Fame at last!

This week our restoration project was featured on RTE’s Nationwide programme, it’s only available for the next 21 days so be sure to watch the video and find out more about what’s happening in the house.

The Mount Stewart segment starts at 8mins 10 secs.


Callum’s trip to Shanghai

As you may remember from my last blog, during the month of August I had the fantastic opportunity to travel to China and take part in a charity conservation project. The project consisted of a British team of 8 people, and a Chinese team of 8 people, coming together to assist the conservation of a 100 year old Clinic in a small water town called Tongli. All of the participants were from a Conservation or Architectural background, ranging from student level through to a Project Manager. The result of such a diverse team of volunteers was an incredibly useful asset to the conservation project, and also made for a very beneficial and interesting two weeks for everyone involved, as they learned a lot from each other and their backgrounds.

I set out on the trip as the only member of the National Trust in the team and felt very privileged to be representing such a great organisation. The National Trust is not only important and influential to conservation in the UK, but it is well respected all over the world as I learnt on my trip. The Chinese team and media were very interested in the work I do for the Trust and the conservation methods and techniques that we have. Although the Chinese conservation methods varied greatly from our own, they continued to be very open minded and appreciated the knowledge and experience I was passing on.

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The trip involved both the British and the Chinese teams staying in a hotel beside the building site in a small town called Tongli, this town is sometimes described as the Venice of the East and was a very beautiful place full of history. The town itself was a conservation area and while the implications of that varied from what we know as a conservation area, the local government still worked very hard to protect its heritage. One regulation I found very impressive was that no fuel powered vehicles were allowed in the town and battery powered vehicles were used as an alternative. As both the Chinese and British teams were staying in the same hotel we had plenty of time to interact and learn about the great and fascinating differences in our culture and even now a couple of months on from the trip I, and I’m sure most of the British team are still in touch with our friends in China.

My position with the National Trust in Mount Stewart allowed me to be involved in the very early stages of the project and this was invaluable not only in experience to develop my knowledge as a Joiner, but also to let me fully understand the project and the many issues it is facing. Now you can understand that for this reason and many more I was extremely pleased upon our arrival at Tongli to find out that the works side of the project had not been started and we were able to see the building in its derelict neglected state. The people of Tongli and the local government were extremely welcoming and the day we arrived comprised of an opening ceremony in the town square and then a tour of the project site. The next day saw the start of the works and you really got a feeling of excitement and anticipation from everyone involved.

Working on this project and listening to the various people involved, it became clear to me that the way the Chinese conservation organisations see a historic building varied to that of our conservation organisations here in the UK. When they spoke of the work that they wanted to carry out and the vision that they wanted to achieve, it painted a picture of renovation more than conservation. In the UK we like to embrace the age and character of a building and have a philosophy of retention of historic fabric where possible, this was something that I tried my best to put across while in China. At one stage we visited a similar project that had been finished in Tongli and were amazed to see that other than the style and structure, the building looked quite new. Although to us in the UK this method of conservation seems somewhat unthinkable, it is important to try and understand the reasons behind it. I tried my best while over there to figure it out and in the end an explanation that I and the rest of the team agreed with came from a member of the British team. The traditional buildings in China were all very similar in their construction, the general structure and style was one that had been developed over thousands of years and for this reason it worked and there was no need to change it. In the UK we have had many different Architectural periods with different structures, styles and different materials. This means that every historic building is different and with each comes different hurdles. As a result of the similar style and uniform structures in China the Chinese are able to replace material and even whole sections of building with the confidence that they will bring it back to what it was like when first built. This is why I think it could be described as renovation more than conservation.

All in all I had a great time in Tongli and learnt a huge amount not just from the project and the work, but from the people I worked with, people from all different backgrounds and from all over the world coming together to share skills and experience. I am very grateful that I was able to be a part of the world heritage scheme and once again thank the National Trust for the opportunities I continue to be provided with.


The Joiner’s Workshop

I was looking through old files and came across the early sketches and plans for the joiner’s workshop, so thinking it might be of interest for at least some of you, I thought a blog post would be in order.

When I first came into the Trust, there was no workshop or any space which could be converted into a workshop so we, the joinery team couldn’t carry out any of our duties.

I was asked if I had any idea as to what was needed, so I had in the recesses of my mind a structure that would be suitable.

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The structure was easy to build and consisted of two steel containers placed parallel to each other 30ft/9.1m apart. The area between the containers was to be the workshop floor area. This area would house all the machinery, tools as well as the joiners bench.

Work began on the 13th of Feb 2012.

The first operation was the clearing of the site, followed by the laying of the stone base and the ecogrid. The ecogrid was a fantastic material to provide a stable flat surface on which to lay the containers.

On 16 February the containers arrived, this was when things got serious! Heavy machinery, a crane and two 40ft Lorries carrying the containers all converging on one spot! Needless to say, that day I was stressed out. My main concern was the public who would not know what was going on and might unwittingly stumble into the area of works.

The next stage we started to rook the area over the two containers, the containers doubled as storage and the wall plates for the roof to sit on.

17 February saw the commencement of the closing in of the structure. This consisted of placing a vapour barrier between the containers and the stud walls that would be fixed to the sides of the containers.

On the 29 February we started to roof the structure. 18mm plywood screwed to the rafters with felt tiles stuck down to plywood was the finish we desired.

On 3 March the Siberian larch sheeting arrived and commencement of sheeting the workshop began immediately. The sheeting was supplied by Cranwood Industries, which produced the moulding in record time!

The same day, the electricians began their job of wiring the workshop; this was a hectic time with the builder’s groundsmen, joiners and electricians all in one spot!

On the 6 March the pressure was really piled on!!! We needed to complete the workshop by 10 March, as the property was due to open again after the winter months.

The structure was almost complete, one thing outstanding was the decking at the front.

Relief! 10am on the morning of 10 March the job was done.

Now when you visit, you can understand the structure better and see what it took to get the building up. If we are in the building when you arrive, you are welcome to come and have a look and we are more than willing to chat, mind tho we are very busy and would absolutely hate for anyone to hold us back!!!!


Our visit to Knole in England

Fiona (Project Conservator) and I had the privilege of heading across to England on 14 September to see the renovation/conservation project taking place at Knole in the great county of Kent.

We had a fantastic time, the weather being very kind to us and the staff of Knole being very kind and welcoming.

Knole is an enormous house dating from the 1400’s. Naturally enough with a building of this age there are massive structural issues, and with the materials the house was built with getting the wrong side of the hill.

I, from a joinery point of view, was blown away by the sheer size and the complexity of such a property!

The roof was being striped from its tile covering, exposing the roof structure. I was very interested to see the way in which it was constructed and what made it still stay together after 600 years!

The answer to that question is oak! Beautiful wonderful English oak!

I have included a few photos of the roof structure and the front façade of the property.

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If you get a chance (after having visited Mount Stewart), I recommend you make the journey from wherever you are and see this wonderful property and support the team there as they take on this almighty task!

Also make sure and keep reading this blog, the reason being I have a blog battle with the main blogger at Knole!


Hague bedroom floor strengthening

One of the many interesting things to be found in the house is that all the rooms (especially the bedrooms) have all got a name. A few examples of the names given are Hague, Rome, Paris, and Amsterdam. The names are all European cities which the family visited.

The room called Hague has been a room of special interest to us for the past few months. The reason being that it has been a test case for the floor strengthening method which, if successful, will be rolled out through the rest of the house. We, the joinery team, have been under the instruction and guidance of the structural engineers (Mann Williams) who have been carrying out these tests, as the floors throughout the house are displaying problems with the distance they have been asked to span for the past 172 years.

It is a critical time for us now as a structure to put tension into the floor has been put in place and tension put into the floor. This adds stiffness to the floor and enables the floor to move as one single structure, helping its load baring capacity.

We have used what looks like a monstrous structure to lift the floor but the principles used are very simple.

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The pictures show us, the joinery team, tightening the lifting rods. The rods are threaded bars dropped downwards and attached to two bars which we discovered have been in the floor since the 1840s. These already existing bars in the floor are the remnants of a floor tightening method employed by the original joiners. Incidentally this tells us the joiners in the 1840s new that the joists specified would have difficulties spanning the distance required! And here we are 172 years later having to do the exactly the same thing, only with better knowledge (put that in to keep the engineers happy) and of course incredibly talented and highly skilled joiners to carry out the engineers wishes!

Joking aside, as I have said before when lifting floor boards we just don’t know what we are going to find! This time, (and about time too!), this find has worked to our and the engineers benefit!

Keep on watching this space as the chapel will soon be finished, and we will show you the finished product soon. We have more exciting projects coming up and I can’t wait to get stuck into them! It’s an exciting and very busy time.


An introduction to our Visitor Services Manager – Susan

I am looking forward to the challenges ahead regarding the Mount Stewart Conservation Project.

I am currently working as Visitor Services Manager and a large proportion of my job has been taken up managing the property events programme. My new role within the Conservation project will take on a different type of event management when I will be tasked daily with ensuring that Mount Stewart is open for business as usual, but, with the opportunity to reveal various new and old discoveries and provide a great experience for all our visitors.

I will be assisting the conservation team with the creation of new opportunities and identifying unique and interesting aspects which will be uncovered through this rediscovering process. I will be reviewing and developing communication channels to help you plan your visits to this fabulous house during the forthcoming years and I hope to be able to encourage everyone to become engaged in some way with this exciting restoration programme. It’s a whole new adventure for me, and I am embarking on this new journey with both excitement and trepidation. I hope that you will be able to enjoy this with me.

Susan Roberts
Visitor Services Manager

Watch this space…

As I mentioned in the previous blog to watch this space, I have taken a few more photos showing the walls which have just been erected on the second floor. In the photo you can see Trevor nailing in bridging to the floor joists. This is to stabilise the joists stopping them from moving individually, creating a floor that moves as a whole and not in parts. I have also included a short video showing the layout of the chapel storage.

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The ceiling height this time is 8 feet high or 2.440m as opposed to the ceiling height of the ground floor being 10’-5” or 3.180m high. All in all we will have three floors with ground floor being as stated and the other two being 8”or 2.440 high.