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Historic Building workshop, Traditional vernacular building construction and materials, Montecute House, Somerset
September 5, 2019, 09:00 - 17:00
Historic Building workshop
Traditional vernacular building construction and materials
Date: Thursday 5 September 2019
When: 0900 – 1700
Where: Local hotel followed by Montacute House
Cost: £125.00 plus VAT (£150.00) to include seminar proceedings, all refreshments, lunch, entrance to Montacute and comprehensive delegate pack
The day’s course will consider in depth the following aspects of historic building conservation and the care and repair of the heritage.
• The local pallet of historic building materials. These including stone, stone slates, plasters and mortar, and historic glazing.
• Problems of decay and methods of repair
• Montacute House, its history, materials of construction and evidence for change and repair.
The venue has been carefully chosen as Montacute House is a fine example of the use of local vernacular materials and traditional construction. The building was constructed at the end of the 16th century and remained in the same family’s ownership into the 20th century. It reflects the wealth and social status of the original owner and followed the general decline of the fortunes of these old families into the early 20th century. The building also displays good examples of joinery, early internal decoration and the introduction of glass for domestic window glazing in the latter part of the 16th century. The day will include formal Power Point presentations, material handling sessions and first hand observations of the buildings. The morning’s presentations will be based nearby where we will also have lunch. The afternoon will be spent on site at Montacute looking at the building and its materials of construction and contents so come suitably dressed for the weather.
The local pallet of traditional materials.
The local landscape and historic system of land management affected the availability and use of building materials. The use of stone in the region was prolific and not just confined to the grand buildings and churches but was also used for a variety of ordinary domestic and vernacular buildings.
Timber framing was also important in parts of the region in the medieval period but during the 16th century good building timber became scarce as oak was in high demand for ship building for the navy and the rapidly developing window glass industry was devouring vast quantities of timber.
In the late medieval period parts of the area saw the development of a local brick and tile industry.
Straw for thatching was readily available from farming activities. However for the more prestigious buildings stone slates were extensively used where easily available. Clay tile was the preferred roofing material in the later periods as towns grew. The mid-nineteenth century saw the railways coming to the region and they provided cheap transport for building materials coming from other parts of the country. In this period slate for roofing became popular.
Glass for glazing windows became more available at the end of the 16th century though was expensive. The use of glass on a larger scale during the 17th and 18th centuries is a good example of the conspicuous display of the wealth of the owner.
Historic Stonework, Plasterwork, and Glass – Problems of decay and methods of repair
• Stone quarrying, problems of decay, cleaning and repair.
• Early lime plasters and mortars, their application care and repair.
• The historic development of window glass and Glazing.
• Approaches to repair and replacement of vernacular materials.
The house was constructed between 1595 and 1601 for Edward Phelips, a lawyer who had risen through the ranks of Tudor society, and became an MP and Speaker of The House of Commons. He was Knighted in1603 and also became Master of the Rolls. The house was likely to have been designed and built by master mason William Arnold using the local Ham Hill Oolitic limestone which is a rich honey colour. The “H” plan form was typical of the Tudor period but still retained the more archaic central great hall and screens passage. The top floor was right up to date with a long gallery stretching the whole length of the building and well-lit with windows.
In the 1780s alterations were made to the west front to provide a corridor on all floors to give individual access to the rooms rather than having to go through one room to get to the next. Other small internal alterations were also done at this time.
In the 19th century the family fortunes were low so the building escaped the usual Victorian make-over which befell many large country houses of the time. It escaped with only minor internal alterations and re-decoration to make it more habitable.
Family fortunes continued to decline so in 1913 the house was leased out and much of its original contents sold, the estate was also broken up and sold off.
Between 1915 and 1925 Lord Curzon leased the house as a country retreat and installed his mistress there, the romantic novelist Elinor Glyn. He did undertake some repairs and re-introduced period furniture.
In 1928 the house was put on the market as an empty shell with the possibility of it being sold for the building materials. There were no takers due to the economic decline of the time, but in 1931 the house and remaining fragments of the estate were purchased by Ernest Cook (Cook Travel) for the sum of £29,000 and passed to the National Trust. This was only the second country house acquired by the National Trust and at the time they were not really geared up to repair and manage it. They therefore asked the SPAB to repair and manage the property and had hoped to find a tenant. It was opened to the public rather low- key and it was not until 1938 that the Trust took on the full management of the house.
In 1946 the Trust began to furnish the empty building with items borrowed from elsewhere and attracted some generous donations of collections including Tapestries, Samplers and fine period furniture. Today the Trust has a partnership with the National Portrait Gallery and the house has many important period paintings on view. Over the past few years the period gardens, landscape and setting of the house have been restored to a high standard.