Deene Park – stunning country manor

Northamptonshire estate completes major external repairs

In 2017, Brudenell Estates embarked on phase one of a major refurbishment programme for Deene Hall, Deene Park, in Northamptonshire.

Deene Park has been the seat of the Brudenell family since 1514. The hall itself is a Grade I listed building dating back to the 14th century. Seven of the Brudenell family were Earls of Cardigan — the most notable being the 7th Earl who led the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854.

Messenger was appointed by Brudenell Estates to undertake external repairs, which involved the almost complete renewal of the roof, stone repairs to a number of chimneys, essential works to the masonry and refurbishment of the south elevation and courtyard.

Despite the considerable disruption and need to shroud the building in scaffolding for much of 2017, Brudenell Estates knew that the works were essential to maintain the fabric of Deene Park, so that visitors could enjoy the historic property for many generations to come.

Messenger is based at Tinwell, near to Stamford in Lincolnshire. It specialises in high-quality conservation and construction, repair and renovation projects. The Messenger team have a wealth of experience in working on Grade I properties like Deene Park.

The refurbishment project with Messenger is currently nearing completion and is being overseen by Surveyors BSM Noble (Peterborough).

Here is a more detailed explanation of the works:

The roof

The main roof at Deene Hall originally comprised a series of double-pitched roofs with lead-lined gutters. During the 1950s and 60s, the roof structure was modified and collars were fitted to the trusses, with the apex of the trusses removed.

A flat roof deck was created with timber joists and boards, covered with a relatively modern three-layer bituminous felt. This was presumably perceived to be the most cost-effective solution to leaks at the time.

When the felt roof began to fail, a decision was taken to overlay it with a lead flat roof. The lead was formed on top of the felt, with the deck comprising timber joists and chipboard decking. Chipboard is widely known to be unsuitable for this application.

The design of the lead roof and structure was flawed – it had inadequate falls, the individual bays were too large, and there was no ventilation to the underside of the lead coverings.  And so a long history of problems ensued as the chipboard decking failed, due to water penetration and condensation.

When the chipboard was exposed by Messenger it had completely disintegrated, leaving the lead supporting itself and sagging between the joists.

Fortunately, the retention of the three-layer felt system prevented most of the penetrating rain finding its way to the timber deck and internal finishes. Without this layer, the damage to the timber roof structure and internal finishes would have been far more extensive, and earlier intervention would have been necessary.

A new lead roof has now been installed to meet current design guides from the Lead Sheet Association. It includes increased falls, smaller bay sizes, insulation and ventilation to the underside of the lead.

Rather than replacing odd slates here and there on the Collyweston stone slate roof above the Tapestry Room, it was agreed that Messenger would remove and re-lay this completely. Once the slates had been carefully removed, new felt was fitted and then the original slates re-fixed, with any broken or damaged slates replaced with like-for-like ‘new’ ones.

In 2012 Messenger Construction was approached by English Heritage (Historic England) to carry out trials and further investigation into the production of Collyweston stone slates. The aim of the trials was to replicate the natural process of splitting or “cracking” the stone blocks or “log”, which would naturally occur when the log was exposed to frost during the winter months. The trials proved very successful and new Collyweston stone slates are still being produced by Messenger.

Decorative wrought iron roof light

Once access to the highly decorative wrought iron roof light was obtained, investigations determined that the unit was in fact made up of a number of sections which could be easily dismantled. George James and Sons of Kettering (Blacksmiths) carefully undertook the task and transported the pieces back to their workshop for repair. The roof light has now been carefully fitted back in place and decoration is currently underway. Whilst in the workshop, templates were taken to allow for the replacement of the curved glass panes. The new glass will replace plastic that had been fitted previously which had discoloured over the years due to the sun light. The restored roof light when fitted with the new glass will allow much more light into the main staircase area.

Timber windows

A comprehensive repair scheme was undertaken using replacement timber sections and modern resin repair systems to recreate the timber windows. The aim was to maintain fully operational windows while retaining as much of the historic fabric as possible.

Stonework

Retaining the historic fabric was the aim when it came to restoring the building’s stonework too. The Messenger team carried out localised repointing, pinning and repairing individual sections of masonry, while completely replacing anything that was beyond repair.

One of the main problems with stonework at Deene Park is corrosion of the ferrous cramps installed during the original construction. Unfortunately, these cramps are decaying due to exposure to water over hundreds of years. They are expanding and splitting the stones. The entire metal framework was replaced with stainless steel, which will not rust.

Interestingly, a number of ‘tell tales’ were discovered during the stonework repairs, dating back to 1915. Tell tales are crack-measuring devices – still used today – that are placed on a crack in a building wall to measure and record the size of that crack. These tell tales from over 100 years ago showed that the cracks hadn’t moved in that time.

Scaffolding

This was a six-week programme to set up. Fortunately the winter weather in 2017 was surprisingly clement so there were few delays, although Storm Doris did delay the erection of the canopy. Great care was taken to ensure that the scaffolding did not damage the important flower beds on the south front.

The scaffolding in the courtyard was originally devised as two small towers. However, in the end it had to be smothered when it emerged that extra buttressing was needed to hold the canopy safely.

Despite the extensive scaffolding, there was minimal disruption to the house interior and the hall continued to receive visits from the public.

Historical footnote

Deene Park once owned a copy of the Magna Carta. The copy was made in 1297 and was sold to Ross Perot, the American businessman, in 1983. Today the copy is on display in the National Archives in Washington DC, alongside the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

How a copy of the Magna Carta came into the family’s possession is not known, but it appears to have been at Deene Park from at least the early 1600s. Only 17 copies of the charter from the 13th century are known to survive; the Brudenells’ example was the only one in private hands, and one of only five still carrying a royal seal.

Further information on the Deene Park Estate including the house, garden and tearoom opening times can be found www.deenepark.com