The special nature of masonry ruins

Ruins are very special places — they are fragmentary remains of an earlier culture, civilisation or way of life that, in most cases, no longer exists. They provide a window for the visitor to look through and to visualise how things had once been. They are often romantic places which appear impermanent and unspoilt by modern times. They can be a haven for wildlife, providing homes and sources of food for a variety of flora and fauna, often rare and of special scientific interest in their own right (Figure 3.1).

These perceptions and ideals of ruins as natural, unspoilt or romantic places within visitors' minds often create special challenges for the surveyor to leave intact (Figure 3.2). Most visitors like ruins to remain as ruins and do not wish them to appear clean and new, or obviously repaired in their appearance.

Ideally, the conservation strategy should seek to maintain the existing environment and natural balance, but there are occasions when intervention is necessary for the long-term well-being of the monument; when this occurs, programmes of work should be devised to leave a very light, almost imperceptible, footprint of repair on the site.

Figure 3.1 Celtic settlement of Chysauster in Cornwall: sites can become home to a wide range of flora and fauna, increasing the diversity of interest and importance.
Figure 3.2 The Great Tower at Guildford Castle in Surrey: ruins are often romantic places which create special challenges for the surveyor to leave intact.
Figure 3.3 Soft wall capping has been found to be beneficial for the protection of standing wall remains, enhancing site ecology and providing a long-term, low-maintenance conservation solution.

Recent review of the soft wall capping at sites within the United Kingdom1 has generally found them to be beneficial (Figure 3.3). This is good news for the natural site ecology and will, it is hoped, provide a springboard for botanists and ecologists to become more frequently involved in the conservation of ruins and their sites (see Chapter 6).

The conservation and repair of masonry ruins occupies a very small and highly specialised sector of the construction industry with a limited number of projects completed annually, restricting the development and refinement of experience within the industry as a whole.

There is an increasing tendency to rebury archaeological ruins, since this is the most cost-effective way of preserving them. If we are to conserve ruins without reburial, we must consider how the remains can be protected in a cost-effective and sympathetic

way. The reinstatement of missing protective elements, such as roofs and wall plasters, should be considered as part of a long-term strategy. What makes ruins uniquely vulnerable?

• Ruins usually lack protective elements such as roofs, wall plasters, harling coats, or even their original facings of stone or brick, allowing uncontrolled water ingress to the core of fabric (Figures 3.4—3.7).

• Exposure to the weather over prolonged periods without the benefit of protective elements often leads to decay characteristics which are either not seen in functioning buildings or are hidden and not easily identified. For example, alveolar weathering of stone is often associated with ancient structures where time and exposure to the effects of wind-driven sand or salts has created pockets of erosion in the masonry face (Figure 3.8). This pattern of decay is not normally associated with often younger functioning buildings and would not normally be within the experience of a designer or specifier of work to more modern buildings. Water ingress into a wall head over a prolonged period can create voids through the masonry core which have the potential to destabilise the wall and are frequently inconspicuous from visual inspection of the external wall face.

• Ruins frequently lack a maintenance record which permits monitoring and review of condition over the medium and long term.

• Ruins often lack sufficient funding and this funding often fluctuates with changes in political policy and public interest.

• Ruins can be situated in remote locations, which hinders access to the site and to high-level masonry elevations.

• Ruins may incorporate materials or construction techniques which are unusual and outside normal experience.

• The conservation and repair of ruins cannot consist of a single, isolated programme of work, but requires the same ongoing inspection and maintenance as any historic building; however, many projects are undertaken in isolation without any commitment to future funding or programmes of work. The surveyor must inform the guardians of a ruin about future site requirements, must seek to

Figure 3.5 The West Front of the Priory Church, Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire: where protective roof coverings have been lost and cannot be reinstated, the ruin will often require more frequent monitoring and maintenance than protected elements.

achieve long-term conservation objectives with limited funds, and should encourage guardians to look to the future by possibly setting up trust funds or endowments to finance future ongoing maintenance.

• Conservation and repair ofruins requires an understanding of specialist conservation techniques which may not be widely employed within the construction industry. It is often difficult to find suitably skilled personnel to undertake the work, particularly if such personnel are to be sourced locally, and it is difficult to establish proven track records of success. In some instances established conservation methods may not be appropriate, so the surveyor will need to form new ideas which should be centred on site-based investigation and testing, including mock-ups or exemplars where necessary.

Figure 3.6 Newstead Abbey: the standing remains of the West Front of the Priory Church. The wall is now exposed on both the external and the internal elevations, increasing the potential for rainwater ingress and decay. Carefully considered and well-executed conservation work is required to reduce the maintenance burden, but maintenance and inspection levels of the masonry will always be comparable to, or exceed, those of a building with protective elements still in place.

Figure 3.6 Newstead Abbey: the standing remains of the West Front of the Priory Church. The wall is now exposed on both the external and the internal elevations, increasing the potential for rainwater ingress and decay. Carefully considered and well-executed conservation work is required to reduce the maintenance burden, but maintenance and inspection levels of the masonry will always be comparable to, or exceed, those of a building with protective elements still in place.

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