Conserving the historic masonry at Willington

Stables undergoing conservation to the masonry

The Tudor Dovecote and Stables at Willington have endured the elements for nearly 500 years. During a recent survey experts discovered that the historic masonry is gradually eroding and so the stable block will spend the winter under scaffolding as the first phase of specialist conservation work begins.

Construction during the dissolution of the monasteries 

The Dovecote and Stables at Willington were built shortly after 1530 from stone salvaged from Newnham Priory. The irregular size and condition of the stones used in the construction of the stable block meant that the lime mortar pointing was finished flush to the stone face, wrapping over the broken or eroded edges of the masonry. 

The mortar was then scribed in and lime-washed to give the appearance of high-status ashlar masonry. This was a fairly common practice following the dissolution of the monasteries when stone was salvaged in abundance from ruined religious buildings. 

In the case of the dovecote, the masonry walls were built as rubble wall construction and were never intended to be seen. Instead they were rendered and lime-washed to protect the underlying stone. In an early photograph of the dovecote large areas of render can still be seen intact, although today only small fragments of this survive. 

Causes of erosion 

An extensive investigation into the condition of the historic fabric, involving analysis, trials and surveys, took place in 2017. 

The findings revealed that the exterior masonry is experiencing long term, gradual erosion because the lime-wash and render finishes have needed maintenance over the past 100-150 years. 

Using this information, specialist conservators at Cliveden Conservation Ltd worked with the National Trust to plan the best conservation approach. 

Returning the masonry to its Tudor appearance 

The Stable Block at Willington will be under scaffolding until late 2019 as phase one of the conservation work focuses on its south elevation.  

The work will preserve the surviving areas of historic scribed mortar finishes and reinstate the lime-wash finish as a protective layer for the long-term preservation of the masonry underneath. 

The protective lime-wash finish will bring the appearance of the Stable Block back closer to how it would have looked originally, and will be an important step to protect the historic buildings for the next 500 years.