Conserving and regenerating Belton Stables

Sitting elegantly in formal gardens with views across pleasure grounds and an ancient deer-park, National Trust’s Belton House, Grantham, is often cited as being the perfect example of an English country-house estate.

The stables building at Belton is one of only 21 Grade 1 listed stables in England. Until recently, many of the most significant features of the stables remained untouched, although sadly, the condition of some of the features was in desperate decline. The Trust’s ambition was to find a sustainable future for the entire stables building, that showcased the craftsmanship and shared the story of the people that once used it, but also allowed the building to play its part in the modern life of Belton.

The stables were built for Sir John Brownlow between 1685 and 1688 by master mason William

Stanton and are contemporary with Belton House. They were later altered by Jeffry Wyatt in 1811 and 1820 for the 1st Earl Brownlow. In the 1860s and 1870s the St Pancras Iron Work Co. installed the loose boxes for the 3rd Earl to accommodate his racehorses; the same company had just supplied stables for the Queen and Prince of Wales. The building continued to be used as stables with the grooms living on the upper floors until the 1970s, when the 6th Baron Brownlow opened his shortlived Museum of the Horse to the public.

The National Trust took ownership of the Belton estate in 1984 and in 1985 installed a restaurant on the ground floor. In doing so many of the historic features to the southern end of the ground floor

(including the floor layout) were sadly lost. The upper floors had remained unused since 1984 and had gradually declined into a state of semi dereliction. In 2009 the roof was however re-laid and the rainwater goods replaced to ensure the building remained watertight.

Stamford based Messenger Construction is part way through a year-long project to conserve and rejuvenate the 17th century stables at Belton House. The conservation work requires the use of traditional materials and specialist building skills in order to respect the original construction techniques and interior design. 

The current project was born of a desire to conserve and regenerate the stables to provide a sustainable future for the building. Two of the three floors were semi-derelict and the condition was slowly deteriorating. The Stables Restaurant at ground floor level, as well as the dry store and chiller room was inadequate both in terms of operation and visitor experience, and the upper floors were disused areas, housing only the plant for the kitchen.

Given that a considerable proportion of Messenger’s work is undertaken on heritage attractions, they are extremely familiar with working in live public environments and providing additional experiences for those in the locality.  For example, during works managed by members of the Messenger team at Chatsworth House, at its peak and with 140 tradesmen on site, the attraction was still able to remain open to the public.

For the duration of the Belton Stables project, visitors have had the chance to keep up to date with what’s going on through regular tool box talks and heritage skills days. There have also been opportunities for hands-on practical experience in traditional building skills.

Messenger has had a dedication to heritage skills promotion since the inception of the business in 2011. A typical example being at their project at St Margaret’s Church, Ward End. Here they offered education days, in addition to opening the site to school visits. Messenger held three full education days and several of their staff also visited the local schools and took questions from the children.  Whilst engaging children and adults in hands-on activities does bring an element of risk, appropriate pre-planning at the risk assessment stage ensures that these are kept at low level, whilst still ensuring the participant gains a worthwhile experience.

Working in collaboration with the Churches Conservation Trust, Messenger also held ‘hands-on’ days for a local school at their Ufford Church project in Cambridgeshire. Here the children were able to try their hands at leadwork, plastering as well as stained glass work.

As well as hosting community events where possible on projects, the Messenger team have an ongoing desire and commitment to inspire potential new entrants to the industry. As a company they are dedicated and passionate in their mission to promote and encourage the future of heritage skills. Messenger currently have a number of site apprentices and hope to continue to provide a suitable learning environment for many youngsters in the future. As a company Messenger aim for around 10% of their employed staff to be apprentices/trainees.

In a bid to further support the future of skilled trades, Messenger has invested time and resource to train members of the team to become Construction Ambassadors. A Construction Ambassador is someone who inspires potential new entrants about the industry and is able to convey what it’s actually like to work in construction. Very often they provide the first introduction to the construction industry for many young individuals who are considering their future career choices.

With companies such as Messenger making a firm commitment to the future of heritage skills, hopefully the nation’s built heritage will be in safe hands for many years to come.

The latest posts on the regeneration of Belton stables can be found https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/belton-house/projects/beltons-stables-project