January 2008: out of the wasteland grows a flower!
Blimey - what a few months it has been but we are finally getting to a stage where some improvement is visible.
At today's date (19th December) this is roughly where we are:
- All major structural repair work completed
- New boiler room is built and the boiler and associated bits were craned in on 4th December
- Main roof lead work, felt and battens nearly complete and slating has started
- Drawing Room and small bedroom now opened up to form one big room
- Lift shaft and dumb waiter shaft about 75% finished
- Opening formed into cellar for new passage to lift shaft
- New cables and heating pipes being laid in walls and floors
- Removal of intrusive beams in the Morning Room and the Surman bedroom about 75% complete
- Brick joints raked out to east and west elevations and Dairy Wing to prepare for lime mortar re-pointing to match that done in 2000 on the north and south walls
- Paint stripping to panels, windows, shutters, etc about 30% complete
The main roof is now getting on nicely and the leadwork is nearly complete. Very nice and neat it looks too, laid in 2 metre bays with raised rolls between them. The slaters started on Monday 17th and are getting on well with the complex business of cutting the lower levels of the slate courses to match the profile of the lead gutter walkways. A safety harness system is also being fixed to prevent future maintenance staff plummeting through the porte cochère roof or onto the south terrace paving. Safety first in all things is our watchword!
The Boiler Room
This involved excavating in the area between the rear wall of the porte cochère and the external steps into the basement. Massive amounts of underpinning were done and the new boiler room has reinforced concrete walls and floor. The roof of this is now on and accommodation will be constructed on top of this for toilets. The boiler has been installed and the boiler gases will be taken up through the Billiard Room flues which are being lined with concrete.
The new larger room on the first floor
The opening was formed in September and a new steel beam with supporting columns is now in place to ensure the stability of the structure above. The new room feels spacious and we are thinking of using a wallpaper finish to reflect the mid Victorian decorative scheme.
Beams in the Morning Room and the Surman bedroom
In the 1970s two steel beams were installed to help support the eastern elevation. These stuck down into the rooms and ruined the line of the ceiling and the cornices. It seemed aesthetically right to remove these and put new steels into the floor voids where they would serve the same purpose, but invisibly. This work is nearing completion.
There is a maelstrom of activity going on at the moment with floorboards being lifted, chases being cut in the plasterwork and through walls for electrical cables and heating pipes. The heating engineers are using a new type of pipe joint which needs no soldering - fire risk is an ever-present danger.
Along with the cables for power and light there are wires for fire and intruder alarms and computer connections too. It has been chaos but luckily the fitters seem good at coping with disorder.
The lift and dumb waiter
The new lift shaft is now getting up to 2nd floor level and the floors are being fixed to it which means we can take out some of the temporary props we have had in place since September. The access to the cellar is in place and for those of you who need reminding, the lift will go from the cellar all the way to the top floor. This will be a godsend for anyone with mobility difficulties and also useful for moving goods and equipment around the house.
Money and time
As we expected we have already committed large amounts of the Contingency Sum (all with the agreement of the HLF Monitor, of course). There is no doubt that the overall financial position will be tight but the tenders came in a bit lower than we expected so we should be all right at the end of the project.
At the moment the contractor estimates he is about 3 weeks behind the very tight 50 week programme and overall completion will not be until mid July 2008.
Well - lots and lots of interesting things will take place. The most complicated will be:
- Digging out the lift shaft and connecting this through to the cellar
- Re-covering the roof with slates and leadwork
- Removing the two obtrusive beams in the east bay window
- Installing some new steel beams at roof level
We have not learned much more about the building's history during this period but the comprehensive report from the specialist archaeologists should be with us in January. This may help explain how the building has altered over the centuries and could provide some speculative answers about some of the odd things we have found. I'll tell you about it next time.
Valentines Mansion Project Director, Nigel Burch