BLENCOWE HALL, NR PENRITH

Blencowe Hall near Greystoke is one of the most visually intriguing buildings in Cumbria. This is mainly due to the eye catching "gash" in the masonry wall located in the South Tower facing the road, which some believe was the result of an attack on the building around 1640 by Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War.

In 2006 when the practice were approached by our clients Mr and Mrs Rowley to work on this building we were delighted to have been given the opportunity to work on such a prestigious and locally significant project.

However this elation was short lived as we were saddened to see the level of delapidation that the existing building had fallen into.The 'fortified' towers (North and South) were in a ruinous state, both having no floor or roof structures, with only fireplaces and internal staircases remaining as a clue to the former glory of these structures.
Large sections of the embattled parapet walls were missing to the North Tower where substantial modern damage was caused by the insertion of a monopitch agricultural roof at the second floor level. Similarily, the South Tower had suffered substantial settlement over time causing the three storey 'gash' and the un-nerving lean in the masonry wall at the corner of the structure. The existing habitable accommodation located in the central (East) wing and the West wing was in need of refurbishment and substantial redecoration. All existing metal windows were beyond salvaging and in most cases were already replaced with timber windows not in-keeping with the building. Sanitary facilities required modernisation with the heating system requiring replacement. Damp issues were in evidence in various locations. On top of all this, the current room layout needed re-thinking.

The overall vision was to refurbish the buidling sympathetically whilst bringing it up to modern standards to fulfill its new role as a prestigious holiday home for groups of upto 24 persons.

The gash in the wall to the SouthTower ruin that made it such a spectacle would remain in the new proposal but now behind it would be a wall of glass and discrete steel structure with small balconies with glass balustrading at First and Second floor level for the inhabitants to enjoy the view.
In both towers, accommodation has been reinstated with floors relating to existing fireplace positions. Existing stone staircases formerly open to the air, were now made water tight with new 'cap houses' at Third floor level which provide access to the new lead roofs. The missing North Tower embattled parapet have been rebuilt in salvaged matching stone recovered from the site.

The re-working of the internal spaces has seen the re-positioning of the kitchen into the West Wing closer to the Dining Space located within the South Tower. The Grand Library (sitting area) is located in the North Tower at First floor level allowing for 2no. accessible bedrooms below at Ground Floor level . Much of the accommodation at First and Second floor level is given over to bedroom accommodation with most rooms benefitting from high specification en suite bathrooms.

All windows have been replaced with new metal thin profile units with a brown/black powder coated finish. New external doors, floors and floor beams have been made from oak. Internal walls are finished in lime plaster and painted with a proprietary limewash paint. New 'flat' roof structures and hidden gutters to the North and South towers are finished in lead.

The existing heating system has been overhauled with a new oil fired system feeding under floor heating at Ground floor level and radiators at First floor level. The existing drainage system has been abandoned and replace with a new state of the art reed bed system with treated water discharging into a new wildlife pond on land adjacent to the building. A considered landscaping strategy of judicial tree planting has been incorporated to create an appropriate setting for the building.

It would once have been standard conservation practise to leave both towers at Blencowe Hall as ruins, but English Heritage supported the clients desire to bring these structures back into use,- a building that is being maintained because people use it has far better long term prospects than one from where the inhabitants derive no practical benefit.

English Heritage has recognised it as among the top 20 exemplar conservation projects of recent years, and is identified in their publication 'Constructive Conservation in Practice' as a project that demonstrates a new forward thinging way of rescuing ruins or delapidated building as part of regeneration.

Open for bookings in July 2009 the finished building is a testimony to the clients determination and vision, and all those who have invested their time, expertise and labour to realise the project.

Acknowledgements

Clients- Mr and Mrs Rowley
Construction Team- Blencowe Partnership
Lead Architect- Graham K Norman Architect
Consultant Conserv. Architect- Donald Insall and Associates
Structural Engineer- Blackett-Ord Consulting Engineers
Quantity Surveyor- Johnson's Chartered Quantity Survyrs.
Heating/Plumbing- Hughes Beatty
Historical Building Consultant- Peter Ryder
Wastewater Treatment- Lakeland Environmental Mgmt.
photography- Val Corbett

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