Abseiling innovations at Clandon Park

Our project at Clandon regularly requires innovative solutions to a number of interesting challenges. The most recent question to have arisen on site: how do we continue to remove large pieces of high-level debris from inside a now weathertight building without slowing our progress? The answer, surprisingly, is abseiling.

From a building surveyor’s point of view Clandon has moved on leaps and bounds in the year since the fire. The building is protected from the elements, as well as sound and safe. We’ve cleared the majority of the house and are now working on the final areas. But in this case our progress has created its own problems.
Early on in our project we used cranes for high level debris clearance because of the size of the timbers and steelwork involved. Since then we’ve completed work to wrap Clandon Park in a scaffolding cocoon, protecting the building from the elements and allowing safe access for our site workers. The roof on the structure is designed to facilitate crane access, but it would still require a substantial amount of time and energy to remove those roof panels and would temporarily open the building to the unpredictable British weather. So we began to consider different ways to gain access to the remaining large pieces of debris still present in those areas of the house yet to be cleared.
Rope access operatives working at heights of up to 20 metres
Rope access operatives working at Clandon Park


A surprising and innovative solution

We’ve recently completed a successful two week trial period using rope access operatives to undertake these works. The initial idea was a result of a series of project meetings and the decision taken in consultation with our scaffold contractors who’d worked with this team previously.
This is the first time the National Trust has used abseilers on such a high profile salvage project and so it’s a learning curve, but one that’s going well. It’s an original and unusual solution to the tricky task of clearance inside a building whilst working from a scaffold. Good progress was made during the trial, the rate of clearance was impressive and our rope access operatives will now continue working with us until the building is cleared. 
Our operatives are highly trained and qualified with skills and safety practices developed in the offshore oil and gas industries. They have bricklayers, pointers, carpenters and decorators all on staff. Conservation work is newer to them and so they’re working hand-in-hand with our curators, archaeologists and conservators to ensure that vital expertise is shared.

Sky high salvage

The vast free standing scaffold acts as a huge climbing frame, an abseiler’s paradise allowing access to all the necessary areas of the structure, large and stable enough to take their weight and that of the debris they’re hoisting. They’re working on ropes up to 20m from the ground and using hoists they can lift timbers and debris up to a tonne in weight. We’re able to have four operatives working at any one time in different areas of a single room, effectively quadrupling our efficiency when compared to a single crane and operator working at a time. 
We can now have four operatives working together at a time
Rope access operatives working at Clandon Park

Our rope access team begin at the top of the walls and work down. Suspended from two sets of ropes they’re able to move around the walls, side to side as well as up and down. Each wall section, every void or opening, is carefully inspected, any loose material or small debris pieces are removed and propping or support work is carried out where necessary. They continue to work down the wall until they reach the main debris field. Here the larger pieces of debris such as timbers can be assessed and lifted out, enabling safe ground level access for our archaeology team.
Once this work and the archaeology are completed we’ll have a definitive understanding of the state of the structure, giving us all the information we need to begin thinking about the restoration work that is Clandon’s future.