Refurbishment and Repairs to Grade I C16th Manor, Exmoor National Park

for The Field Studies Council

Used since 1968 as the Leonard Wills Field Centre by the Field Studies Council, Nettlecombe Court is a C16th, Grade I Listed, Manor House set within a C18th landscape park which is also important as one of only two designated landscapes in Exmoor National Park. The house is of significant historical interest, due in part to the wealth of decorative plaster ceilings from five different periods.

The project, with a value of in excess of £1m, was completed within a very tight six-month programme to reduce disruption to the use of the centre which closed for the duration of the work. The project was delivered on time and under budget. Our full consultant team, including Synergy Bare Leaning and Bare as Quantity Surveyors and Patrick Stow as Structural Engineer, worked closely with the client and contractor to support them in achieving the programme to allow the centre to receive a full house of guests in Easter 2017.

Our brief for this project included:

  • Undertaking an architectural risk assessment of the listed structure to identify the existing condition and requirements for repairs;
  • Delivering extensive internal alterations which would enhance the visitor experience and improve the accommodation offer, including full renewal of the mechanical and electrical services; &
  • Resolving a number of structural issues within the historic fabric which would demand a highly sensitive approach and innovative design, and implementation strategy for the repairs.

The intent of the main alterations was to upgrade the existing facilities to support the building’s use as a residential centre. These alterations sought to have a positive impact by securing the future long-term use of the building whilst not impacting on the significance of the building and the removal of modern partitions to reinstate former rooms. The work was achieved through a thorough understanding of the existing building fabric, its historical significance and sensitivity; from this knowledge we identified where the building could accept change and where any alterations may be harmful to its unique identity and historical significance.

A comprehensive review of the mechanical and electrical installation was undertaken, and the subsequent careful removal of redundant water tanks, pipes, cables and associated chasing relieved the structure of overloading and the risk of flooding to historic ceilings below.

The works also included in-situ repairs of primary structural members, including the innovative construction of a new laminated beam in-situ above one of the historic decorative plaster ceilings, and decorative repairs to the same ceiling undertaken by plaster specialist, Sean Wheatley.

Our ambition for this project was to exceed our clients’ goals for occupation numbers, including achieving the provision of greater flexibility for a wider variety of visiting residential groups to this Grade I listed property, including installing a disabled bedroom and wet room. Great attention was also given to the detailed design, material choice and aesthetic of the new facilities in order to reflect the rural context in Exmoor National Park and the character of the FSC itself. The solution achieved will also significantly improve the centre’s revenue streams and long-term sustainability.

To both celebrate and learn from this project we provided a number of tours and talks:

  • Claire was asked by Exmoor National Park’s Conservation Officer to talk about our work in relation to the planning and execution of the works at the Exmoor Archaeology Forum;
  • Alongside the Archaeologist Stuart Blaylock and Historic Plaster specialist Sean Wheatley, Jenny gave a talk and tour around the completed building to Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society (SANHS) – this included looking at the various ages of plasterwork, the wider history of the building, and the strategic approach to delivering the sensitive conservation aspects of the project.