A fundamental part of the conservation project is undertaking the required repairs and maintenance of the boundary and internal walls and other historic fabric.
Objectives of fabric repairs
The objectives of the fabric repairs are:
- To survey the condition of the walls and other historic fabric;
- To undertake an ecological survey;
- To clear the historic fabric of vegetation;
- To make the site more secure; and
- To undertake fabric repairs (using lime mortar and some reconstruction) so that the site can be removed from the the Historic England ‘Heritage at Risk’ (HAR) register..
This activity within the project addresses the following outcomes:
- Heritage will be better managed
- Heritage will be in better condition
- People will have volunteered time
This task will ensure that the post-Dissolution boundary fabric will be in better condition and can then be better managed.
Overview of activity
This activity comprises the following specific tasks:
- Topographical survey;
- Ecological survey;
- Arboreal survey;
- Clear vegetation;
- Condition survey;
- Repair and conservation of historic fabric;
- Replacement of doors, thresholds and frames;
- Protect and preserve the open area in corner of churchyard (left open following previous archaeology);
- Establish vehicular access; and
- Improve access across site.
As the site is a scheduled ancient monument, permission for this work will be required from Historic England. The trust have had a series of very helpful conversations with Historic England regarding the proposed repairs and improved access. The figure below shows the abbey site with the perimeter boundary drawn in red and the internal boundary walls marked in blue.
Detailed photographic and measured surveys will be undertaken to determine in detail the size and levels of the site. It is a striking feature of the site that the land falls away quite dramatically to the river. Moreover, there are also humps and dips in the site; some of which are thought to be the remains of spoil heaps left behind after the Dissolution (1540). A clear understanding of levels will also help with the detailed planning of the future gardens in the nave and cloister areas.
There may be protected species living in the walls (such as bats and nesting birds) and so an ecological survey must be undertaken. This will determine the type and location of such species, and will directly inform the scope and timing of further work (notably, the clearing of vegetation and repairs to the historic fabric).
The historic fabric on the site is being damaged by ivy, elder and other plants. They have rooted in the mortar, which is being degraded leading to a risk of falling masonry. As the site is bound by public areas there is a risk to the public if the walls are not repaired. Vegetation must first be cleared in order to allow the condition of the walls to be determined, and to allow selected fabric repairs to start.
This work will not disturb the historic fabric or remove roots. Instead, this work is intended to remove the significant vegetation growing on the top and sides of some of the walls. The initial focus will be on the boundary walls; once these are cleared then attention will move to the internal walls (that is, the two internal dividing walls, two short additional walls, and the western boundary).
Once the walls are cleared of vegetation, then a detailed photographic and condition survey can be undertaken. This will help establish the extent of damage, and will help identify areas of particular concern. Two locations have been identified as areas of particular concern:
- The section of northern boundary wall supported by scaffolding in the parish churchyard. The scaffolding has been in place for some 30 years.
- The open section in the south-east corner of the churchyard. This area was left open following previous archaeology; but has since become overgrown.
Overall the historic fabric of the site is in poor condition and requires significant conservation. Some sections of the walls appear to be in excellent repair (notably those bordering the cloister arch), while some sections are in very poor condition. Overall, the condition of the boundary walls is so poor that they are listed on the Historic England “Heritage At Risk” register.
Where little work is required, then little work will be done. On those sections it is expected that clearing vegetation and some re-pointing may be all that is needed.
Significant conservation is required on sections in poor condition. This will involve the careful removal of stones and mortar (from the top down), clearing out roots and growth, and then rebuilding the historic fabric. This work presents an interesting opportunity to examine the stones used. It is possible, albeit unlikely, that carved abbey stone was used to build these walls but with the carved face turned inwards.
This work must be undertaken under the guidance of Historic England, using approved materials and appropriate methods. Considering the age of the historic fabric, this work will be overseen by a conservation architect.
Fill open area (in corner of the churchyard)
An excavated area was left open following previous archaeology; this area has since become overgrown. Once this area has been cleared of vegetation, it will be not be left open but instead will be photographed in detail and then filled. Access into this area is currently difficult because it is so overgrown; once it has been cleared it should be possible to consider how to improve access to support ongoing maintenance.
Access to the site is currently by footpath. There is currently no vehicular access to the site. However, vehicular access will be required not only to take away rubbish (such as the remains of felled trees and cleared ivy) but also to bring items onto the site (e.g. equipment). Another key part of this first project is to create a new gateway in the southern boundary wall. This will only be done after detailed discussion with Historic England, with whom we’ve already had some very helpful initial discussions.
Improved access across site
Small sections of the northern and southern internal walls will also be removed (these aren’t listed) to provide ease of access across the site. The intention is for these new access points to become the links for public access across the site; connecting the proposed heritage gardens on the site.
The figure below shows the management structure for the fabric repairs: