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Heritage : Stone in conservation

14 August 2009
Working on the Strategic Stone Study are Graham Lott (left) and Don Cameron of the BGS with Tarnia McAlester from English Heritage.

While the Strategic Stone Study maps the use of stone in England, Stone Federation Great Britain have established their own Heritage Forum and the English Stone Forum brings together all sides of the industry

English Heritage are currently preoccupied with Part L of the new Building Regulations due to be published next year. Part L sets ‘U’ values for the thermal efficiency of walls.

Historic buildings are exempt from the requirements of Part L, but they might lose that exemption under the new Regulations. It could make a nonsense of the ethos of using original materials and building techniques when conservation work is being carried out.

Chris Wood, of the English Heritage Building Conservation & Research Team and a member of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation Technical Panel, expressed strong views on the subject in the May issue of Context, the Institute’s journal.

He quoted responses to an English Heritage questionnaire sent to local authorities about the issue. They included: “Catastrophic”, “Devastating”, “We might as well all pack up and go home”.

He concluded that what was needed was more detailed advice on applying Part L, which English Heritage is now working on. He felt a better solution was focused training for conservation and building control officers, approved inspectors and everyone else involved in the process of applying Part L. But that was not going to be achieved before the publication of the Building Regulations next year.

Meanwhile, English Heritage are continuing with their enormous undertaking to catalogue all the stones used in buildings in England in the Strategic Stone Study, now being run by Tarnia McAlester of English Heritage.

Chris Wood told NSS that just over £500,000 had been budgeted for the study in the next two years.

The Department of Communities & Local Government (CLG), which is responsible for planning issues, have provided funding of £280,000 and English Heritage is providing the rest. “We are also looking to see if others might contribute,” says Chris.

“We propose to review progress at the end of 2011. If all goes to plan we would expect the Study to take another two-to-three years. However, there are a great deal of uncertainties (eg recruiting good local experts, ready access to information, etc) which will make programming and budgeting difficult.”

But work is underway and data have started to be entered on the geographical information system (GIS) maps at the British Geological Survey (BGS), where Minerals Geologist Don Cameron is co-ordinating the capture and input of information.

Tarnia McAlester says they are finding different levels of enthusiasm for the project from different counties. She accepts that some buildings and sources of stone will be missed in the initial sweep but believes once the groundwork has been completed the database will continue to grow.

Graham Lott, a Senior Geologist at BGS who specialises in building stone, says: “Anyone who owns a reasonable size stone house will probably know about the stone. We welcome their contributions. Stone masons will have a lot of knowledge. We’ve had a meeting here in Nottingham with former quarry owners who have offered us some of their records of where the stone was used.”

In this way the database will gradually grow until all 44 counties in England are covered.

Stone Federation has made its own moves in the heritage sector, notably by establishing a Heritage Forum among its members who specialise in this field. The Heritage Forum focuses on issues specifically related to the conservation / restoration and renovation markets.

The Forum is producing guidance notes for clients in order to assist them to appoint the correct contractor for their project.

The Federation has already produced its first guide for this market – the Guide to Best Practice on the Cleaning of Internal and External Masonry Surfaces.

This 36-page publication covers the cleaning not only of stone but also brick, terracotta, concrete and faience.

It is based on the relevant parts of British Standards relating to masonry cleaning and has been produced by specialist members of the Stone Federation with assistance from English Heritage.

Jane Buxey, chief executive of Stone Federation Great Britain, says: “Stone Federation, as the national trade association for the natural stone industry, has produced this guide to set a recognised standard of best practice for the industry.

“This document outlines the benefits and gives guidance on stone cleaning – and many studies have shown there are advantages to cleaning buildings on a regular basis.”

The Guide sets out the principal factors involved when deciding to use, clean and maintain buildings, whatever masonry they incorporate.

Stone Federation are also closely involved with the Natural Stone Industry Training Group (NSITG) and and have their own StoneTrain training arm that is currently working with the National Heritage Training Group identifying the training needs of the heritage sector. If suitable courses are not currently available, they intend to develop them.

Jane Buxey says: “The Federation and its member companies work hard to provide training opportunities that will develop skills throughout the industry, not just for stone masons but for everyone from the quarryman to the floor and pavement layer.

“Our members are not just preserving our existing heritage, but producing the skilled craftsmen and women who will create and maintain the heritage of future generations.”

Stone Federation have also played an important role in the formation of a new group, the English Stone Forum.

The English Stone Forum consists of the representatives of 11 organisations involved in using and specifying stone and is chaired by Brian Marker, formerly with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister that commissioned the influential Symonds Report on the stone industry that resulted in the Strategic Stone Study.

Brian Marker told NSS: “The English Stone Forum has been set up to improve awareness of the importance of securing appropriate stone for repair of structures and the need for the use of stone in new buildings so that quarries remain economically viable, and to promote understanding that new quarrying operations will be needed if we are to preserve our historical and architectural heritage.”

The initial work of the Forum concentrated on publishing the proceedings of the 2005 conference ‘England’s Heritage in Stone’ out of which the Forum grew and on setting up a website, which it has done (

Currently work addressing issues including repair and conservation of stone buildings, selecting appropriate stone, and sustainability of natural stone is being produced for the website.

A bibliography of English stone publications and a list of town trails featuring stone will also be added soon.

The English Stone Forum is discussing with the National Trust proposals for a book aimed at the wider public on building and roofing stone, illustrated with examples from the Trust’s buildings.

It is keeping a watching brief on the issue of ethical trading of stone, noting the Global Heritage Stone initiative of the International Association of Engineering Geology & the Environment. The Forum is considering making representations on the ways in which the initiative might influence policy and regulation.

The Forum has recently stimulated discussions between the Stone Federation and the BGS on the long term future and conservation of the Frank Dimes collection of building stone slides.

And it will contribute to a symposium called ‘Building a Future for Stone’ on the subject of the sustainability of building stone being organised by the BGS for 1 October at the Geological Society, Burlington House, London. Details on the BGS website (


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