Working with Listed Buildings
What is a listed building? The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England (Historic England for short) maintains a list of all places (not just buildings) of special architectural or historic interest. Buildings on that list are called listed buildings and all features affecting their significance as heritage assets must be conserved in any alteration or development.
Saunders Brothers were recently awarded a contract to renovate and restore Bledlow Manor, a Grade 2 listed mid-seventeenth and early eighteenth-century Chiltern manor house in Bledlow village, near Princes Risborough – by any standards a fascinating and prestigious project. In any listed building, renovation and restoration must go hand in hand with conservation, something that requires care and skill – including some skills that are rare today.
Features of the Manor House
As the project got under way, the list of antique features grew, often surprising contractors, architects and even the clients.
Behind a sealed-up door, a steep narrow twisting staircase was revealed for the first time in many years. It led directly from the kitchen to what had been servants’ quarters on the second floor, so that kitchen staff went to and from their work without ever being seen by their employers.
Servants Called by Bells
Those servants who did venture into the
presence of their masters were summoned
by a system of bells, originally pulley-
operated, but later updated to electric
operation – modern in its day, no doubt,
but now another relic from the past.
Laundry may have been done in the basement in open stone built-in containers conveniently close to the house’s well. The water would have had to be carried up to the kitchen fire for heating, then back to the basement for washing the clothes and linen.
In days gone by, the kitchen fireplace of a house was a centre of operations for the staff and, once the ceramic tiled wall concealing it had been demolished, it was found to be massive – fully three metres wide and spanned by a great oak beam. Ovens for breadmaking and other baking were
set into the brickwork, all heated by the central fire.
Meat Smoking Chimney?
There may have been a separate side chimney for smoking fish or meat. What appears to have been access for these operations is through a doorway, plastered over long ago but now reopened, from a room on the first floor.
Crown Glass Windows
Almost two thirds of the manor house’s large sash windows are glazed in crown glass, unobtainable today but once the best method of making window panes. It was produced by blowing huge glass spheres from which panes of glass were cut then flattened by annealing. Even after this, they retained some of the curvature which is characteristic of their appearance. Much repair work is needed on the sash windows, with the utmost care taken to avoid damaging the irreplaceable crown glass.
Were the sash windows one of the improvements made to the house early in the eighteenth century? Crown glass making was a French trade secret when the house was originally built but was started in London later in the seventeenth century. In 1702 it would have been quite a status symbol in rural Buckinghamshire.
The Project Team
Saunders Brothers will be working closely with all the other members of the project team:
Architects, Peregrine Bryant who are historic buildings specialists
Structural Engineers, Hockley & Dawson
Quantity Surveyors, Walker Associates
M&E services consultants, QODA
CDM advisors, Goddard Consulting
and most importantly the Client and their Estate Manager.
The project is programmed to take over 12 months and the team is making good progress.