Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Bridgwater, Somerset

An Englishman’s home…

A few weeks ago I was in Bridgwater and wondered if Castle House, long hidden under scaffolding and protective sheeting, was at last visible again. I decided to have a look, but I was a few days too early. I’ll explain…

I first came across Castle House in 2004, when I was writing the book for the second series of BBC2’s programme Restoration. I learned that the house was built in 1851 and is a very rare early example of concrete construction. It was conceived and built by John Board, a cement manufacturer, and was designed as a showpiece for the material – in particular a way of showing that concrete was as good as conventional masonry at producing the kind of ornamental architecture that the Victorians loved. So the concrete was designed to look like stonework, and it was covered with ornamental flourishes – bands of interlocking circles, Tudoresque dripstones over the windows, scrolls over doorways. The building was designed as a family house, but it  also contained rooms for Broad’s offices: no doubt he was keen to show clients the potential of the material he manufactured and championed.

By 2004 the building was fire-damaged, derelict, decaying, and propped up with scaffolding. It had been empty for years and Historic England once called it ‘the most endangered historic building in the South West’. Its importance was championed by SAVE Britain’s Heritage,* and slowly, over many years, the plans and funds for its restoration came together. When the action got going, the painstaking work went on behind a swathe of scaffolding poles and sheeting.† And now the work on the walls and roof has been completed and the covering has been removed. The interiors are still to be completed, but the building is sound and watertight, and can at least be seen from the outside. I’ll have to return to Bridgwater and have a look for myself in the New Year.

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* The photograph at the top of this post comes courtesy of SAVE Britain’s Heritage.

† The architects for the restoration are Ferguson Mann Architects, who have been involved with the project since 2009.

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