Work begins at Winsford Cottage Hospital

After many months of planning and preparation and with all the funding now in place, work began on site at Winsford Cottage Hospital in late July and the team is making good progress.

£1.5m raised to secure Winsford's future

In June, we received the news we had been waiting for; the result of Landmark’s Round 2 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund. We are absolutely delighted that the HLF has agreed a grant of £487,000, in addition to the earlier HLF development grant of £96,000. The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation also awarded £23,000 to support the Bridgwater College & Princes Foundation craft skills training partnerships which will take place as part of the restoration.

In total, £1.5 million has been raised to secure the future of the Winsford Cottage Hospital, including £876,000 donated by over a thousand of our very generous supporters, and by grant-giving trusts. The generosity of the Guardians of Winsford Cottage Hospital has been invaluable in enabling us to reach this ambitious funding target – thank you so much once again for your wonderful support.

The project to restore Voysey’s Grade II* listed cottage hospital will see the building returned to its pre-1914 layout as a Landmark sleeping six, with an interpretation room and community spaces in the east wing. We expect Winsford Cottage Hospital to open as a Landmark in the autumn of 2019.

Work begins on site

The ownership of Winsford Cottage Hospital was transferred from the Winsford Trust to Landmark in February, and a team of volunteers promptly set to work to spring clean and clear the building of unwanted modern furniture and fittings. Several trips were made to a local recycling centre, and a number of significant items including paintings, pictures, attendance books and letters have been removed for safekeeping.

In July, with all the funding for the project secured, and with Planning Permission, Listed Building Consent and the bat license in place, work on site began in earnest. We are pleased to have appointed local firm J.E. Stacey to work with Landmark as our main contractor for the restoration, following a competitive tendering process. They are a family-run, long-established firm with extensive historic building experience, based in Holsworthy, just 9 miles from the hospital.

One of the first tasks on site has been the demolition of the 1960’s day room, to return the hospital to its original layout. It is already satisfying to see the exterior of the building back to its intended design, with Voysey’s generous verandah overlooking the garden.

The demolition of the 1960's day room, built onto Voysey's verandah

At the rear of the east and west wings, the glass and cast iron canopies have been carefully taken down, ready to be restored and returned at a later date. This led to the discovery that the columns of the canopies sit on concrete bases, suggesting that the original landscape level at the rear of the building was significantly lower than the current levels.

The concrete bases of the cast iron columns; reducing the landscape levels will help to reduce issues with damp

Following the demolition of the day room, we have been able to investigate beneath the floor, under layers of modern carpet, tiles and the concrete base laid in the 1960’s. It is clear that at least some of Voysey’s original glazed yellow tiling remains intact and it appears that the verandah originally had a large slate kerb to its outer edge, which can be reinstated. Further work will be needed to see how much of the tiling has survived and how it can best be repaired.

Cutting back the layers of the day room floor reveals what is almost certainly the original construction - a yellow filed floor laid up to a slate kerb edge

Uncovering the mosaic floors

One of the most striking features of Winsford Cottage Hospital is the golden mosaic floor that runs right through the spine of the building. It was covered over when the NHS took the building on, covered by a concrete screed and a thick non-breathable carpet. Lifting the carpets throughout the building has been one of our earliest tasks, both to allow the floors to dry out and also to determine the exact approach that will be needed for the mosaics, as it is expected a selection of repair techniques will be required.

All the modern floor coverings have now been removed, thankfully with minimal damage to the mosaic surfaces, which will be protected with a breathable membrane during the construction work. Large areas of screed still remain but this can be carefully removed – thick areas more easily than thinner areas. Some of this painstaking work will be carried out by Landmark volunteers as part of our programme of engagement activity which will run throughout the restoration.

Trials are carried out to determine the best techniques to clean and stabilise the mosaics

In the meantime, we have been working with a specialist floor conservator to undertake trials of possible methods for the cleaning and stabilisation of the mosaics. Following removal of the screed, the surface is lightly brushed and cleaned before applying a stabilising solution, providing a glimpse of the richness of colour the floor might present.

Winsford reveals its secrets

Throughout the building, the process of stripping away the modern fittings and wall coverings has already started to reveal intriguing clues about the hospital’s construction and original decoration. Removal of defective render at the west end of the building has revealed a straight joint in the brickwork, while inside there is a clear break in the floor mosaics 9 feet into the main corridor. Both discoveries provide evidence that Voysey’s design was built as drawn, with the west end of the building being altered fairly soon afterwards.

In the wards, we have been investigating the bed kick boards, which prevented damage to the skirting when the hospital’s beds were moved around. Inspection of the paint reveals at least 7 distinct layers of paint to the skirting - the original green followed by white and then pink, while on the kick boards the first layer is pink. The hessian backed lino runs under the kick boards but not under the skirting, further supporting the theory that these were added at a later date by the NHS. Further research and more accurate dating will be needed, but we expect the kick boards will be removed to present the rooms in their pre-1914 state.

Layers of paint applied to the stone window surrounds have been removed, leading to the discovery that the stone surface beneath has been tooled. The tooling is finely detailed but at differing angles, raising the question of whether the stonework was originally exposed (as in other Voysey buildings) or maybe tooled as a key for plaster or painting, perhaps to provide a more cleanable, sanitary surface. We will need to conduct further research to determine when the tooling and paint was applied, before we can agree on the best approach.

Roof works gets under way

Now that the building is scaffolded, work is getting underway to repair the chimneys and to completely remove and replace the huge slate roof. We will re-use as many of the existing slates as possible, but one of our early challenges has been to source sufficient quantities of large north Cornwall second-hand slates to complete the work.

We have been investigating the source of the original slates – which may be from Delabole or perhaps one of the other nearby slate quarries in north Cornwall that were in operation at the time of the hospital’s construction, such as Trevillet or the Prince of Wales quarry. Regardless of the source, new slates would take a long time to blend in, and our priority has been to find the best match the existing roof, in the correct sizes. We have now managed to do this and work on the roof will continue throughout the autumn and into the early part of next year.

Activities and engagement

On the 24 and 25 November a group of 18 enthusiastic volunteers were tasked with a daunting challenge - to chip away the concrete screed which had been poured over Voysey's mosaic floor prior to the Flotex carpet being laid in the 1980’s.  The concrete was stuck solid to the floor, and we have had to work carefully to do the necessary conservation work without causing damage to the stone tesserae. Our volunteers came from all over the country (and Canada) to help us with this enormous task. It was hard work, but incredibly rewarding to see the beautiful floor emerge from beneath the hard concrete covering.