Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Brickwork restorationBrickwork restorationCowbyre interior Cowbyre interior

Top: Brickwork conservation and restoration in the Citadel

Bottom: The Cowbyre at Basing Grange, interior refurbishment


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Dave Allen, Keeper of Archaeology at Hampshire Museums service writes…

A current project at Basing House is the provision of a ‘viewing platform’ on the crest of the Norman ringwork and during a recent visit to look at the foundation pits for the platform supports I was ‘presented’ with a splendid example of a Palaeolithic handaxe, found in the associated service trench. 

When the works project manager called me to say it was a good time to take a look he mentioned that one of his team had found a flint handaxe.  As lumps of flint are common at Basing and handaxes are rare in northern Hampshire I had my doubts, but it turned out to be an absolute peach of an example (see photo). It’s a roughly hand-sized tool about 13cms long and the working edge, around most of the circumference, is still very fresh. The whole axe has a white ‘patina’ from being buried in chalky soil but the flint would originally have been grey in colour.


Handaxes like these belong, of course, in the Old Stone Age or Palaeolithic.  They were the multi-purpose tools of our earliest ancestors and can date back as much as half a million years.  There have been a few Middle Stone Age flint finds at Basing before, but they go back only 10,000 years, so this new discovery is a fantastic reminder of a time when small groups of humans roamed the landscape hunting woolly mammoth, wild horses, reindeer and aurochs.

 And then….

A couple of weeks after the handaxe discovery at Basing House, the call came through that another unusual find had been made at the site.  Those familiar with the place will know that what is missing at Basing is the ‘House’.  When Oliver Cromwell and his forces took Basing in a final assault in October 1645, and trashed what had once been ‘the greatest of any subject’s house in England, yea larger than most of the King’s palaces’ Parliament compounded the episode by declaring that anybody could take away brick and stone from the ruins ‘and keep it for their pains’.  This invitation to treat the site as a quarry was taken up with gusto, and only the Great Barn survived intact.

Most of the foundations remained, however, and many of these were revealed during the excavations of the 1880s to carved stone head1910.  In exploring floor levels and cellars, Lord Bolton’s gardeners found numerous architectural fragments, some of which – like the stone corbels featuring sculpted human heads  (see photo) – were actually built into the walls of the ’Bothy’, the small house constructed at the time as the site museum.  No detailed study of these fragments has yet taken place, although it is hoped that this omission will be remedied soon.  

Tudor fireplace

The news that an in situ fireplace had come to light was therefore of considerable interest.  Brickwork conservation is a constant theme at Basing and the ravages of the two hard winters we’ve experienced recently have required a good deal of remedial work.  This particular section of loose brickwork was near to the location of the viewing platform and it had clearly been built against an interior wall – a plastered wall – although it’s difficult to be certain just when.  Some modifications took place during the life of the building, some at the death, when the defences were strengthened, some after the Restoration, when the area was probably turned into a garden, and some following the excavations a century ago.  The fact that the wall removed was very ‘rough and ready’ make it a candidate for the most recent of those potential episodes, but it is built on firmer foundations that may well be of 17th century date.  Be that as it may, the fireplace is undoubtedly of 16th origin, probably of Caen stone.  We will be looking through the fragments we have in store to see if there is anything to compare.

Another mystery is just what did the fireplace serve?  The perimeter wall, the plastered wall, has quite definite returns to both east and west (putting the fireplace at the centre).  It also has a series of fixing holes suggesting that it was originally covered with oak panelling, but there is no clear indication of how far the room extended into the interior.  We may well be able to investigate the area in a little more detail during the summer.  If any of the floor level associated with the hearth remains in situ, then perhaps a basic sequence can be established.

Forthcoming Excavations

From 22nd July to 11th August the University of Southampton Archaeology Department, working alongside Hampshire County Council Museums Service and volunteers from the Basingstoke Archaeology and History Society,  will be running a training excavation at Basing House for undergraduate and postgraduate Archaeology students.  The team will be expanding on a recent geophysical survey of the grounds, as well as re-excavating trenches not investigated since 1962  and carrying out an extensive building survey of the remains of the Old House.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons during the excavation, the archaeologists will be running free drop-in sessions (normal admission charge applies) including: An Introduction to Osteo-archaeology, Geophysics for Beginners, and New Recording Techniques for Archaeology, and lots more! Why not come along and see how the dig is going, and try your hand at archaeology?

For more information about the work of  University of Southampton Archaeology Department at Basing House see their blog.

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Hampshire County Council is delighted to announce that following the award of a new grant of £630,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund it is now able to embark on Phase 2 of its development and conservation project.   This new project will continue to build on the original master plan to ensure that Basing House is developed to support the ambitions for conserving the historic buildings for future generations and encouraging more people to visit or get involved with researching or looking after the  site.

This blog will keep you up to date with the works as they progress over the next few months.

The main aims of the Phase 2 Project  

Aim 1

The ‘Cow Byre’ building in the Basing GrangeThe Cow Byre complex of former farm buildings (around the  Great Barn)  received structural repairs in Phase 1  to prevent further weakening. It will now be refurbished to complete the transformation of Basing Grange as a key part of the visitor and learning experience and as a home for community activities.  

The Cow Byre will be fitted out to support practical and hands-on activities related to the ongoing research into Basing House’s history and archaeology, and the nurturing and development of skills – past, present and future – that both created Basing House and will be required to support the ongoing investigation and conservation of the site. 

The byre will be available for use by community groups, for example by the Friends of Basing House or the Basingstoke Archaeology & History Society, using it as a base for their activities on the site. Groups would be encouraged to create their own exhibitions and provide workshops to support public understanding of the site, its history and conservation.  

Basing House will also facilitate the use of this space by partners (like Basingtoke Technology College and the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust) to support the development and teaching of heritage and conservation skills.

 Aim 2

To improve the understanding of the complex remains of Basing House by both restoring access to the cellars of the William Paulet’s Tudor house and installing a high-level viewing platform which will provide a birds-eye view of the remains of the Norman castle, the Tudor house, the Civil War defensive earthworks, and Basingstoke Common (site of the Oliver Cromwell’s main siege camp) and Old Basing village. Basing House is a key site in the county council’s ‘Learning Outside the Classroom’ programme and this platform will become an important part of the experience for schools visiting the site as well as the general public.

Viewing platform (illustration)

Viewing platform (illustration)

Click here to see the  Viewing Platform location on a site plan.

Aim 3

To undertake a comprehensive conservation programme on the brickwork remains in order to prevent further loss of the important Tudor architectural features of the first Basing House in the ‘Citadel’ area of the site, and also ensure safe public access.

The brickwork remains are always vulnerable to severe weather conditons, as was proved in January 2010 when many consecutive nights of very hard frost and heavy snowfall caused the worst damage in living memory. Further damage occurred in the November that year. The proposed repair and conservation programme will be comprehensive and designed to provide long-term protection

January 2010

January 2010

Frost damage

An example of frost damage

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Basing House has won the 2012 Conservation Award at the SCALA Civic Building of the Year Awards – the most prestigious building design awards in the public sector.
The awards presented by SCALA – the Society of Chief Architects of Local Authorities – were announced at the Civic Building of the Year & Presidential Dinner 2012 in Manchester.
The judges said of the Hampshire County Council Property Services’ project: “Subtle adaptations and alterations have been carefully introduced to give a new purpose to this magnificent collection of historic buildings. The skills of all concerned with this beautiful piece of work deserve high recognition and reward.”
Basing House conservation project, funded with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, was praised for the clear research, care and attention given to preserving and restoring the historic detail of the site.
The capital works were led by Hampshire County Council’s award-winning conservation architects team.  

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Conservation, Adaptation and Access improvements   

Giles Pritchard RIBA, Senior Historic Buildings Architect for Hampshire County Council and the project architect and designer for Basing House has kindly provided the following summary of the works he and his team have carried out carried out over the past year.  

Basing House is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and contains a number of Grade II listed buildings. The former Grange Farm site, now called “Basing Grange”, contains a collection of Grade II listed farm buildings along with the Tudor Great Barn, which is listed Grade I and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Following a successful grant award from the Heritage Lottery Fund, improvements have been made to Basing House to provide better facilities for visitors to this significant historic site.

The adaptation and alteration of the existing buildings has been carried out with minimal impact on the historic fabric. New interventions are clearly distinct from original elements and a soft touch has applied on all the buildings to ensure that their character and history is respected.

Repairs to the fabric of the buildings have been undertaken using traditional methods and materials such as lime mortars and handmade brick and tile. Repairs to joinery were undertaken in a way that retained as much historic fabric as possible and using scarfing-in repairs, partnering of joists and rafters to provide additional strength, and stitching and re-pointing brickwork wherever necessary. 

Basing Grange

Site Entrance and Viewing Point

An area immediately inside the site boundary, beside the  River Loddon, now marks the arrival point for visitors to the site and this is the location for views across to Basing House.  A new gravel path has been laid alongside the fishponds and sweeps across the paddock to the north door of the “Little Barn”, adjacent to the Great Barn.

This 18th century barn now houses the visitor centre with reception, gift shop, refreshments and an introductory exhibition. The old corrugated metal roof has been replaced with hand-made tiles, the existing decayed timber doors to the north have been replaced with new oak doors to match the existing, and new glazed doors have been fitted within the existing opening to provide some environmental control to the barn. A matching screen with glazed doors has been fitted to the doors in the south elevation.

Little Barn 2008 Little Barn interior 2008 

Vistor centre south doorGiftshop

The existing modern concrete floor has been removed and replaced with a limecrete slab in a brushed finish and the central area between the main doors has been laid with handmade brick paviors. The existing services have been stripped out and the lighting replaced with a more sympathetic design, with fittings located at high level along the eaves line. A full fire detection and intruder alarm system has been fitted, radio controlled to avoid additional cabling. 


The old stable block has been adapted to create a new learning centre, new public toilets and a small plant room. The internal modern block work partitions have been demolished to open up the space for the learning centre. The existing concrete floor has been removed and replaced with a limecrete slab incorporating under floor heating coils and finished with an oak boarded floor on battens. The ceiling has been lined with insulated plasterboard, leaving the principal trusses and purlins exposed.

Old stables before adaptationStables interior April 2010Learning CentreLearning Centre interior

The works to the Great Barn have been minimal so that the vast open space is retained. Some minor repair work has been done to the 16th century roof structure involving some scarfing-in timber repairs in new oak and the introduction of some stainless steel bolts and plates to strengthen joints where necessary.

The existing chalk floor has been repaired by scraping off the built-up layer of mud and muck and consolidating the remaining chalk by lightly scarifying the surface and topped using rammed chalk with a hydraulic lime binder. The remains of the brick footings that once supported the threshing floor between the  western doors have been carefully repaired and the spaces between them infilled with limecrete incorporating the large flint rubble recovered from these areas.

To the east end of the building, the modern concrete floor has been removed and replaced with rammed chalk floor. The remains of a brick threshing floor between the eastern doors have been incorporated in its reinstatement using new hand-made bricks. The existing cement render to the walls at low level has been left as its removal would cause damage to the brickwork.

Great Barn interior


Garrison Gate, Basing House remains and the museum

Access for the disabled has been improved on the Basing House site. The tarmac approach path leading through Garrison Gate has been re-laid and a metal handrail provided up to the former canal bridge.  The toilet block has been comprehensively re-planned and refurbished to include an improved accessible WC.

A new accessible WC has been provided on the lower ground floor level of the museum in space formerly used as a storeroom.  The existing doorway to the exhibition, a modern doorway cut into the 1970’s extension to the Lodge building, has been widened to provide the necessary clear opening. The external concrete ramp has been replaced with an inclined gravel path re-graded with a gradient of 1:21. The ramp is independent of the adjacent historic wall.

Orchard WallExtensive repairs and consolidation of the brickwork to the ruins have been undertaken. The Tudor Orchard Wall, a significant retaining wall of two distinct periods of build, has been carefully repaired. This has involved tying back of the later brick facing and rebuilding sections that had previously collapsed. A new brick coping has been rebuilt based on evidence of the remaining wall top, to provide protection from water ingress to the wall below.

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  Battle of Basing weekend1Battle of Basing weekend8 Battle of Basing weekend3Battle of Basing weekend5 Battle of Basing weekend10Battle of Basing weekend4

What a month it’s been!   

Our heartfelt thanks go out to the large number of people whose energy, commitment and enthusiasm helped to achieve the following milestones over the past few weeks.  

  • 14th August  Basing House re-opened after its £2.3 million refurbishment
  • 28th August  New museum exhibition opened
  • 28-30th August  the Battle of Basing. Thousands of people came to Old Basing at the bank holiday weekend to enjoy this spectacular event  featuring the Sealed Knot re-enactment society
  • 11th-12th September  Basing House was a popular destination for the National Heritage Open Days event
  • 15th September  a Special Viewing was held for funding partners, stakeholders and supporters of the development project (photo below) 
  • 17th, 21st, 23rd September  first schools visits since re-opening     

 Special Viewing 15 Sept 2010


 So what’s next?   Illustration of proposed footbridge

Work has not finished yet.  By next Spring Basing House will boast a new footbridge spanning the western ditch of the Norman bailey and sailing over the excavated remains of the western gatehouse to the Tudor house (illustrated right), and a new cafe too, The Bothy Tearoom, which will be run by a local catering firm.  

Looking a little further ahead, plans are being drawn up for exciting new themed play facilities for our younger visitors.  

On a sadder note, fundraising has begun for a programme of conservation for the Tudor house, which suffered greatly from the exceptionally severe frosts experienced last January.  Work is already under way but to complete the task and prevent further damage to this  important scheduled monument  more resources will have to be found.    


Upcoming events  

  • Saturday 2nd October  Geocaching day
  • Saturday 9th & Sunday 10th October Mary Rose Weekend
  • Saturday 30th October Halloween Ghost Walk!


And finally  

Please visit our website or Facebook page regularly for more information about events. You can see more  pictures and video of the Battle of Basing weekend there too,  and much more.  And don’t forget that new volunteers are always welcome! 

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The Battle of Basing

Saturday 28 to Monday 30 August

From 10am-5pm

Join us to celebrate the reopening of Basing House with an exciting event, bringing our Civil War history to life for all ages.

More details on our website: www.basinghouse.org.uk


Civil War Soldiers (members of the Sealed Knot) clash in battle
Civil War Soldiers (members of the Sealed Knot) clash in battle

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