In Carmen Talbot

Volunteering for the National Trust: Building Conservation on Lundy Island, UK

If I asked you to mix a batch of lime mortar to conserve a granite wall, would you know how to do it? Neither did I before volunteering for the National Trust on Lundy Island in July 2013. For that matter, Lundy Island itself is probably unfamiliar to most people on this course – see the below map that shows where the island sits in the Bristol Channel (between England and Wales):


Lundy is a tiny, 3 mile long island that has a surprisingly interesting past (involving the Knights Templar and pirates and a man who declared himself King of the island – not all at once though) Donated to the National Trust in the 1960s, it is now managed by The Landmark Trust, who manage the island as well as renovate and lease some of the historic buildings as holiday rental properties.

Mastering the art of a successful lime mortar was not the first challenge associated with working as a building conservation volunteer however. The first task was in fact-finding steel toe capped boots for specifically women in the UK, a seemingly impossible task in both High Street shops and online. I finally had to go for the smallest men’s boots I could find, but it made me think (aloud, and also on Twitter), where is the safety boot provision for female workers?

Using a scutch hammer to chip old lime wash off reused stone (whilst being covered in mortar) Photo: Sam White, 2013

Using a scutch hammer to chip old lime wash off reused stone (whilst being covered in mortar) Photo: Sam White, 2013

Once on the island, the volunteers worked 8am – 5pm days, initially learning how to mix and lay concrete for a modern building for the first full day (and I now have the shoulder muscles to prove it). The task for the remainder of the week was building a back up granite wall that was surrounding a newly built staff/volunteer living quarters. The wind on the island is pretty aggressive (although, as the picture indicates, the weather was startlingly beautiful for the entire week), and the purpose of rebuilding was to protect the new timber building from some of the damaging effects of this wind. Having never built a wall before, I found that there was a surprising amount to learn. Even common-sense notions like not letting mortar joins between stone run over long vertical levels came as a learning curve. One of the conservation issues concerning Lundy is its remoteness, and the difficulty in bringing new materials to the island, which must travel there either as cargo in the passenger ferry, or be flown in by helicopter (at a large cost). The former granite quarries are also listed on the English Heritage National Heritage List for England, and protected by the British government’s Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979; it is therefore now prohibited to extract any granite from them, meaning that the island itself must be searched for unused granite to conduct repairs – so a stone that was previously used for one building may continue its useful life in another.
What was fascinating to learn was the effort and research that had gone in to attempting to reproduce the ratio of sand(s) to lime to water in order to recreate the same colour of mortar as the existing 19th century constructions, so that the conservation efforts did not overtly stand out, but could still be picked out if you were looking for them. This is something that I had in fact noticed not being done at the site of Mystras in the Peloponnese. When visiting there recently, it was apparent that sympathetically ‘blending’ the mortar tones was possibly not considered, or perhaps there was a reason to make the modern mortars in places either shockingly pink or dark grey. In any case, the overall effect seems slightly careless in comparison to the process/practice on Lundy.
Mystras, Peloponnese, Greece. Example of re-pointing on wall. Photo: Carmen Talbot, 2013’

Mystras, Peloponnese, Greece. Example of re-pointing on wall. Photo: Carmen Talbot, 2013

Doing voluntary work that was so different from my previous experience was a fantastic opportunity to broaden my skills and practical knowledge. As the example above indicates, it has offered new insights into the implementation of the field we are studying: heritage management.
If you want to know more about the National Trust or Lundy Island, head here:
Reference: Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979

Carmen TalbotCarmen Talbot is a student in the 2013 cohort of the Heritage Management MA, and Kent Scholar. Previously studying Ancient History as an undergraduate, she is interested in adult education in heritage and encouraging the wider adoption of digital solutions.

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