Story of Repair
Miss June Severn
In 1996 the Walronds was in the ownership of Miss June Severn and the identical twin sisters, Daphne and Beatrice Reeves. They were growing older and the property was becoming more difficult to maintain. Since first coming to the house in 1954, June had striven to make it a centre for community events. She asked Cullompton Town Council to help in securing its future. The Town Council commissioned a report from the Harrison & Sutton partnership of Totnes, on the Walronds and the adjacent Merchant’s House. However, they decided not to proceed because the project absorbed too much council time and because they were unable to apply for funding.
Cullompton Walronds Preservation Trust
Miss Severn asked Mrs Jane Campbell, who was a district and town councillor at the time, to help by raising a group of interested people to take on the project. The group was formed and took advice from the Architectural Heritage Fund and its closely allied body, the UK Association of Preservation Trusts, on how best to proceed. The AHF provided a model document which trustees used to register as a private company limited by guarantee and as a charity in the Spring of 1997. They also engaged the architect, Niall Philips, to undertake a feasibility study to be used in a grant application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This first application was unsuccessful and the owners decided not to pursue the project further. The CWPT continued to exist, however, and gave help when possible.
Daphne Reeves died in the summer of 2004, followed by the death of June Severn on 8 September. In her will she left her property to the CWPT and trustees immediately took up the challenge.
It was clear that the property had declined sharply with obvious water ingress and loss of some plasterwork. English Heritage and Mid Devon District Council conservation officers came to the house and it was placed on the ‘At Risk’ register.
In December 2004 Beatrice Reeves fell ill and went into hospital. She made a slow and incomplete recovery while trustees attempted to find her suitable accommodation with caring staff, but money was needed for the expenses of her care. Since her testmentary wishes were unknown, and the HLF had advised that they could not consider grant aid unless the CWPT had ownership of the whole property, trustees arranged to buy Miss Reeves’ share of the property. Valuations were undertaken by surveyors appointed by Miss Reeves’ attorney and the trust. Having little money, the trust sought a loan from the AHF and purchase was completed on 14 December 2005.
On 10 January 2006 Miss Reeves died leaving her estate to the CWPT, who were thus able to repay the loan and to retain a small amount of money to continue with the project.
A Building at Risk
Meanwhile, following advice from English Heritage, the CWPT had appointed Jonathan Rhind architects, to make a complete survey of the fabric of the house. This was then costed by Bare, Leaning and Bare with an estimate of £940,000, not including professional fees or an allowance for contingencies. This information was shared with the Landmark Trust, who had expressed an intention of taking on the project; however their interest waned and the Landmark withdrew leaving the CWPT in need of a partner. This need was soon filled by the Vivat Trust.
During the inspection it was apparent that some emergency work had to be done. The falling masonry in the stair tower was buttressed, Western steeplejecks repaired holes in the slating, and sagging lintels, crumbling plaster and loose panes of glass were stabilised by Rene Rice.
With advice and financial support from the AHF, including a mentor the architect and planner, Colin Johns, the CWPT prepared a brief for an options appraisal and put it out to tender. The architect Niall Philips was selected and the appointment confirmed when his business was absorbed by Purcell Miller Tritton.
The appraisal included a public consultation. The report helped to confirm the trustees’ view that the ground floor should continue to be used for community events and that the upper floors should be used for commercial letting to provide income for long-term maintenance. The report was completed in May 2008 and was used to support funding applications for the development round.
Procurement of a management team was undertaken by the CWPT early in 2009. Trustees’ concerns over the deterioration of the fabric were answered by taking down the higher parts of the main chimney and inserting a new oak lintel. After removing the temporary buttress, pointing in the stair tower buttress was renewed and there were further repairs to the slate roof to halt water ingress.
Greenwood Projects Ltd of Lichfield were appointed from 4 firms interviewed for project management, quantity survey and CDM services. They helped ensure compliance with EU/UK procurement procedures for appointments to the other main departments.
After tender and interview the architects Benjamin and Beauchamp of Wedmore (B2B) were chosen as lead professionals, with Mann Williams for structural engineering services and Martin Thomas Associates for Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Services.
Keystone Historic Building Consultants were appointed to develop the Conservation Management Plan and Armitage and Taylor were appointed for the Activity Plan.
Development required an exhaustive inspection of the fabric and reports on all aspects of its material and historical background. Marcus Chantrey of B2B co-ordinated inspections and reports on stone, timber, glass, plaster, drainage, asbestos, ecology, and trees and used internal and external opening up works to reveal conditions within walls, the floors and the roof. From the reports, together with evidence from the structural engineer, John Mann, he made a fabric condition report with very detailed specifications. This information was used to support successful second round applications to the HLF and EH.
Major Work Begins
English Heritage now insisted on full scaffolding and a temporary roof. Procurement of a scaffolder without a main contractor proved difficult, but in 2011 Pen Mill Scaffolding Ltd were appointed and the scaffold began to go up in August 2011. It remained in place until March 2014.
The scaffold and roof helped preserve the house and permitted further detailed inspections which were used for final specifications. These were in turn converted to bills of quantity by Greewoods, making it possible to seek tenders from main contractors in the spring of 2012.
From a field of 18, five contractors were asked to tender and four were interviewed. The best and lowest offer, from Splitlath Building Conservation Ltd of Hay on Wye, was accepted. Even this lowest offer was beyond the available funding of the trust; however, after removing some “not quite essential” elements from the specification, EH and the HLF were requested for help and this was given.
The keys to the property were handed over to Splitlath on 1 October 2012 and the completion certificate was signed on 24 May 2014.
Splitlath were led by the site director, Shaun Gay, and his foreman, Darron Price.
Leading sub contractors were:
Delve Electrical Ltd of Honiton (wiring and controls),
Westford Mechanical of Taunton (plumbing and heating),
Kilbride Roofing of Tiverton (slate roof),
Brockweir Glass of Chepstow (glazing),
Earthouse Building Conservation of Bradninch (cob and mortar),
KPM Groundworks of Cullompton (drainage, paths and car park),
Devon Valley Fabrications of Cullompton (stainless steel reinforcements),
Custom Joinery of Cullompton (joinery),
Falcon of Bristol (Cintec wall reinforcements),
Allsop & Pitt of Torquay (kitchen fitting),
Rene Rice (decorative plaster repair),
R & R Services (garden),
and many directly employed individuals.
During repair every window was removed, frames repaired or replaced and all old glass re-used.
The old roof was replaced with triple-lapped Trevillet slate.
Almost every floorboard has been lifted to allow fire prevention material and insulation to be be put in.
MICC wire has been used throughout the building and some 4.5 kms have been installed. The lime mortar on the walls weighs approximately 90 tons.
Almost every lintel, beam, rafter and purlin has some reinforcement, mainly with stainless steel flitches.
The walls have more than 100 Cintec rods to help secure them.
Insecure decorated plaster ceilings and overmantels have been stabilised and cleaned.
Fire prevention measures are included in most elements of repair and are unobtrusive but effective. The three large and leaking chimneys have been compltely rebuilt.
The new community kitchen is fitted to commercial standard.
Garden walls have been repaired (including ancient cob boundary walls), unsafe trees have been removed and new fruit and ornamental trees have been planted.