Roofconsult Website Future is Cast for Heritage Projects by Clive Gambrell of Hargreaves Foundry
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Halifax-based Hargreaves Foundry, which has been manufacturing cast iron since 1896 and now casts for celebrated sculptor Anthony Gormley, explains how traditional foundry skills are preserving some of Britain’s finest buildings for generations to come.
There are just a handful of traditional foundries left in the UK – but those that remain are playing a vital role in the restoration and preservation of Britain’s finest period architecture.
The surviving foundries possess the knowledge, skill and product range which can turn even the most difficult-looking job into one of the most straightforward elements of restoration. Designs that may seem hard to find are actually part of the off-the-shelf range.
Hargreaves Foundry, which was established in 1896 and is now the second largest manufacturer in the UK, recently supplied more than 380 gutter lengths and 110 rainwater pipes in the style of one of Yorkshire’s most-loved heritage buildings from its off-the-peg range.
The immense Piece Hall in Halifax, built in 1779 as a place for hand weavers to sell their cloth, is now a shopping centre, entertainment venue and popular tourist spot. Picture 1
At 6,500sqm, the impressive Grade I listed building had moulded gutters which had to be painted a specific sand colour that would match the building’s Yorkshire stone.
Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council, which manages the building, was able to replace the failing guttering and drainpipes from Hargreaves’s standard product ranges.
Sourcing replica cast iron guttering and pipe work isn’t as difficult as it may seem when you know where to look, and neither is replacing more unusual fittings on a large scale.
Clive Gambrell, Hargreaves Foundry sales manager, said: “Cast iron is peculiar to UK architecture and there are just three major manufacturers left here. We’re the only ones that can deal in both volume and bespoke applications on such a large scale. Hargreaves has now moved its entire UK production to using only recycled or scrap iron and steel.”
He describes a recent challenge to restore one of Cambridge University’s college buildings, the Maufe building on St John’s College complex.
“The building is distinctive. It was built in the 1930s and has a very gentle curve to it. There was guttering and pipework to both sides. This means that we had to produce convex guttering and pipework for one side of the building and concave guttering and pipework for the other. Not only that, but the original pipework had unusual dimensions – 4.25x3.25in rather than the standard 4x3 inches.”
As the architects wanted to reuse about half of the original gutters, fittings and pipework, the replacement products had to match exactly the originals to precise tolerance levels.
Hargreaves executed the job with such precision, they were able to hand the installation over to the University’s building maintenance division to slot new straight into old. picture 2
The new ironwork also had to feature a decorative motif – a hallmark of the building. Clive took a sample of the original guttering back to the foundry so the pattern makers could reproduce the motif from the original. The replica ironwork is almost indistinguishable from the originals.
Clive explained: “The task of repairing and replacing historic cast iron windows, pipes, guttering and other products can require skills as much akin to a master detective as a master craftsman.
“The loss, erosion and damage over scores of years can turn ornate cast iron into irregular pieces of heavyweight jigsaw puzzles. When no original patterns and no record of the original dimensions survive, there is rarely a straightforward formula for 21st century replicas.”
In the Cambridge project, Hargreaves’s expert cast iron detective team had more to go on but it is not always the case.
At the Garrison Chapel in Pembroke Dock, the only surviving Georgian classical chapel in South Wales, Hargreaves were tasked with casting 11 new windows using a clutch of clues, some comprising no more than fragile, slender details, along with photographs of the original hopper-style openings.
Now in-situ and performing well in the restored church buildings, the cast iron windows can be expected to provide up to a century of service, after which all the castings can be fully recycled.
Cast-iron production has changed very little over the last century. Architects and specifiers are realising that this very traditional material is one of the most environmentally sustainable products in the building industry.
One hundred per cent recyclable and with a life-expectancy of at least a century, cast iron offers great green credentials, particularly when compared with many modern alternatives.
For further information on Hargreaves Foundry see
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