Part 1: Design and Planning
Since the late-seventeenth century the Tudor and Elizabethan ranges have been mostly forgotten, eclipsed by the creation of the Baroque Wing in 1689 they were left to crumble and put to utilitarian use as service wings. Their former grandeur was purposely hidden from sight behind garden walls and hedges and their grand rooms were put to new less grand uses such as kitchens, sculleries and servant rooms.
Though occupying an enviable south-facing garden position with views past the dovecote and through the ancient parkland up to Rook’s Castle hill, almost all of the older manor house had been relegated to service areas and languished, much unloved, for over 300 years until the current comprehensive restoration programme was begun.
The vision for the old manor is to bring it back to its Tudor glory days before the Baroque Wing was built and to compliment that new house through the strengths of the older one. Doing this entails repairs of all kinds but it is the exterior in particular that is currently enjoying the final stages of this new renaissance.
The roofscapes of Tudor manor houses were important areas where flourishes and decoration could be added to maximum effect, silhouetting rich architectural details which pointed to the sky in much the same way church buildings had been doing for hundreds of years. The roofscapes to the Tudor royal palaces of Nonsuch, Otford, Oatlands, Whitehall, Eltham, Placentia, Richmond and Hampton Court were all as spectacular as they were influential. Testament to the rarity of surviving Tudor roofscapes is that only the last one of these buildings still stands. Like grand Tudor manors, each of these palaces had highly decorated silhouettes of chimneys, gables, battlements and finials. Halswell in that regard was no different, it survived but its roofscape suffered; its finials had been worn out by weather and had all completely fallen away, only the bases and stumps still remained.
These images were taken while the re-roofing was underway last year in preparation for the intellectual processes of deciding the most appropriate new finials and coming to agreement with Historic England.
Part 1: Exploration and Archaeology
The team standing on the large concrete apron that sits in front of the bridge.
While much of the damaged and missing stone is being carved for the restoration of the bridge, the dam works have also been started so that the foundations and leaks are made good before the bridge structure itself is put back to its original glory.
Before work began the water level in the pond in front of the bridge did not rise to the level of the arches, where the water should flow out to create a waterfall behind. Instead it was seeping out and under the dam, potentially causing catastrophic damage to the foundations. Only during flood conditions did the water rise high enough, and then too high, creating dangers to the whole of the bridge structure itself. The concrete apron we were sure was added in the 1970’s when Mr Nataro owned the field and completed a lot of works which no doubt helped the landscape survive until the restorations could be taken up once more. What lay under this concrete apron was a mystery. Was the concrete covering an older similar in-fill that was necessary to create the dam and support the stone bridge? Or was it entirely constructed in the 1970’s and not part of the original engineering? Was it superfluous or necessary to keep the dam from crumbling and being washed down stream?
Diggers large and small put into action to understand the archaeology.
The only way to find out was to remove the broken and leaking concrete, both to locate the weaknesses and to restore the original form, if that proved possible. The condition of the above-ground bridge structure, though propped up and secured from both sides, was still highly delicate and the works needed to proceed with the greatest care to avoid unnecessary shocks and vibrations. Continue reading
Part 1: Repairing The Stone
Since 2016 mason Mike Orchard has been carving new stone to replace the damaged or lost elements of this Halswell Park icon.
The restoration started with scaffolding to the bridge and removal of dangerous tree limbs before the winter could do any more damage to the structure. Each stone had to be numbered and mapped both on the working drawings and on the stones themselves, before dismantling the most precarious areas could begin.
The Bath Stone Bridge in Mill Wood was created by Sir Charles Kemeys-Tynte (1710-1785) and probably Thomas Wright (1711-1786) as the show piece in the of their water garden vision.
The ashlar apse at the back of the central pediment had roots digging through the cracks and had been losing cut stone blocks into the water below for many years. Before Mike could evaluate the missing stone that needed to be remade a catalogue of all the stone found on site was needed so that the jigsaw could be understood. Salvaging stone lost in the silt was one of the first tasks.
Episode 3: The Restoration, pt.2
Roy Bolton, Mark Lidster and Claire Fear return to the hot-seat for a more in-depth conversation about the ongoing restoration. We cover scenes of Edward Strachan’s on-site visits, the fixing of the Tudor roof and the works happening in the fabled Mill Wood, both on the landscape and the idiosyncratic Bath Stone Bridge.
Episode 2: The Restoration, pt.1
In this fly-on-the-wall episode, we follow Roy Bolton and project leader of the Mill Wood restoration Ann Manders through the manor of Halswell. Led by Andy Coxall of Corbel Conservation Ltd, we embark on an exclusive walk-through and discussion of the building’s curiosities, as well as the upcoming plans to revitalise both the interior and exterior. Roy and Ann then visit the Rotunda, known as Mrs. Busby’s Temple, to witness the initial clearing of the landscape.
Episode 1: Halswell Park
The first instalment in the Halswell Park documentary series.
Through interviews with art and architecture historian Roy Bolton, conservation director Mark Lidster and project architect Claire Fear, we delve into the history and legacy of historic Halswell House, how it came into the hands of current owner Edward Strachan and his vision of restoring the manor to its former glory as a true British landmark.
A big thank you to everyone at Corbel Conservation Ltd. for their hard work and dedication in fixing up the roof, as well as everyone involved in the arduous process.
This is the first step of many in ensuring the restoration of Halswell House to its deserved status.
Today also marks this blog’s 2 year anniversary, for which we would like to thank our readers and all parties interested in this project.