Winter is coming – but is your house ready?

Today is National Gutters Day. Not the most glamorous date for your diary but it is an important one. We close this year’s National Maintenance Week with some top tips for taking care of your gutters, as well as the rest of your old home:

Our key suggestions to give a property a basic Maintenance ‘MOT’:
Water damage is the prime concern when it comes to maintenance. November is the time to start trouble-shooting because that’s when drains and gutters could become blocked by autumn leaf fall and debris like twigs and old bird nests.  If any of these obstruct the easy flow of water away from a building – damp and other serious problems can follow. It’s relatively easy to check and clear accessible sections of drain and guttering yourself.

Blocked gutter

Check the roof for damaged or slipped tiles. Even a relatively small gap can let in damaging amounts of water.  It’s much easier and cheaper to have a tile fixed than replace trusses rotted through years of neglect.  You can check your roof from the inside – looking for chinks of daylight in the attic. Outside, you might find that using a pair of binoculars helps you get a good clear view of potential problem points.

Slate Roof damage

Windows are another important area. If you really want to protect your investment then looking after your wood windows is vital.  It’s a good idea to wash down the paintwork. This not only prolongs the life of the finish, it gives a good opportunity to check for decay.

Vegetation growing on or near a house needs monitoring. It’s quite easy to check all growth against the building especially trees bushes and ivy. This should be removed, cut back or pruned carefully where necessary as these items growing on a wall can also cause dampness and structural damage.

Vegetation in gutter

Top 10 tips for National Maintenance Week 2015

– Look for blocked downpipes (best done during heavy rain to see water coming from any leaky joints – in dry weather look for stained brickwork).
– Check ground level gullies and drains to make sure they are clear of debris like leaves, twigs and even things like balls and toys – and have them cleaned out if necessary.
– Every autumn, clear any plants, leaves and silt from gutters, hopperheads, flat roofs and drainage channels. It’s a good idea to do this in spring too.
– Remove potentially damaging vegetation from behind downpipes by cutting back or removing the plant altogether
– Use a hand mirror to look behind rainwater pipes as splits and cracks in old cast iron and aluminium often occur here and are not easily noticed
– Fit bird/leaf guards to the tops of soil pipes and rainwater outlets to prevent blockages
– Have gutters refixed if they are sloping the wrong way or discharging water onto the wall
– If sections are beyond repair, make sure that replacements are made of the same material as the originals (on older houses, this is sometimes lead, but more usually cast iron)
– Regular painting of cast iron is essential to prevent rust – and keeps your property looking good!
Don’t – undertake routine maintenance work at high level unless you are accompanied and have suitable equipment.  If in doubt always seek help from a professional


Rusty rainwater goods

The SPAB runs a free technical advice line, open weekdays 9.30am – 12.30pm. Call 020 7456 0916 for impartial, expert advice.


National Maintenance Week 2015

National Maintenance Week, the SPAB’s campaign to encourage owners of all sorts of buildings (not just ancient ones!) to be aware of the importance of regular care, begins today. This week aims to remind everyone of a few simple steps they can take to ensure their home is prepared for the cold, harsh winter weather.

Broadcaster, writer, historian and archaeologist Neil Oliver is leading this year’s campaign to make people aware of the importance of property maintenance. A familiar face from popular programmes including, Coast, The Vikings, A History of Ancient Britain and The One Show, Neil keenly aware of the changes that the passage of time can make to a building, but he knows that whatever the age or condition of a structure, good, regular maintenance can play a role in its future.

Neil Oliver at St Andrews, Holborn

Neil Oliver at St Andrews, Holborn

The SPAB took Neil to the beautifully maintained, Christopher Wren–designed church, St Andrews, Holborn to give him a bird’s-eye view of the tricky nooks and crannies that can cause problems if leaves, twigs, nests and other seasonal debris are left uncleared.

Neil said of St Andrews: “It’s a wonderful old building. Even though it’s relatively modern compared to many of the places I’ve visited and written about as part of my work, it’s easy to see how vital it is to make sure it’s maintained. As an archaeologist I’m very familiar with the care challenges faced by significant, historic buildings which don’t conform to a standard pattern. Planned and regular maintenance is vital to ensure that they have a future as well as a past. That message is equally applicable to buildings of all types and all ages.  When I travelled round the country for BBC’s Coast series, the importance of protecting a building against the ravages of the wind and the weather was very apparent. I could see it was a constant battle.

Neil adds: “ ‘Stave off decay by daily care… prop a perilous wall…  mend a leaky roof’  It’s amazing that what SPAB’s founder William Morris wrote nearly 140 years ago is still sound, practical advice. Faulty gutters and blocked drains don’t repair themselves – the longer you ignore a problem the more costly and difficult it becomes to put it right, and that’s true if the place you care for is an ancient ruined broch, a medieval church in a village, a Victorian terraced house or a modern apartment in a town or city. Maintenance makes a difference. Never put it off.”

Leaves blocking a gutter

Leaves blocking a gutter

Neil is right about maintenance making economic sense.  If you turn a blind eye to cracked pipes, faulty drains or broken/missing roof tiles you might as well throw hard earned cash to the winter wind.

Stay tuned for our top maintenance tips from our technical team.

SPAB and Historic Royal Palaces partnership turns 5

In 2016 we will celebrate the 5 year anniversary of our Masterclass partnership with Historic Royal Palaces. We kick-started celebrations this year with a competition for past delegates. They were invited to write a short piece on how a Masterclass influenced their work. Congratulations to James Crick, senior architect at Donald Insall Associates, for his winning entry describing how what he learnt on a ‘Conserving Historic Buildings: Repair of Gauged Arches’ masterclass helped him during a condition survey of the Crystal Palace Subway in south London.

The masterclasses are limited to a small group size to allow for the hands-on workshop element, and have so far reached over 120 delegates. Since 2012, we have run masterclasses to cover these popular topics of conservation and repair: gauged arches; cut and rubbed chimneys; free-standing walls; metalwork; stonework; timber; historic finishes. They offer a unique learning environment through case studies, demonstrations, hands-on workshops and access to live conservation projects. The masterclasses are delivered by experts in their fields and presented at the magnificent HRP sites – Hampton Court Palace, Tower of London and Banqueting House.

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

James Crick’s winning entry:

Courses, such as the Repair of Gauged Arches which I attended in 2014, offer a wonderful opportunity to engage with materials and the experts who work with them. Following a day of practical teaching by Emma Simpson, my zealously rubbed brick slotted into a perfectly formed gauged brick arch especially created for learners. It was clear to all that my brick was rubbed too small, demonstrated by the surrounding thick white putty lines. Not the perfect brick repair but my enjoyment was not diminished. The process and teaching was by far the greatest reward of the day.

James (left) at the Gauged Arches Masterclass

James (left) at the Gauged Arches Masterclass

Working as a young architect in conservation, I have often felt that university and subsequent practice can fail to unite designers with the process of ‘doing’. That is to say, we are prepared with a wealth of invaluable theory (supported by years of personal research and interest), which can assist us immeasurably in developing construction proposals, yet often this education fails to teach the on-site reality. There is an education gap between those that do and those who instruct, which is clearly no good for either party, nor for the poor buildings we work on.

In professional practice hands-on courses rapidly find relevance in daily work. The knowledge gained from my course was immensely useful during a condition survey of E. M. Barry’s Crystal Palace Subway in South London. Hidden under a main road, with little above ground presence, a startling array of columns and polychromatic brick vaults remains one of the last remnants of the the Crystal Palace High Level Station (circa. 1864).

Crystal Palce Subway

Crystal Palace Subway


Crystal Palace Subway

Crystal Palace Subway


Although long closed, the relatively good condition of the the brick vaults is a testament to the qual-ity of the original construction. Sadly, in various locations, localised decay of the brick has occurred due to water ingress. Damage ranges from minor spalling and efflorescence, to limited areas of deeply eroded brick.

Supported by the knowledge gained from hands-on experience, we were able to make informed judgments regarding the practical aspects of repairs. For instance, it was apparent that cutting out for brick replacement was likely to have a consequential impact upon surrounding undamaged masonry (either through disturbance, or necessity in enabling bedding of replacement brickwork). Understanding this was essential in appraising the financial cost of these repairs. Knowing that limited funds may restrict future repair options, it was important to identify damage that was likely to affect future structural stability, to enable these areas to be prioritised.

Working closely with a structural engineer, an assessment of the structural implications of brick loss was undertaken. This allowed repairs to be identified as ‘necessary’ or ‘preferable’. Due to the risk associated with repair methods, it was also identified that some areas could remain un-repaired (subject to resolution of the origin of the decay) in order to protect adjacent sound brick-work.

Crystal Palace Subway, James' survey notes

Crystal Palace Subway, James’ survey notes

I implore all professionals (perhaps especially those entering conservation, having just left university) to take the opportunity to engage with hands-on experiences such as the masterclasses. For myself the workshop not only reinforced and expanded upon previous experiences, but also offered a friendly forum in which to meet people from differing disciplines within the construction industry. Shared experience and knowledge between parties is, surely, essential if we are to successfully care for our historic environment.

The Comprehensive Spending Review: a call to arms and a plea to George Osborne

New Heritage sign

With the Comprehensive Spending Review imminent, the historic environment faces an uncertain future. ‘Unprotected’ government departments like Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) face further cuts that could amount to a third or more of their budget. Historic England, as the government-linked agency that supports the English historic environment, has already suffered a real-terms funding cut of 40% over the last 5 years. Charities like the SPAB need financial support from Historic England to carry out their work and without this help activities including the Society’s Craft Fellowship training scheme, energy efficiency research, technical advice line and casework could be threatened. The Society has written a plea to the Chancellor to spare Historic England, during its formative period, from further cuts.

To protect Historic England and the SPAB, members are urged to write to the Chancellor or to lobby their MP.

The SPAB’s open letter to the Chancellor:

Dear Mr Osborne,


The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) is the country’s oldest organisation concerned with the repair and re-use of historic structures. The Society is a charity with a membership composed of professionals, homeowners and enthusiasts.  We are involved with the historic built environment in many ways, but particularly through skills training and education, research and advice.  We rely on charitable donations and the voluntary assistance of expert local members, but our work is also greatly assisted by support and financial help received from Historic England.  One example of important work that could not occur without their backing is our current research into the retro-fitting of historic buildings to achieve sympathetic energy efficiency improvements.  Our partnership with Historic England has allowed the research to be carried out at an extremely low cost, yet has already yielded information of great value to DECC and to many owners and occupiers of older buildings.

The Society welcomes and applauds the support you have shown for historic places of worship through the roof repair and Listed Place of Worship grant schemes and we hope that you will be prepared to back their continuation.  It is also vital, we believe, that Historic England receives favourable treatment within the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.  No doubt arguments against funding cuts to government-linked bodies are being put to you from all sectors, but we believe that Historic England’s case is genuinely exceptional.  As you will know, English Heritage was reconfigured this year and their example acts as a model for the way in which government-linked organisations can be restructured to maximise the potential for new means of income generation.  Historic England – the part of the organisation left to provide specialist advice to local and central government, as well as public-facing advisory and archive services –  has already been cut back to the minimum.  It is now extremely lean but, we hope, still fit for purpose. To cut its funding further at this point would cause immeasurable harm and would undermine the organisation’s operation at this critical early point after re-establishment.  The sums required to run Historic England at present levels may not be negligible, but are exceptionally modest when compared to most other government-linked bodies.   There is no need, I am sure, to explain to you Historic England’s contribution to sustainable growth, tourism and social well-being.  Repair and maintenance made a direct contribution to GDP estimated at £4.1billion in 2010 and Heritage Tourism an estimated £5.1 billion in 2011 (source Historic England, Heritage and the Economy 2015).

The SPAB urges you to look sympathetically upon Historic England within the CSR.  Heritage charities achieve a great deal for the country but require Historic England’s backing and the trickle of funding it can offer to draw-in other means of support.  We urge you to ensure that resources for Historic England are protected within the funds that DCMS will have to allocate.

Yours sincerely,

Matthew Slocombe MA FSA IHBC
Cc   DCMS;   Historic England

Celebrating and Cataloguing Welsh Stained Glass

Judith Leigh, Wales officer for the SPAB, reported on a pioneering database of Welsh stained glass in the spring 2013 SPAB Magazine. You can browse the database by subject, artist, location and more.

How very familiar is the appearance of stained glass, its vibrant colours, its settings, most often ecclesiastical, and its imagery; but the names of the artists and workshops who created it are very unfamiliar to most of us.

Traditionally their work has been mostly unsigned and it is left to scholars and enthusiasts to identify pieces. A ‘Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue’, created by Martin Crampin and his associate web-designers Technoleg Taliesin, was launched in June 2011. Tailor-made for recording visual historic artwork, its aim is to hold a record all the stained glass in Wales, of all periods, and through the careful design of the database, enable cross referencing across diverse fields of interest, artist, workshop, subject, place, other archives and studies.

Karl Parson's The Good Samaritan 1929, Church of St James, Pyle

The Good Samaritan, 1929. By Karl Parsons. Church of St James,Pyle

The catalogue grew gradually out of projects run by the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, the first being The Visual Culture of Wales funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Arts Council from 1996-2003. The founding premise was to counter the perceived fallacy that there was no national art of Wales, and resulted in three ground-breaking volumes by Peter Lord and John Morgan-Guy. These scholarly and generously illustrated volumes make the case for a specifically Welsh vein of British, even European, art and the resulting collation of material has created an important archive stored in the National Library of Wales, catalogued, reformatted and put on line subject to copyright.

The Sower, 1966. Church of St Michael, Llanfihangel-Genau. Designed and painted by John Edwards.

The Sower, 1966. Designed, cartooned and painted by John Edwards. Church of St Michael, Llanfihangel Genau’r Glyn.

Martin Crampin, an artist, designer and photographer, now a doctoral student, has worked on these projects from the beginning. Visiting buildings with specific commissions to photograph identified images, he also took the opportunity to photograph other historic imagery, particularly of stained glass. From this grew the concept of the stained glass database. It is by no means comprehensive yet and proposals for new entries are welcomed. The wide scope of the database also encompasses stained glass in modern techniques and from a secular context.

Church of St Illtyd, Swansea St Thomas

The Sun 2002–4, by Melanie Howse. Church of St Illtyd St Thomas Swansea

A thumbnail sketch of stained glass in Wales would first draw attention to the important late fifteenth and early sixteenth century stained glass in north east Wales. Fragments of medieval glass have survived in about fifty sites in north Wales; very little survives in south Wales though some re-sited imported glass from the continent has been identified.

Victorian stained glass in churches in Wales mostly comes from the big studios in London, Birmingham or Newcastle. Less well-known glass is being identified and recorded in non-Conformist chapels and in Roman Catholic churches. As the catalogue has grown it has been possible to attribute unsigned windows to firms making style comparisons and identifying instances where designs have been re-used.

The Arrest of Christ, probably late 16th century, panel from Church of St Gwenllwyfo, Llanwenllwyfo

The Arrest of Christ, probably late 16th century. Church of St Gwenllwyfo Llanwenllwyfo

The twentieth century has many Welsh artists and workshops or artists ‘local to Wales’. Swansea’s Welsh School of Architectural Glass established in the 1930s and still flourishing has trained many artists whose work is in places of worship and public buildings in Wales. It also gave rise to the firm of Celtic Studios, their output very familiar in south Wales’ churches. Stained glass emanating from Wrexham College of Art is found in north east Wales. Well known 20th century mixed media artists such as John Petts, Frank Roper and Jonah Jones have substantial bodies of work Wales. There are also some exceptional commissions from major English 20th and 21st century stained glass artists in buildings in Wales. Anonymity is no longer a problem.

Joachim in the Wilderness, 1498, Church of All Saints, Gresford.

Joachim in the Wilderness, 1498. Church of All Saints Gresford

We believe that this is the only comprehensive national data-base of stained glass, including nineteenth and twentieth century glass, though we understand that something comparable is being considered for England for this later period. It is a valuable resource for so many: enhancing enjoyment and understanding of the medium by the public, extending the knowledge of specialists and in particular helping those with responsibility for caring for historic buildings and their contents to ensure proper identification, maintenance and conservation of these national treasures.

All images from the SPAB Magazine (spring 2013), courtesy of Martin Crampin