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.

Mary Somerville back at the heart of Walton House, Somerville College.

Somerville College, Walton House – New Bay Window

Departing Principal Dr Alice Prochaska had long wished to see the former JCR in the oldest part of the College, Walton House restored as a quality interior deserving of an Oxford College. The Mary Somerville Room a contemporary - period restoration of the old Dining Hall.

James Mackintosh was appointed by Treasurer Andrew Parker to transform the room into a very elegant well-proportioned space in a periodically sensitive way. An initial assessment revealed that much of the character of the room was defined by the fitted timber cabinets on either side of the fireplace, the green glazed tile fireplace surround and set of three plaques above the fireplace, which relate to the history of the College and include the date of Somerville Hall’s foundation and the birth year of its namesake.

Walton House, was built in 1826 by Alderman Thomas Ensworth, and whilst the original use of the Mary Somerville Room is unknown, archival research uncovered several old photographs and drawings which provided evidence for the restoration.  In 1879 Somerville Hall opened as a non-denominational college for 12 women. An increase in student number to 101 by 1914 was accommodated by a number of extensions: firstly by Sir Thomas Jackson in 1881, and later Walter Cave who extended to the north-east an also raised the roof of Walton House. In 1903 a new entrance was provided to the Mary Somerville Room as part of a scheme by Basil Champney linking the house to the Library.

Mary Somerville.

Known as the "Queen of nineteenth century science," Mary Somerville (1780-1872) explained the leading scientific ideas of her day in terms that much of the educated public could understand. Though she conducted some original research, Somerville's work as a translator and interpreter influenced how developments in the physical sciences were discussed and delineated. She was also responsible for the first geography text ever published in English.


1913 Image of existing fireplace removed mid twentieth century.

The Mary Somerville Room was originally a Dining Hall but was converted to a JCR in 1913. Old photographs from 1913, revealed an original fireplace on the south elevation similar in a design similar to the fireplace on the north. The overmantle contained 3 carved inset timber panels, 2 of which remained in the college archive. From 1915 to 1919 the College buildings were requisitioned for use as a military hospital as an extension to the facilities in the neighbouring Radcliffe Infirmary. After the war the room returned to a JCR and in the latter half of the twentieth century a bar was installed in front of the north fireplace. The bottom set of cupboards were removed, and a series of poor low relief cast panels were set into the wall.

Mary Somerville Room, prior to the re-presentation.

Mary Somerville Room looking north. New ceiling by Cliveden Conservation.

The aim of the project was to restore the space to how the Hall appeared in 1901 – its finest period of decoration. However, a true arts and crafts interior would have been heavy and masculine – in contrast later dates would have been too domestic. The brief for the detail developed with college archivist, Anne Manuel, was ‘classical with a hint of arts and crafts’.

The design solution was to install a new lower ceiling to conceal the down-stand beam and integrate the space as one room. The cornice was created based on an existing pattern by Stephenson’s of Norwich. A new ribbed plaster ceiling with thistle relief mouldings was created by Cliveden Conservation, a symbol that reoccurs throughout the room. The inferior cast plaster relief panels were retained but hidden behind stud partitions. Services boxings, modern lighting and radiators were removed and a new oak floor with underfloor heating installed. A new classically designed bay window replaced Champneys’s former entrance to provide an informal seating area. The north fireplace was restored, and the south fireplace recreated from the 1913 photographs.

Existing and new panelling, recreation work and restoration by Alan Lamb.

Mary Somerville Room looking South.

Paint analysis by Catherine Hassall revealed that the original paint colour was a very dark masculine green – the tone was adjusted to an appropriate colour and to match the interior furnishings by Sophie Chorley of JT Interiors. One of the discoveries on site, was a pretty painted tiled fire surround dating to the mid-20th Century. Whilst the tiles were not part of the original scheme it was agreed that the new joinery would be designed around them. 

New bay window and seating.

The building work was executed by Mark Copeland of ML Copeland building services, and managed by Chris Clover at Bidwells and Steve Johnson. The Mary Somerville Room has a renewed sense of elegance, suitable of an Oxford College interior, a classical re-presentation of its arts and crafts origins. The room will formally open in the New Year and be used as a space for entertainment and recitals.

Bay window from outside.


Foxcombe Fireplaces

 Example of Delft tile

Example of Delft tile

Early 20th Century changes to historic fireplaces at Foxcombe Hall.

Despite the modern lighting, carpet and furniture, Earl Berkeley's Bedroom and Dressing Room of 1904, designed by Ernest George and Yeates, remain largely intact. Decorative relief plaster cornice and carved wood doors, the period fireplace with blue tiling. However, one thing I overlooked (until my recent meeting with Vale of the White Horse DC, conservation officer, Sally Straddling) was why were these precious tiles installed? ...and what the fireplace would have looked like originally? This was a good question, and on reflection is something that I have seen over and over again. Firstly at the Radcliffe Infirmary in 2011, and more recently at Somerville College.

The main period of tin-glazed pottery in the Netherlands was from 1640-1740. Delft - based on 14th Century Chinese Porcelain became incredibly popular as a result of Dutch trade with China.  Despite the artistic process involved in the creation of Delft tiles, the tiles did not evolve into a luxury item, andinstead remained accessible to most of the middle class population in colonial Dutch society. As Dutch Delftware increased in popularity, the English began to incorporate the Dutch painting style into their tiles as well. As demand grew, the production of Delft tiles was manufactured in factories, the most famous of which were based in Bristol and Liverpool. Eventually the Dutch followed suit and began to produce their own tiles in factories. The tiles became popular after an embargo was imposed against the importation of goods into Britain

 The fireplace in Berkeley's Drawing Room at Foxcombe 2017.

The fireplace in Berkeley's Drawing Room at Foxcombe 2017.

In the colonies, Delft tiles became an expensive item as authentic copies could only be imported from Britain.

It is not clear whether the tiles at Foxcombe were Dutch or a reproduction from England, nevertheless they appear to pre-date the 1904 Chimney.

Hilary Grainger's recent book 'The Architecture of Sir Ernest George and Yeates' predominately illustrates exteriors and therefore doesn't provide a clue to the typical George and Yeates designs. Gavin Stamp's book on Lutyen's (Pupil of Ernest George) has a number of fireplaces similar to the fireplace at Foxcombe, such as the fireplace at Sullingstead See fig 1. Given the grandeur of the interiors carried out by Ernest George and Yeates at Foxcombe It seems most likely that the fireplaces at Foxcombe would have reflected the architectural fashion of open fires, reflecting the designs of fireplaces from the medieval country house.

 Sullingstead, Lutyens

Sullingstead, Lutyens

So why and when was it covered up?

During the Edwardian period 1901-1914, the preoccupation as far as fireplaces were concerned was to achieve greater efficiency with less fuel consumption. Slow combustion techniques were constantly being improved. The cheeks of the fireplace would be made from fire-brick, splayed at the sides and with the back sloping forward, so to project more heat into the room. Often the grate was ventilated directly from outdoors to the fire did not draw a draught across the room. Chimney pieces took many forms, with an increase in the use of glazed tiles more elegant than in the Victorian Period, and often set within older period frames.

So my assumption is that it was covered up by Albert Richardson as part of his 1935 alterations shortly after Rippon Hall purchased the House. The closing of the back would have improved the efficiency of the fire and the ancient tiles have proved a sympathetic and appropriate design solution of the time. 

So what to do? it would be lovely to see what is behind the fire boarding, but perhaps the tiles have more relevance now that the building has been taken over by Peking University. Perhaps the simplest thing to do is to find a suitable fire grate to install within the tiles - we shall have to wait and see.

Elements of Style, Calloway S. Octopus Publishing London 1992.
Edwin Lutyens Country Houses. Stamp G. Aurum Press, London 2001.
The Architecture of Sir Ernest George and Yeates, Grainger H. Spire Books, Reading 2011