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Brian Morton describes
the tangled tale of the rescue
of Barlaston Hall


‘SUPPORTING COLUMNS’
THE IMPOSSIBLE MADE POSSIBLE
Barlaston Hall in Staffordshire attributed
to Sir Robert Taylor and built around
1765, was owned in the early 1980s by
the Wedgwood Company. They
considered it to be in such a state of
dereliction that they applied for consent
to demolish. The hall had been very
seriously affected by mining subsidence
and had effectively broken its back. It had
been built across a line of change of the
geological strata and with further
proposed mining to be carried out
beneath the building there were 4-inch-
wide cracks in the structure diagonally
across the building. A public inquiry was
called to consider the demolition.
The National Coal Board called in
Pynfords, underpinning contractors, as its
specialist, who indicated that it would
cost in excess of £1.5 million to provide a
foundation system that would hold the
building together, but even then it was
argued that the building would tilt, and
provision would need to be built into the
foundation for correcting this.
‘SAVE’ opposed very strongly indeed,
calling in its own experts to question the
requirement for demolition. Its bluff was
called at the inquiry when Wedgwood
offered ‘SAVE’ the building for £1. Early
meetings with the Coal Board Area
Manager and his engineers (I remember
there being seven at one particular
meeting) indicated to me the strength of
the opposition. After much thought and
discussion with the clients, we decided
that any underpinning scheme should
leave the existing sub-basement and allow
the whole building to move. It was felt by
our practice that although movement of
the sub-basement would occur, it would
not fail completely.
Although at the inquiry it had become
apparent that the Area Manager for the
Coal Board was opposed to ‘SAVE’s
ideas, it was not envisaged that there
would be such great opposition by the
Board to any proposals to the repair of
this Grade I listed building.
The first problem was to find an
engineering solution that would be
acceptable to both ‘SAVE’ and the Coal
Board. English Heritage and another firm
of engineers produced schemes that were
unacceptable, the problem being how to
save the sub-basement. It was quite clear
that any underpinning system had to be
provided on a flat plane to avoid putting
horizontal forces onto the walls of the
sub - basement because differential
settlement across the site was expected to
be of the order of 200 mm in the future.
I became involved when, through my
involvement at Spitalfields, I was asked to
look at the structure and see whether I
could come up with a solution.
Such was the strength of the
opposition, that I investigated the
proposals that Pynfords had put up at the
enquiry. I decided to adopt, adapt and
improve these, subsequently designing a
complete underpinning system based
upon that of Pynfords. Our proposals
involved the casting of a slab beneath the
building over the whole area, laying this
on polyethylene sheets on the ground.
This involved effectively tunnelling under
the building and casting the slab in three
strips. The base of each length of wall was
then to be cut out at two levels to allow
for door and fire place openings, and then
concrete beams were set in. Recesses were
allowed for jacking the structure if
unequal settlement should occur in the
future.
After many meetings with the Coal
Board it was grudgingly accepted that our
proposals would work, but the hurdles
were in no way overcome as the Coal
Board was expected to fund the
underpinning work. This raised all sorts
of difficulties over the status of the newly
formed Barlaston Hall Trust and its
ability to raise funds to complete the
works. The Coal Board knew all the time
that when ‘SAVE’ had bought the
building, the contract had stipulated that
the work had to be completed within five
Barlaston Hall before restoration, uiewedfrom the rear.
Close-up of the rear showing the point where the
building broke its back.
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