Open Door 2011 – 10th-11th September 2011

First Base Heritage Project took part in the annual English Heritage Open Day’s event on 10th and 11th of September 2011. Organised locally as Open Door it is the largest Heritage Open Day event in the country with over 120 local venues taking part this year. The event allows the public to obtain free access to buildings of interest over the four day period. First Base Heritage Project opened its doors to the public for the first time to share

Our tours gave visitors the chance to learn about the fascinating and hidden history of St Stephen’s Hall, the building where First Base is housed. Being the only building in Brighton to have been moved from one location to another it is now located on Montpelier Place. Built as the fashionable Assembly Rooms to the Castle Inn, it once stood in the Old Steine and became the Chapel to the Royal Pavilion before being moved brick by brick to Montpelier Place where it was used as a church until 1939 before being converted for modern charitable use.

Visitors were treated to a talk on the history of the building and its work as a resource base for rough sleepers. Client volunteer, Samantha gave a presentation on the inspiration behind the design of the newly renovated First Base and client volunteers Steven s and Thomas gave visitors a tour of the building. We finished of with and Q &A session and coffee and cake provided by Dine.

The feedback from the visitors was fantastic and all were agreed that the restoration of the building was excellent and they were delighted that the building was being used for such a positive purpose.

Brighton Sewer Tour -18th June 2011

This tour was organised due to popular demand from client volunteers involved in the project. We initially planned to visit as part of the Brighton festival in May but we were unable to book due to the tour being so popular. Many of our client volunteers have experience in the building trade so were keen to see the sewers from a structural point of view, the rest were purely interested in seeingb this hidden part of Brighton’s heritage. Overall, we wanted to learn about Brighton’s historic architectural development and the development of Brighton as a fashionable resort.

The tour began with a brief video and talk on the history of the sewers. We were told how in the early 19th Century Brighthelmstone had a population of about 7,000. By 1849 this figure had risen to 60,000 and the pier, aquarium and many other well known Brighton buildings had all been built by this time . Just before 1860, the town council decided that all of Brighton’s waste water should be drained into the sea. Until then the sewage and household waste was mostly drowned into cesspools at the back of dwellings which was unpleasant and unhygienic.

At this time very few sewers had been laid. The few that did exist were 9” in diameter, constructed of 4.5” brickwork in lime mortar and called ‘ gun barrel’ drains.

Some rain water sewers were were constructed of hewn chalk and with a slate bed and discharged onto the upper part of the beaches. It was forbidden to connect household drains to them, although many illegal connections were made and the outfall pipes were gradually extended further out to sea.

Work began in 1865 to improve the systems. The old streets were drained into 3 outfalls, one at the western boundary, one at the town centre (Albion) and one using an existing outfall at Black Rock. Each was provided with an overflow weir which would operate in heavy rain.

About 44 miles of sewers were laid ranging from 12” diameter salt glazed ware pipes to 8ft brick circular tunnels. From 1869 public pressure grew for an intercepting sewer – a main trunk which other sewers would drain into and which would take the waste water outside of the town altogether. Sir John Hawkshaw suggested the scheme which was adopted resulting in the outflow being at Portobello (Telscombe). As Brighton and Hove continued to expand the sewer system expanded with it. The sewers were finally completed in 1874 and have been in constant use ever since with 300 miles of main sewers now running beneath Brighton and Hove.

We then began the tour after being split into two groups. We explored the various passages and tunnels and looked at both the Victorian and a newer additions to the sewer network. We learnt about the different ways the Victorian’s devised to help break up the sewage and heard about how until quite recently the sea used to come into the sewer at high tide. We saw the intercepting sewer tunnel which now runs between Portobello and Hove Street a total of 7. 5 miles.

We learnt that the sewers were made from local materials including sand from the beach and bricks from a local brickworks. Much of the labour was done by the Irish. Three people died during construction and three reported had broken limbs. This was considered a very good safety record for the scale of the project. The brick work has been carried out to a very high standard which explains why it has stood the test of time so well.

We emerged in the middle of the Old Steine. It was certainly a relief to be able to breathe fresh air again. We strolled back to the education room of the sewers and collected our stuff, flinching slightly at the smell again as we re-entered. We all agreed it was a fascinating and well led tour that gave us a great understanding of how the sewers helped the town develop into the busy, resort town that it became.

Behind the Scenes at the Royal Pavilion – 21st June 2011

Janet Brough, Head of Conservation at Brighton Pavilion met us and explained how the conservation work at the Pavilion is an ongoing and continual process.

First, we met with the gilder responsible for maintaining all of the gilding work throughout the Pavilion. He was gilding a skirting board using an oil gilding technique and a sanded finish. He explained the difference between oil gilding and water gilding. We learnt about the different materials used in gilding and talked about the different finishes and different effects that can be created with gilding. We looked at the different application techniques and discussed the different materials and tools used to create these effects. We looked at how different colours are created by using different bols. We discussed how different metals are used around the museum and how decisions are made to ensure the original materials are used where appropriate and how sometimes it may be more appropriate to use a more hardwearing, modern material.

We then visited the person responsible for restoring all oil painted glass panels and sky lights which are all around the museum. She showed the process which she uses to conserve the panels and the materials used. We discussed some of the issues around the conservation of the panels such as the paints fading very quickly and a ‘browning’ effect which takes place.

We then briefly visited the person who cleans and preserves items on paper from the Royal Pavilion and the wider Brighton and Hove museum’s collection. We discovered that much of the cleaning process is done using just water and repeatedly washing and drying out the article to be cleaned.

We then looked at Janet’s room where she is mainly responsible for maintaining and restoring paintings and frames. She showed a series of before and after pictures of work that she has recently carried out. We looked at materials that she uses to repair picture frames and how that process is carried out.

We looked at some small wooden bells which had been ordered to restore a decorative cornice which is adorns the Great Hall. They were ordered from a company which specialises in making wooden shapes to order at a low cost. We talked about how modern manufacturing techniques can be used in conservation in special circumstances such as this.

We then looked at examples of paint techniques throughout the Pavilion including a piece of work which included painting watercolour dragons throughout a piece of woodwork from a door panel. We looked at marbling techniques and various wood effect samples. Unfortunately, the conservator who does this work was not present to explain in more detail.

Throughout the whole visit we discussed the enormous task of cleaning and protecting the building as a whole and the enormous amount of dust which easily and quickly accumulates. We felt very priveledged to have got to see the parts of the Royal Pavilion that the public cannot see.

Regency Town House

The tour of Regency Town House began outside with Nick Tyson, the curator of the town house, showing us a range of slides showing Brighton’s development from fishing village to bustling and fashionable sea side resort. Using maps Nick showed us how the town expanded drastically in the early part of the 19th Century and he explained that it was in part down to Dr Russell and his sea water cures and the Prince Regent. We looked at the development of Hove which was still a small village and then began to discuss the development of Brunswick Town which was designed to be a self contained town between Brighton and Hove. We also briefly discussed the biography of Charles Busby, the architect, of Brunswick Town.

Nick showed us copies of the original plans which showed how the town was designed to be totally self sufficient and was designed for all of the different social groups that would be needed to make the town sustainable. This was a very new idea for many of us who did not realise that some neighbouring streets were built as part of the Brunswick Town project. Brunswick Square and Terrace were to be the focal point of the town, providing elegant, luxury houses with mews to the rear. Middle class housing was located in Waterloo Street and the Wick Road, while the service streets, such as Brunswick Streets East and West provided working class accommodation. Shops were built in Market Street and Western Road, together with a substantial market building. Social amenities were not overlooked either; public baths, a chapel, the Star of Brunswick public house for the working class and the Kerrison Arms Inn for the better-off were all part of the grand design.

We then looked at plans for one of the houses bought by a speculator Charles Elliot who bought 16, 17 and 19 Brunswick Square. The plans were heavily annotated and from this we could see that a builder called George Sawyer had agreed to build the house for him at a cost of £3000. Mr Elliot would be responsible for purchasing all the fixtures and fittings at his own cost. Nick explained that this would probably double the cost. It would have cost an additional £1000 a year to run the house.

As we were standing in the dining room we discussed the use of this room first. It featured incredibly ornate cornicing, pillars and a centre piece all of which have been painstakingly restored. The room was painted a mauve purple colour which using heritage techniques had been matched perfectly with the original colour. Nick showed us how this had been uncovered using rubbing techniques to rub through the layers of paint. He also explained how using microscopes and various tests, the paint colour can be recreated. We were told how dining rooms were often painted purple as colour theory at the time believed that it was good for digestion. We discussed how the room would have been furnished and what kind of entertainment would have take place.

The hallway was painted a muted red and green and featured a stained glass panel. We stopped here to talk about what materials the building was made of. The bulk of the building is made from bungaroush, with lime plaster to smooth the walls. The bungaroush was made using local chalk which was in plentiful supply and flint taken from the surrounding agricultural fields. Some parts are made of brick, particularly the corners and around the windows. These bricks were made in Brunswick Square from local clay which covers the ground in this area of Hove. The floor boards were made from Baltic wood shipped in through the nearby Shoreham Harbour. The banisters were made from wrought iron which was made locally, as this was a thriving industry locally.

We then went up to the first floor living room. Again it was very ornate with cornicing and centre pieces but perhaps slightly less so than the dining room. Nick explained that the further up a house you go the less ornate it becomes because the rooms were mainly used for family and servants. The walls had been stripped back to the original paint work but this room had not been repainted like the dining room. We looked at the archaeological evidence on the walls of what the room had looked like we could see where frames and mirrors had been hung and where gilded panelling had been.

The discussed the kinds of parties and functions that would have taken place here for up to 200 people at a time, how they would have eaten and drank and how people arrived and were announced. We talked about the huge costs of these parties.

Finally we visited the Basement at No.10 Brunswick Square a few doors down. This flat is in a dilapidated state and retains many of the original features including a specially designed, vaulted and double doored wine cellar, a meat drying room, housekeeper’s room, servants’ hall, privy and yard.

We started outside looking at the beer cellar, coal cupboard and dust cupboard. We then ventured inside the house and started in the housekeeper’s room which would have been decorated like a middle class living room and if the main house was overcrowded with guests then the housekeeper may be expected to sleep there some times. The rest of the time it was where linen and other stock may be kept and where the housekeeper gave out instructions to other servants.

We then looked at the vaulted, secure wine cellar and Nick explained that this is because a well stocked wine cellar at an upper class house could contain a wine collection worth more than the house!

We then went to the servant’s room where we really got a feel for how dark, cramped and poorly ventilated it would have been. When the house was busy servants may have slept in this room which had been designed with a storage come bed area with a wooden floor in contrast to the rest of the room which was stone flagged floored. We talked about however rough the servant life was, the alternative was unemployment and that was far worse, so people rarely if ever left these jobs by choice. Regular meals and shelter was seen as enough.

We moved down to the kitchen area which had a meat drying room which was well ventilated just outside. The kitchen was a mini version of the one at the Royal Pavilion with a huge hearth, a sophisticated ventilation system to keep the room cool enough to work in as it would have been stifling hot all the time and staff would have fainted.

This was a fascinating tour and everyone was really engaged.

Weald and Downland Museum Visit -19th April 2011

We arrived at Weald and Downland Museum to meet Tony our guide who often takes part in the museum’s craft demonstrations for children. The first building we looked at was a Tudor market place and town hall. We discussed how and why the building was moved and looked at the numbered beams to see how they are all numbered clearly so that if the building needs to be moved again the components are clearly identifiable. We discussed what the building was made from and how the oak beams for the struts were made from cuts of the bottom part of the truck. Tony explained that although it looks like the shape has been cut by man, it is actually carefully selected cuts of the truck.

We then looked at a shop building which was once located in Horsham and was an original Robert Dyas. It was moved to the site when a road needed widening. We discussed what it was made from (lime and mortar) and we looked at the original slates of the roof which were heavy and thick. Tony explained that the style of the building and the way it jutted out from the first floor upwards means it is a particularly good example of a building from the Tudor period.

We looked at several other smaller buildings from various periods including a granary and the tin chapel. We then went on to look at a collection of tools highlighting the various trades used in building heritage. We talked about the impact of modern tools and equipment and the various ways the ‘old’ skills are kept alive.

We looked at an old piece of machinery for making bricks. We discussed the history of brick work and how Britain was a late adopter of brick making skills. We looked at an exhibit of brick work through the centuries which highlighted the different bricks, materials and skills.

We then looked at the restored working mill and discussed the mechanics of how it worked and the problems that have been experienced in its restoration.

We then went down and saw the blacksmiths forge and discussed the various applications of his work today. We talked about the blacksmith artist’s totem pole which is erected outside the forge and how the skills are used in artistic ways today.

Finally we looked a display which highlighted various aspects of buildings using heritage skills. We looked at lead work, stone masonry, tools, thatching and carpentry.

After lunch in the sun we looked at some more Tudor building including a cottage, a manor house, and walked the woodland trail around the site where more examples of the blacksmith artists work is displayed.

As we waited for our taxi to pick us up we chatted about what we thought of the visit. The consensus was that most of the group had never really thought about what happens to old buildings and everyone could see the value of keeping and restoring them and the skills that made them. We had a very interesting discussion about the interpretation of the site, agreeing that if we had not had the guided tour we would have missed out on a lot of the information. We discussed how making the site more interactive would be useful. Eddie suggested that the site was too spread out and that similar things should be grouped together. He suggested that where the town hall and market place stood you could have an actual market on display. This discussion definitely bodes well for future plans for the project involving the public.

Architectural Photography Follow Up Session

In this session we worked with Richard Rowlands again and reviewed all of our photos that we had taken a few weeks ago. To begin with we looked at all of our photos and highlighted which one’s we liked best. We put these in a separate folder and then looked at them all at once to see if we noticed any themes. We then did a second edit and chose 12 photos each that we liked.

Richard then gave us a whistle stop tour of Photoshop and we then edited the images. We used a range of different tools to improve and enhance the images and highlight features, added depth, contrast and enhanced colours.

We discussed ways architectural features can be focused upon using a range of Photoshop techniques and talked about the differences between using the architectural features to create a photographic effect and using photographic skills Photoshop skills to highlight and focus tightly on the architectural features.

We played with all of these techniques until we were happy with our selected images.

Architectural Photography Workshop – 15th March 2011

This session was led by the very talented Richard Rowlands, a professional photographer and ex-BHT employee. Donning hard hards and high visibility jackets we were given a brief health and safety talk by Boz, the Site Manager. We then squeezed into the portakabin and started the session by looking examples of photos taken by various photographers of various buildings and artefacts. We particularly looked at the use of light and examples of photos that centred in on details. We discussed texture, light, shape and reflection and how these can highlight, accentuate or distort the architectural features of the building in the photograph.

Richard gave us a quick lesson in how to use the cameras and tripods and then headed up the scaffolding to the very top of the building near the roof as we decided to start at the top of the building and work downwards. Working in pairs we took turns to use the camera and take the shots we wanted. It was quite poorly lit up on the scaffold platform and the lighting came from little lamps placed in various spots on the scaffold. Eddie played around with the exposure and created some great images using light and shadows and experimented with moving and blocking the light to get the images he wanted. We took pictures of the cornice work in progress, and collections of tools. Steven and Marek focused on taking images using the height of the platform to take images downwards and made great use of the natural light from the enormous windows. They captured some great images of the ivy growing in through the windows. We moved down the various levels of scaffolding and experimented with taking photos of the scaffold itself, the showed us the challenges of dealing with shiny, metal surfaces which distort the light and created some interesting effects.

After lunch we focused on the ground floor of the building making use of the natural light around the doorways and taking photos of some of near completed building work on that level. We also experimented with taking photos of the glass pods which have been constructed. Richard taught us how to use the Macro feature of the camera to take highly detailed shots of very small details such as numbers on the bricks. It was interesting to be able to contrast the old and very new elements of the building work and capture the building work in progress making use of wires hanging down, bright colours of packaging or high visibility jackets draped over step ladders, the modern lines of stainless steel kitchen furniture combined with the old plaster work of the side doorways created some great shots.