Transforming the building
Repairs to Voysey’s elegant sweeping roof have been tackled in sections. First, our roofing contractors stripped each section of its slates and then sheeted it over, so as to protect the original sarking boards, battens and layer of insulating horse hair beneath. The slates were then assessed for quality and any broken ones discarded. We have used locally-salvaged Delabole slates to match the originals, meaning we can rehang, in diminishing courses, to the original design. Inside the building, we have repaired the original lime plaster where it was loose. Some walls, in particularly poor condition, were completely re-plastered. Four coats of lime plaster were applied to get a smooth and precise finish. Lime plaster can fail if temperatures drop below 5 degrees, so heaters and de-humidifiers were in conditions of especially cold weather.
Plasterers have had to work in careful tandem with the electricians and plumbers, not only to avoid collisions but also to make sure that newly plastered walls were not chased out to accommodate wiring. A plan of all our services and electrics was carefully reviewed and consulted to ensure there were no late changes of mind. The scaffolding is now coming down and the final repairs to the exterior render and glass canopies are about to get underway.
Mosaic floor conservation
Following our first attemppt at removing the concrete screed from the mosaic floor in November, volunteers returned on two further weekends to continue this painstaking work and have now removed it from the corridor and some of the smaller rooms, where the original mosaic floor exists. It has been an enormous challenge, requiring repetitive chipping, careful scraping and sanding. In some places the screed was several millimetres thick and rubbery in consistency. In others it was a hard, thin, stubborn skin. We cannot thank our volunteers enough for the work they have done. Their contribution has been phenomenal. Once JE Stacey have completed their work to the interior of the building, all the protective covering over the mosaic floor will be removed and it will be thoroughly cleaned. We can then properly assess how to rebuild the surface, where it is most worn.
National Lottery Heritage Funding allows us to deliver training and engagement activities throughout the project to save Winsford Hospital. The practice of many heritage crafts are in decline and it is critical that we play a part in supporting the next generation of craftsmen and women. In the new year, two apprentices from the Prince’s Foundation spent three weeks on site and were asked to make a new timber front gate to an original design by Voysey. Sourcing sections of oak that were large enough proved to be a challenge, but once this finally arrived in the workshop, the apprentices worked studiously to mark out the timber to Voysey’s exacting design. There was much in this design that was ‘not normal’ but ‘round robin’ emails and phone calls ironed out any queries. Making a Voysey item from scratch has opened up a unique window into his creative world. The finished gate is a triumph, and the process of making passes the skills and vision of an Arts & Crafts master to the next generation of heritage craftspeople.
Mike Wye Associates, who provide the West County and beyond with lime and eco-building products, attended an open day in March and spent the day talking to visitors about lime mortars and plasters. Winsford made for an interesting case study, as it was built with a mixture of lime and cement-based materials and, as a result, its repair has not been straightforward. It represents what many owners of older properties may find – a traditionally built structure, with modern materials applied to walls and floors.
At the end of March, we welcomed students and tutors from Yeovil College on site for 2 study days. Students learned about the work of the Landmark Trust and our approach to saving Winsford Hospital, as well as general information about the planning and management of heritage projects. Specialist conservator Lynne Humphries from Humphries and Jones introduced the students to the work we are doing to conserve the mosaic floor, among other things. They particularly enjoyed working with Stonemason, Chris Accolla, a graduate of the Prince’s Foundation and took home carefully crafted Bath stone pieces. We hope their experience on site has encouraged their enthusiasm and inspired them to consider further training and employment in the heritage sector.