Lions lucky escape

James Mackintosh Architects have been appointed to carry out the reinstatement of the north front balustrade stonework to the west of the Porte Cochere at Stowe House. Damage was caused following an accident, involving one of the house security guards who suffered heart attack whilst driving and crashed at speed. The incident came as quite a shock, but fortunately the security guard is recovering following surgery. Works on the reinstatement commenced this week.

The project involves the removal and reconstruction of the lion plinths, and the reconstruction of the balustrade stonework, using as much of the surviving stonework as possible. Careful consideration has been provided to the method of lifting the Coade Stone Lions which have high architectural significance. A method statement has been prepared by the Morton Partnership and the execution will be carried out by specialists Cliveden Conservation.

Coade Stone

Coade Stone was produced by the Coade Artificial Stone Company and was the leading firm in the field at the end of the 18th Century. Leading architects of the period were looking for ways in applying delicate ornament to their buildings, and Coade Stone provided by the most reliable way of achieving this and was used in many buildings of the period by architects such as Robert Adam, Sir John Nash and John Soane. The secret recipe was not discovered until the late 20th Century but was a ceramic – a mixture of clay silicates and glass – Kiln fired for four days at a time.

The North Front

Above. Illustration of the North Front of Stowe by George Bickham 1750

The central block of Stowe house was built between 1677 and 1683 to the design of William Cleere, Sir Christopher Wren's master joiner. It was a brick structure with stone quoins, and a tiled roof. 13 bays in length on both the south and north front, and two stories high plus a basement and attic story lit by dormer windows within the roof. The north front retains much of the appearance of the original house, although heightened and covered in stucco. A cupola was added to the balustraded flats at the head of the tiled roof in December 1688 but it only lasted 30 years.

The Ionic North Portico marked the second phase, and is probably the work of Sir John Vanbrugh and executed as early as 1718. It necessitated the creation of the present, enlarged, North Hall, possibly by Henry Flitcroft, which subsequently decorated by William Kent. The four corner bays were modified at the same time, and raised as towers at each corner. Vanbrugh was also responsible considerably extending the service wings in the 1720s. Low curved walls were subsequently added to contain the north forecourt, and were illustrated in Rigauds view of 1733, published in 1739. Stylistically, as he was working elsewhere at Stowe in the 1730s, these can be given to Kent together with the pedimented gateways through which the service courts were approached. Sections of Kent wall survive at either side of the Leoni arches. It is likely that the current colonnades follow the line of Kent's curved walls.

With so much alteration the building lost its coherence and proposals remodelling Stowe House were made from 1750s onwards and include schemes by both Borra and Blondel. However, Earl Temple did not start the work until 1770 when work on the north front commenced with advice on the design by his cousin Thomas Pitt. William Ride produced the wooden models required for the two Ionic colonnades and work was completed two years later. A scheme for erecting a balustrade around the colonnades was illustrated Seeley's view 1780 but there is no evidence that it was executed. The attic story between the towers was encased by a wall between the towers, and capped by balustrade 14 urns that remained in position until 1924 when they sold to surmount the balustrade of Easton Neston. The scheme designed by Thomas Pitt, Lord Camelford, followed the general arrangement of the design which Robert Adam was paid hundred guineas in 1771, but the handling of the orders was modified and the arrangement of the staircase completely changed. According to Michael Bevington the Coade Stone Lions were added in 1778. The Egyptian Hall was constructed in 1804 and the winter entrance below the Porte Cochere was added by 1778.


In March, we carried out an exercise to record the condition of the damaged stone. Stonework was collected from the rubble arising from the accident and salvaged stone was moved below the porte-cohere and arranged into piles according to the heights of the stone. Stone salvaged was mainly ashlar, with several sections of balustrade coping. All the balusters were badly damaged and could not be re-used. Whilst most of the stone damaged was from the restoration some historic stone dating to the 18 century restoration of the North Front was found – these stone are only dressed on five sides only. Most interestingly - a handful of ancient stones, moulded on the rear, indicating that they were re-used from older part of the building in the 18th Century development of the north front.

Cliveden Conservation commence repairs on the Lions this week. Cliveden Conservation have been involved in several phases of repair at Stowe, including the relocation of the Bickerdyke Lions from the South Front only a few years ago. Their first priority will be safely relocating the west Coade Stone Lion so the plinth can be rebuilt.




Appointed as inspecting architect to St Mary the Virgin, Black Bourton

The earliest part of Black Bourton Church, the Chancel, was presented to Oseney Abbey in 1180 by Hugh de Burton and Ralphe de Murdac. The three lancet windows at the east end are unusual and distinctive of this period. The nave, north arcade and the font are from 1180, but in the 13th century changes were made to the north wall of the nave, including the addition of a north transept, and two lancet windows installed in the south wall.

The earliest record of the village, Burtone, is in the Domesday book where the land is shared by three manors. The manor in the south of the village was held by Oseney Abbey, until the Dissolution when it passed to Christ Church. The manor in the north of the village came into the possession of the Hungerford family through marriage in the 15th Century. The Hungerford family suffered financial decline and after the enclosure most of Black Bourton came under the ownership of the Duke of Marlborough.

James Lupton was Vicar from 1827 until his death in 1873. James Lupton persisted in the construction of a school to improve literacy in the village, and began the restoration of St Mary's in 1866. During the restoration the north wall was rebuilt and two lancet windows installed. The stained glass by Clayton Bell is from 1866. The restoration revealed pre-reformation wall paintings, however, before James Lupton could return from London to restore them, his curate chose to have the paintings white washed once more. It was not until 1932 that the wall paintings were finally restored. The wall paintings depict scenes from the life of the Saviour and from English history of the period - Saint Thomas à Becket canonised in 1174 and Saint Richard of Chichester canonised in 1262.

Conservation of old cottage commences

After nearly 19 months of investigations, design work and negotiation, work has finally started on the reinstatement of the Old Cottage in Balscote, Oxfordshire. The works are being carried out by Oxfordshire contractor Alfred Groves and Son, who won the project having tendered for the second time in July 2017, to reduce costs. As part of a strategy agreed with conservation officer, Jennifer Ballinger, Cherwell District Council, the reinstatement work will see the external appearance and ground floor of the cottage restored to its pre-fire state, whilst the first floor and new roof structure will be constructed from modern materials in a sympathetic style. 

“Having James on board has been a great help. It has been good to have a heritage conservation architect who has been a great help with dealing with the conservation issues and a sympathetic design” Owner.


The Old Cottage, Balscote was built after the Civil War, when building activity began again with renewed vigour. The cottage’s plan form, materiality and scale suggests that it was built during these years of increased building activity, when quarrying for building stone was carried out on a small scale as required locally. The cottage may have originated as a single cell dwelling, however by the late 17th century, the house is shown with a central front door flanked by two windows and eyebrow dormers above on the east elevation.  In 1918 the cottage, was sold by auction. A photograph from the sales document shows that the building was divided into two cottages, each with a front door on the east elevation.

The house was extended in the mid-20th Century by W. A. Freeman Esq who was granted permission to build a new wing to the cottage. Much renovation work was carried out at this time, when the cottage was returned to a single dwelling. Works included the removal of internal partitions and a staircase, replacement windows and alteration to the sitting room fireplace.

The fire

The fire started from a mirror reflecting the early morning sunshine on to the thatch. The fire brigade responded rapidly and after three hours the fire was under control, however the thatch and roof structure were completely destroyed. The fire brigade remained at the cottage for 24 hours to prevent the fire from recurring, through the night there were spontaneous fires from the smouldering thatch. James Mackintosh was appointed by loss adjusters, Crawford and Co. to carry out emergency works to stabilise the Old Cottage, and facilitate a strip-out contract to enable the Old Cottage to be rebuilt. A design team including Price and Myers, Baqus, Greenwood Projects and Robert Demaus were quickly engaged. A heritage statement was prepared to support an application for planning permission and listed building consent for reinstatement. Sadly the owner lost the majority of their belongings in the fire. 

Emergency work

Whilst quotes were being obtained for repair estimates, the team began the work in removing the dirt and debris accumulated within the cottage after the fire. Our conservation accredited engineer carried out a condition survey of the structure to confirm that it was safe to work in and prepare any proposals for propping that might be required prior to the strip out works. To ensure competitiveness, Individual subcontracts were tendered separately to ensure value for money,  including the demolition, asbestos and scaffolding contractors. The soft strip was carried out with great care by AR Demolition, to cost and programme.  During the strip out work, the remains of the building fabric were recorded as evidence of how the original structure was constructed.  At the end of the site strip out works a further asbestos survey and structural report was commissioned to confirm that it was safe to access and work inside the cottage. The temporary roof was erected two days after the strip-out works were completed, to enable the repair proposals to be developed. 


Construction work commenced on the 6th November for a 9 month contract period, so that all being well our client will be back in his house by Christmas 2018.

Redefining the Elizabethan House, Plymouth

James Mackintosh Architects together with DHV architects have been appointed as conservation accredited architects for the regeneration of the late Sixteenth Century Elizabethan House Museum for Plymouth City Council.

The Elizabethan House is a Grade II* listed quay-side merchant’s house in the Barbican area of Plymouth’s beautiful historic old town. The museum is the most complete and unaltered example of a jettied merchant’s house in Plymouth. However, the building is in a poor structural condition and is on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register, and needs careful repair work and complete re-servicing to bring it back to life as a cultural destination for Plymouth.

We are working alongside a team of specialist consultants on the project to help deliver an imaginative interpretation strategy alongside carefully considered repair and conversion work.

The project is being delivered in collaboration with DHV Architects as part of a growing strategic partnership between the practices.

The museum is due to re-open in 2020 as a leading component of the Plymouth Mayflower 400 celebrations.