Castle House, Bridgwater was built in 1851, the house was a prototype for showing what could be done with the new wonder material ordinary Portland Cement, which was being brought into nearby Dunball Wharf.
The building is positioned where part of the Bridgwater Castle stood, it’s decorative style is a copy of what was being done at the time in carved stone. Carved rings, statues in niches and vermiculated panels. The windows have a gothic style. The features though are all cast in concrete, the aggregate being shells, bits of tile and brick from the local industries and any old stuff that could be found. Interestingly there was no embedded steel as with concrete buildings that were constructed soon afterwards.
It is a unique example of what could be done with the new material and importantly demonstrates typical Victorian inventiveness, ambition and bravery.
It was a family home for John Board, a pioneer of concrete construction. John Board founded his firm Board & Co in 1844. He was at the forefront of concrete manufacturing and Castle House was where he trialled and tested the new construction techniques. He took six of the concrete statues to the great exhibition in 1851.
It is hard to imagine just how bad the building was in when work first started. Lorry straps and a sea of Acrow props holding up the floors and building, huge structural cracks, missing elements, burnt out roofs, dead birds, drug paraphernalia, rough sleeping debris, a light well half full of rubbish and so on. It was a major challenge for the architect. Chris Balme, of Ferguson Mann who did an amazing job specifying what was needed to bring the building back to a usable state. The plan is for it once again to become dwellings.
The total value of the project was £500,000 Over six years and five phases, work took place as funding allowed. This involved making the structure sound in the first instance along with keeping out the water. Structural steelwork and repairs stabilised the building. A great deal of anchors and spiral steels were introduced to the masonry.
Slowly the rooms and corridors were recreated, following on to recreate the decorative façade.
The historic ceilings were vaulted. They were left in situ. A structural steel frame was created beneath them we then created a vaulted shutter below and then concrete poured through a matrix of drilled holes in the upper floors. Carpentry, joinery and roofs were recreated. One of the roofs even has arched trusses formed only from brick and tile.
The exterior had features, moulded and sculpted in-situ in most cases using Vicat Prompt which was the closest breathable material we could find to the original. Areas were consolidated, areas were pointed and areas were rendered. There were modern roofing features and Koracle lime paint was applied to areas of the exterior. Looking back at how the building was to how it is now is quite remarkable. There were times in the early stages where many did not believe it could be saved which is testament to the level of skill and determination that the whole team showed throughout the process.
Client:- SAVE Britains Heritage
Architect:- Chris Balme Ferguson Mann Architects
Engineer:- The Morton Partnership London