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A remedy for that sinking feeling

14 September 2008

Retained facade : Eastbrook Hall
It seemed like a good idea to retain the important Edwardian facade of Eastbrook Hall in Bradford, but as the building behind it was demolished to make way for a modern development, the facade started to sink. Fortunately, stone specialists Stone Edge were already on site. They saved the day by completely dismantling the facade, stone by stone, and, after due repair and restoration, rebuilding it. Richard Denneny, Director of Stone Edge, told NSS about the project

As the scaffolding came down around Eastbrook Hall last month (July) the retained Edwardian facade of one of the largest and most important buildings in Bradford’s Little Germany quarter, now a 55-acre Conservation Area in the heart of the city, was revealed again in all its rebuilt and restored glory.
Originally a theatre and then a Methodist mission, the building closed in the early 1980s and was badly damaged in a major fire in 1996. It had remained derelict since then. But owners Aldersgate Estates, in collaboration with a number of bodies such as the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, English Partnerships and Bradford Centre Regeneration are turning it into a mix of commercial and residential property with a courtyard setting behind the retained Gothic façade.
The development is part of the £2billion regeneration of Bradford currently taking place. In Little Germany, which gets its name from the wealthy German textile magnates who built it in the 19th and early 20th centuries, there are 85 buildings, 55 of which are now listed.
The newly revealed façade at Eastbrook Hall is a testament to the stone company that took it down, restored it and replaced it – Stone Edge in Backo, Lancashire.
“It all began in January 2006,” Richard Denneny, director of Stone Edge, told NSS. “Initially we were only going in to replace a masonry cupola. The front edge of it was sitting on the facade and the back of it was sitting on two very dodgy-looking brick columns. We made our initial drawings by hand and dismantled the cupola. We were going to rebuild it six months later when we thought the project would be nearing completion and that, we thought, would be that.”
But it wasn’t. The overall project involved dismantling the building behind the listed sandstone façade, which was supposed to be retained in situ. But during the development work the façade became unstable.
The façade did not sit on concrete foundations but blocks of stone. When it started to move it dropped by about 300mm in two hours. The site was shut, the road closed and Stone Federation GB-members Stone Edge were called back as a matter of some urgency.
Richard Denneny takes up the story: “Originally it was suggested that the facade could be jacked up again, but we pointed out that if you jacked it back into position the joints would be broken and bits would fall in – it would just push out somewhere else. They agreed and we were instructed to take it down.
“There were about 1,500 stones – 350 from the cupola and the rest from the facade. Each one had to be given a unique reference number. We contracted a draughtsman to draw it all up and plot it, stone by stone, on a scale drawing to keep a record of where each stone went. The draughtsman transferred all the numbers on to the drawing.
“We sprayed a big heart on the keystone of the central arch because it would be at the heart of the rebuild. As we dismantled the wall each numbered stone was put on a pallet that was also given a reference number and we took them all away to a storage area in Wyke.
“Think of the haulage! We got 10-12 pallets on a wagon and there were about 340 pallets to take away and then bring back again at a later date.
“We cleaned off all the mortar from the masonry. It’s sandstone and had been in a fire. When sandstone is burnt it goes bright orange and brittle and as soon as we touched some of it it simply fell apart. We reckon 15-20% of it had to be replaced, including 60% of the carvings to the pediments and detailed architectural stonework.
“The pediments were ornate. There were two triangular and two segmental ones. They had suffered the worst damage – the fire had licked round them. We managed to save the pediment hoods, but some of the intricate, carved stone had to be replaced.”
The original stone in the building was identified as Bolton Woods, but it was determined that the best match for replacement in the size and quantities required was Blaxter sandstone supplied by Dunhouse Quarry Company near Darlington. It matched the colour perfectly and it fully satisfied both Stone Edge and the local conservation officer, says Richard. The masons found it a good stone to work.
The facade was to be put back together using traditional lime mortar.
The original stone was in storage and the stone that needed to be replaced was being made for the rebuild. But there was more trouble ahead.
First the remains of two bodies, a man and a girl, were found on the site, which stopped work for a while although they turned out to have been buried a century-and-a-half ago.
Then tower cranes collapsed in Liverpool and London. Both the cranes belonged to Falcon Cranes and HSE stopped all Falcon Cranes working for a while. The tower crane at Eastbrook Hall came from Falcon.
“To be fair, once we actually got started, it all went very smoothly,” says Richard. “But we didn’t really get started until September last year.”
Even then it was not entirely plain sailing as the main contractors, Ham Construction of Bradford, went into administration, and for the final months of the project Stone Edge have been employed directly by Aldersgate Estates.
One of the trickiest parts of the rebuild, as predicted, was the projecting central bay section with its archway, the keystone of which had been painted with the heart.
This central section is held in place by a four-ton steel counterbalance concealed within the rebuilt facade. “After the counter-balance had been placed into the facade and sufficient masonry fixed around it to weigh it down, we were over the worst difficulties,” says Richard.
“In spite of the difficulties we still had the whole thing just about finished by the end of March this year, ending up with the cupola with its timber roof re-covered with copper. There was just a bit of snagging to finish off before the scaffolding was struck.
“We had an average of 12 masons working on the project and they are the ones who deserve the praise. I do the planning at the beginning and oversee the contract works and health & safety aspects, but my masons stuck it out through thick and thin. They’ve done a great job.”
He says the masons were hand picked for their skills and knowledge. Some of them had worked with him previously in London and others he had met in the North West while he was working in the area.
But Richard is glad Eastbrook Hall has finally come to an end. “I’ve had to put my wedding off twice and my fiancee was getting impatient!”

 

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