SPAB Old House Project: Repairing a medieval building in the Kent countryside

The SPAB’s Old House Project launches this July at a Grade II* ‘building at risk’ near Maidstone, Kent. St Andrews is a ‘sleeping beauty’ that has been empty for around 50 years.

When the SPAB, the UK’s oldest conservation charity, took on the building in November 2018, it was hidden behind an overgrown garden; vandal damage had left the site vulnerable; and parts of the roof were leaking.

The building was secured immediately after purchase with emergency work to the roof and windows carried out over the winter months and a security system installed. There are some significant internal repairs still to be done.

St Andrews has had a colourful and fascinating history: it has housed a relic of St Andrew, been in possession of the Tudor poet Thomas Wyatt, and acted as the community post office in the 20th century. Over the course of the project the SPAB will work with Historic England, Kent Archaeological Society and the local council to uncover more of the building’s story and to bring St Andrews back to life.

As the building has remained untouched since the 1960s, it still has some charming features from its last decoration in the 1930s. Characterful tiled 1930s fireplaces, original lino and wooden block flooring sit alongside medieval stone door surrounds, Tudor windows and original timber frames.

The SPAB is increasingly concerned about the decline of craft skills in the UK. A fifth of housing stock is classified as historic (pre-1919) but a lot of the work on these buildings is completed by people without specialist skills – this is an imbalance the SPAB hopes to redress through the project’s educational outreach activities.

St Andrews boasts a fantastic mix of traditional materials, including earth, brick, stone, timber, peg tiling and lime pargeting. Throughout the five-year project, the SPAB will run online tutorials, and stream courses and lectures so they can disseminate what they’ve learned to help you put the SPAB Approach to conservation into practice.

Work so far

  • Archaeological investigations with Kent Archaeological Society to unearth the long story of its past. The SPAB has commissioned Graham Keevil to write a report.
  • Laser scanning to better understand the building’s structure by Terra Measurement
  • Detailed drawings by SPAB Scholar, Kristian Foster
  • Prior to purchase an assessment of repair needs was undertaken by SPAB Scholar Nicola Westbury.
  • Assistance with costings was offered by SPAB Guardian Robin Dukes. A negotiated purchase price of £60 000 was agreed with the former owners.
  • Urgent roof repairs have been carried out by Ashford and Cranbrook Roofing and with advice from SPAB Fellow Richard Jordan
  • Research into local grey chalk limes has been carried out by SPAB Guardians Stafford Holmes and Hugh Conway-Morris.
  • Drainage and water surveys
  • Asbestos surveys
  • Dendrochronology has been carried out by Dr Martin Bridge with the generous support of Historic England
  • An investigation of internal surfaces and finishes has been undertaken by Catherine Hassell.
  • Structural engineering advice has been obtained from SPAB Scholar Justin McAteer.
  • Understanding of flora and fauna on the site has been greatly assisted by the Kent Wildlife Trust and by our garden volunteer Dr Julie Charlesworth.

What we know about St Andrews

  • The roof of the single cell medieval chapel dates to c.1484 (Richard III’s reign)
  • A timber framed bay, attached to the two-storey priest’s lodging, is possibly the earliest part of the standing structure
  • The chapel was extended to the south and west with masonry perhaps re-used from the Abbey
  • Alterations occurred between the 1880s and 1930s, probably linked to changes in ownership and occupation.
  • Notable 1930s decorative schemes exist with wallpapers, and various linos retained.
  • The house was sold by the Boxley Abbey estate soon after the arrival of the M20 motorway in the late 1960s
  • St Andrews has not been occupied since c1970.

Project aims

  • To demonstrate the SPAB Approach through practical works, training and publicity linked to the project.
  • To repair a grade II* building ‘at risk’
  • To produce a building capable of freehold sale at full market value at the end of the project’s five year span

 

The SPAB hopes to open the site up for a press visit in spring 2020. 

Project webpage: https://www.spab.org.uk/old-house-project