September 2007: it'll get worse before it gets better!
The contractor started on site, as planned, on 2nd July. For the first week not much happened except setting up the site and bringing in tools and equipment. Then the work went from a standing start to full-scale chaos within a few days.
At today's date (6th September) this is what has been done.
- Scaffolding and temporary roof in place
- Main roof coverings and asphalt walkways stripped off
- Buildings behind the porte cochere demolished
- Ceilings stripped on 2nd floor and in Dairy Wing
- All electrics (cables, sockets, lighting, etc.) removed
- Underpinning about 20% complete
- Lath and plaster removed on studwork that will be removed to from larger rooms
We had hoped that we would learn more about the history of the Mansion once we started demolishing and excavating. And we were right!
The Quadrant areas
The Quadrant areas are the two areas between the porte cochere and the north wall.
We now know that there were ground floor windows on the north elevation before the porte cochere and the quadrant buildings were built and it also looks as if there may have been earlier structures built against this wall. There is a brick built drainage culvert in the east quadrant and its base is about 2.5 metres below current ground level. This appears to run about 20m away from the Mansion in the direction of the Cottage.
The west wall of the 1870 two-storey wing and the east wall of the entrance vestibule both seem to have been built on top of walls that were already there. It may be that the ground level was originally lower on the north side of the house.
There are walls running east-west below floor level in the Library. These serve no purpose in terms of the floor construction and once again provide evidence of an earlier structure. The foundation of the chimney breast is also a bit odd and is not tied in to the foundation behind it.
The Kitchen and Dairy Wing
The contractor has taken up the concrete floor revealing below a stone flagged floor in pretty good condition. This will be taken up and cleaned in preparation for re-installation after the under-floor heating has been paid. In the first room of the Dairy Wing we have discovered a bread oven (or something similar) which no one knew was there. Also, the internal arches at the top of the bricked up sections are plastered with a decorative moulding. The current plan is to remove most of the ceiling joists and leave these arches exposed.
This involves digging a sequence of deep cuts (say about1m by 1m by 2.5m deep) and then grubbing out of earth below foundation level and filling in the gap with concrete. It is a labour intensive and mucky job and not one that I would volunteer for. The areas to be underpinned are the Library ad Servants Hall (to strengthen the structure prior to the excavation of the lift shaft.
We have had archaeologists on site since excavation and demolition began so that anything we expose that will be covered up again will be recorded for the archive. They are busy taking photographs, measuring, examining what comes out of the holes and recording the position of things that will be either covered up or removed. What we will get in the end is a complete report on what has been found, with dates where materials/techniques are datable. We may also get as good a picture as we ever will of what form the building originally took and if there were other, earlier structures on the same site. Once this is all assembled it will be deposited in the Local Studies Room as a permanent archive and also be accessible in electronic format.
Well - lots and lots of interesting things will take place. The most complicated will be:
- Building the new boiler room and lifting in 2 tonnes of boiler by crane
- 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
The contractor is doing a good job and the site seems a happy one and a tidy one. As for me, I am in my element, striding about with hard hat and bright yellow jacket and generally getting in the way. I am learning a vast amount and just thrilled to see the work happening at last.
The Park scheme is going well too and the final form of the walls and paths in the Historic Core is beginning to be visible. Planting will begin in October and the work is still scheduled to finish before Xmas.
One last bit of news - we are planning to appoint a new officer to develop the operational aspects of the project in terms of getting all the preparatory work done to allow the Mansion to operate successfully. At the moment we are looking for a joint "Grand Opening" in September next year where we hope to mark the end of the two restoration projects with a week of events to celebrate success and engage the local communities.
Valentines Mansion Project Director, Nigel Burch