden dowels were inserted around the wall core of the tower drum inside in key locations. By measuring the initial water take-up in the dowels at the beginning before repair, we could benchmark and compare the success of the remedial works after completion by repeating the process.
Because of the listed status of the church, the restoration and reinstatement work had to adhere to traditional methods and craftspeople. We enlisted Cliveden Conservation as a specialist and principal contractor to conduct the external tower masonry repairs, lead works and internal plastering repairs, including the redecoration of the ornate ceiling.

David Bloxam, Head of Architectural Projects at Cliveden Conservation, explains more about the skills required to restore the storm-damaged Saltaire URC. “Like most projects we encounter, it is a huge privilege to be involved in restoring our country's most treasured architectural gems, and Saltaire URC is no exception. Before we could work on the decorative ceiling, our stonemasons needed to conduct remedial repairs to the tower.

To make the tower watertight, we re-pointed the stonework at the base with an hydraulic lime mortar and installed new lead coverings to sky-facing surfaces, we also repointed around the clockfaces and windows with burnt sand mastic after careful repainting and gilding of the numerals.  These works further ensure the preservation and integrity of this historic structure.

Our work to the church ceiling was highly complicated and involved many challenges because the water damage had destroyed large areas of the ceiling. It also became apparent many of the timber gallows’ brackets that support the plaster on the east wall were rotten and these all had to be matched with correctly gauged timber replaced to the existing.  The thickness of the existing traditional-haired lime ceiling plaster was greater than necessary; therefore, the architect detailed new timber laths on battens. This effectively reduced the thickness of the plaster coats. We carried out careful squeezes and mould making of the original embellishments and cast new parts to recreate the original scheme; concurrently, we re-plastered the large flat, curved panels and re-ran new cornices and mouldings.

Our Decorative Arts conservation team reviewed the paint analysis and used multiple paint samples to achieve an authentic colour match for the redecorated plaster ceiling with the architect's approval."
Saltaire URC welcomed its congregation back through the doors in December 2022 and is again back on the map as a unique tourist attraction with the added kudos of the King of Prussia Gold Medal, which honours excellence and creativity in church architecture. The National Churches Awards 2023 judges remarked that they liked the good interdisciplinary collaboration to achieve beautiful results and stated that the project was remarkable.

Arctic Associates and Cliveden Conservation were thrilled with the award and enjoyed the collaborative nature of the project. Russell Trudgen, Arctic Associates, concludes:
"This was the first time Arctic Associates have worked with Cliveden Conservation, and it was a pleasure. The skill and attention to detail for all aspects of the repairs inside and out by their site operatives were a delight to witness. These guys are masters of conservation and brought their knowledge and expertise to this extraordinary northern church."

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