Craftsmanship is key to keeping heritage alive


The UK is blessed with an abundance of historical buildings which offer a glimpse of life in centuries past. Many of them are ruined, to be explored by visitors who rely on images and imagination, to see what they would have been like in their full glory.

Some have been restored and maintained to be experienced now as they were when they were originally built. Many have taken these buildings and turned them into comfortable and characterful homes. English Heritage has played a huge part in this, offering listed status to protect buildings from inappropriate development or even demolition.

But keeping them in use today and bringing them up to today’s standards to ensure they are fit for purpose is a colossal challenge. Once restoration or improvement work has been approved the work then has to be carried out under strict guidelines. Materials that are as close to the original as possible must often be used, even when there are superior modern alternatives. They may threaten the integrity and character of the building. Firms have to continually find new and innovative ways to enable these buildings to serve a useful purpose in today’s world, while preserving their appearance and character.

Windows especially are an issue. Their structure - wooden frames and delicate glass - means they are often the first areas to show signs of decay. If they break down, they can render a building uninhabitable, leaving it vulnerable to weather and noise pollution.

Yet any slight change to the windows can cause irrevocable damage to the building’s appearance and character.

This was one of the issues that arose during the refurbishment of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. (Pictured above top)
When the time came to upgrade the accommodation blocks, a great deal of thought and planning had to be undertaken to make sure they were comfortable, warm and quiet, but kept their original characteristics.

The hospital is a Grade I and II listed site, founded in 1682. Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design and build it and it is now home to some 300 Chelsea Pensioners.

The planning stage of the restoration took several years and windows were a particular issue.
Experts from secondary glazing specialists Storm, a family firm based in Halesowen, West Midlands, were drafted in. They had worked on many listed buildings and had a reputation for high-quality sym
pathetic work. Even so, initial samples were rejected and designs had to go through many adaptations and stages of testing and approval before approval was finally granted.

A special reflection-free glass was imported from Germany, to meet the demands of heritage and conservation experts. The final aluminium-framed secondary glazing units were painstakingly measured and made to fit each opening. They were designed specially to open fully and colour-matched to be as unobtrusive as possible.

This was bespoke craftsmanship at its finest, with the new units making the accommodation warmer, quieter and much more comfortable.

Storm’s director Jayne Griffiths said the team was proud to have been involved in helping to safeguard the future of such a prestigious building. And technical director Mitchell Reece said it was an honourto have played a part in the iconic building’s journey.

Mitchell said the team at Storm all felt a duty of care when working on historic and listed buildings, to ensure their survival for the next generation. “The bulk of our work is in listed buildings and we have a duty of care to do the right thing. We play a big part in protecting the building for the future generations," he said.

When All Saints Church in Hawkshurst, Kent, was converted into apartments, Storm was brought in again as the huge stained glass windows had to be retained.

The openings were all different shapes and sizes and the work to measure and fit secondary glazing was once again meticulous and painstaking. But the results – a warm, quiet and comfortable building that met modern standards but retained its character and unique appearance – were a huge reward.

It is only with expert craftsmanship and care, that a building’s past – and future - can be truly protected.

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