As work begins in earnest at Wythenshawe Hall, Place North West talked to Neal Charlton, director at Buttress Architects, about the restoration process.
Around 50 firefighters attended the scene at the 16th-Century Hall in March last year to put out the blaze which took hold across the timber-framed building. The arson attack badly damaged the property and efforts to repair it have continued ever since.
Charlton outlined how, working together with recently appointed Conlon Construction and specialist sub-contractors, his team will restore the historic South Manchester site. He said: “It’s a great shame to see the damage that’s been caused, but we’re looking forward to taking steps to restore the Hall to its former glory, drawing on our heritage and restoration experience to deliver a great result.”
Since the fire, an emergency tarpaulin has been used to protect the property while essential structural and archaeological works were completed inside. A temporary roof has been put in place to protect the inside from the elements and scaffolding has been installed to preserve the building. Archaeologists and conservation architects have combed through the Hall to save as much original material as possible. Hundreds of artefacts have been recovered and catalogued prior to the major repair work starting on site.
With contractor Conlon now on board, Charlton said major construction work is set to start within the next few days. Commissioned by Manchester City Council through the North West Construction Hub, the first phase will see Conlon carry out remedial works to the external building fabric. The constructor will work alongside Manchester-based Buttress and Thomasons, a structural engineer with expertise in fire-damaged buildings.
The repairs include making the building weather tight and replacing its temporary roof with a traditional slate roof. Historically, the Hall would have had a stone roof but severe fire damage to its timber frame has meant this option is too heavy to retain. Conlon will also carry out repairs on site to the bell tower that was removed from the building following the fire, and re-install it on the restored Hall once work is complete.
Extensive work is also needed to restore original windows. Surviving windows will be taken off site for conservation and these will be re-installed as part of the programme.
Charlton said: “After carrying out in-depth analysis on the remaining fragments of glass, we believe that one of the windows that melted away in the fire was original to the building’s construction and a replica of this will be created using available photographs.” Artist Debra Lowe from Historic England, has been commissioned to create the replica.
Once the outside of the Hall is finished, which Charlton suggests will be by the end of the year at the earliest, work will begin on the inside and will require multiple specialists, working on everything from the wallpaper to the decorative paintings. The philosophy of the repair project is to retain as much original material as possible and Charlton said his role will involve bringing together the work from all the different advisors on the project to ensure consistency throughout the Hall.
With the scale and specialist work involved in restoration, the cost of the work is still to be calculated, however insurance company Zurich has reassured the architects that the building is properly covered. Any funds that cannot be recovered from insurance is expected to come from Manchester City Council with a large proportion of the historical maintenance fund allocated to Wythenshawe in the next two years. Up to £500,000 is going to be invested in Wythenshawe Hall over the next 12 months to modernise as well as restore the property, with the entire Hall being rewired, new roofing and even wi-fi being installed.
Michael Conlon, chairman at Conlon Construction said: “We have extensive experience working with historic and heritage buildings, including the grade one-listed Heaton Hall in Manchester and the grade two-listed County Hall in Lancashire. We feel honoured to deliver the first phase of the reconstruction work for Wythenshawe Hall. The building is of local significance and a source of pride to the community and we look forward to putting the damage right and conserving it for future generations.”