Context 159 - May 2019

20 C O N T E X T 1 5 9 : M A Y 2 0 1 9 Far right, top to bottom: Retained services of varying age Re-wiring with re-use of conduit and switches A re-fitted fluorescent light in the main stamp shop A new metal-clad switch and pvc cabling, adjacent to the old fitting, here not capable of re-use. A new fire alarm call point was required, but is of wireless, radio type. conduits, but also the more recent installations, such as pvc electrical cabling. The existing cables, a tangle of largely surface-fixed wiring of many periods, were retained in situ wher- ever possible. The gas and water pipes which snaked all around the building were capped off and retained, although all pipework had to be accessed for draining down or purging. All the redundant equipment, such as gas heaters, blow-torches or electric motors, was simply left in place. A complete new electrical system, with light- ing and occasional power sockets, had to be fitted throughout. It was agreed that, wherever possible, existing conduits, switches and light fittings should be re-used. The electrical sub- contractor entered into the spirit of the project, threading cables around the building with end- less patience to avoid disrupting the contents, even, where possible, drawing new wires down rusty old conduits. The workshops were fitted mainly with utilitarian fluorescent lights, which were re-used, with new innards where necessary. In the front houses, light fittings were generally pendant bulbs, without shades or fittings – so readily matched, at least while tungsten bulbs are still available. Some new metal-clad power sockets or light switches had to be provided in the workshops, but these blended well with the industrial ethos. No fixed heating was fitted in the core historic areas, which had mainly relied on heat from the work processes or gas fires.As the use of these areas was limited to guided tours, it was agreed that no comfort heating was needed. In terms of protec- tion of the building contents, the improvement in environmental conditions from the building repairs would have to suffice. It was recognised that the processes of deterioration would continue, albeit more slowly. If the attempt to control deteriora- tion would itself bring loss and destruction, such intervention was of no benefit. New fire detection and security systems were also required in all areas, but this was more straightforward, as such systems can be largely radio-based, without wiring. The end result of the conserve-as-found approach has been remarkably successful in retaining the authentic atmosphere of the building. For the ser- vice installations in particular, it was an exceptional project, with very few parallels elsewhere.Towards the end of the re-wiring, the electrician, by now a convert to the peculiar demands of the project, made his own contribution. Instead of fitting new fluorescent tubes everywhere, he saved the best of the old tubes – covered, like the rest of the factory, with a characteristic layer of dust. For a fuller account of the project, see Transactions of the Association for Studies in the Conservation of Historic Buildings, Volume 34 (2011), Cathedral Communications Limited, 2012. Nick Hill, a chartered building surveyor, is national conservation projects manager with Historic England.

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