Built between 1719 and 1730 for Admiral George Delaval, it is not only the finest house in the north east of England, but also among the finest works of its architect, Sir John Vanbrugh, one of the masters of English Baroque. This has been a huge and important project for Team Force Restoration and has took more than 4 years to complete, in a process of three phases. Throughout the project public engagement has been paramount even attracting the attention of ITV who were already on site filming for the new series of ‘More Tales from Northumberland’ with Robson Green.

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There has been a building on the current site of the hall since the Norman Conquest. Seaton Delaval all was built by Sir John Vanbrugh, architect of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard for Admiral George Delaval. Work started on the Hall in 1718 as the old medieval buildings were cleared from the site. The stone to build the hall was quarried locally. To build the hall there was 32 masons at 1 and six pence per day, also 32 labourers at 8 pence a day.

The centre block contained the main living area, raised over a network of cellars. The main hall was used as a reception area and entertainment space. The statues in the hall represent the arts; music, painting, sculpture, architecture, geography, (earth) and astronomy (heaven). There were two floors above the centre hall housing bedrooms, with servant’s quarters and storage space on the top floor. The Salon was probably the most elaborate room in the building and there is still evidence of ornate columns.

On 3rd January 1822 a fire started in the back of the hall’s east wing, caused by a jackdaw’s nest that had been left in a fire place. The house was empty at the time and the fire went unchecked until local villagers and fishermen noticed bright lights in the sky. By the time they reached the hall it was well alight, the central block was completely gutted. The pink staining that can be seen on the sand stone today was caused due to the intense heat of the fire; if you look closely you will notice the watermarks showing where the molten lead from the roof ran down the walls.

Renovation work was started on the hall in 1860 by the architect John Dobson. Unfortunately he and owner Jacob Astley died before it was completed and the hall was then left empty for many years.

In 1959 the historic buildings council assessed the hall. They informed the late Lord Hastings to either renovate or dismantle. After obtaining a heritage grant, renovation work started around 1960. The late Lord Hastings made the west wing his family home and also stabilized the central block to ensure its survival.

The current Lord Hastings (after the death of his parents in 2007) donated the hall to the National Trust in lieu of tax. After extensive fundraising the National Trust was able to purchase the estate land (400 acres) and most of the halls collections in December 2009.

It was noted by the building surveyor and property staff, following acquisition of Seaton Delaval Hall; that the masonry in the Central Hall was not sound. There were several occasions where fallen masonry was discovered in the hall, and many decorative corbels forming the ceilings of the stairwells were found on the stairs themselves. The project building surveyor carried out an initial condition survey on the stonework in at the end of 2010. This condition survey prompted a further investigative survey to be carried out by structural engineers WSP at the beginning of 2011. The structural survey flagged up many health and safety issues with regards to the stonework. The most important being; the loss of structural support to the chimney breasts, the loss of structural support to the balcony, the expansion of iron cramps, loss of structural stonework such as lintels and key stones, dilapidation of statues, wet rot to timber roof joists, the general poor condition of the stonework and plaster which posed a risk of falling at any time.

A formal list of 5 companies was drawn up from the tender list. The tenders were sent under National Trust procurement rules; in addition it was a promise of the project team that local contractors would be considered for the work. Additional points were to be awarded for those contractors who could provide training as part of the works. Team Force were award the work after a stringent short listing process.

Guided Tours

The project team wanted to ensure Seaton Delaval Hall was open to the public throughout the works and that the main contractor took an active role in engagement. The public had full access to the central hall and scaffolding throughout the works. Public access was designed as part of the main scaffold to allow guided groups to see the stone masons at work. Team Force Restorations exceeded expectations on public engagement; the masons working on site took an active role in daily public tours, gave demonstrations and held training courses through HIS. This element of the stone work project won the Seaton Delaval Hall NT team a ‘Bringing Places to Life’ award from the Trust in 2011.

Volunteer onsite training

Whilst the works were underway we also provided the National Trust Staff and volunteers with some work experience in our techniques, such as raking out friable joints, dampening the wall down to control moisture, filling of the joints and beds with lime mortar, and finishing techniques, not forgetting after care. This training was well received and the enthusiastic National Trust teams did very well, giving them an understanding of the building and an appreciation for what we do as a job.

Carving Demonstration to the public

Carving demonstration was a requirement of the work. For this we set up a banker and work area and brought in a piece of stone, with which we chose to do a carving of a Grotesque. We also answered questions and gave talks on stone types. Many people called the Grotesque carving a Gargoyle, and we enjoyed explaining the difference. (Gargoyle is a water spout or water shoot/overflow, and a Grotesque is nearly always an ugly half human, half animal decoration).

Internal brushing down of masonry

The first task following the completion of the scaffold was to brush down the stone and brick to identify any loose material or other potential problems within the fabric. Due to the intense heat caused by the fire the stone was extremely friable. It became apparent that most of the stone showed some signs of heat damage, some beyond repair.

Lime Mortar Consolidation Works

The consolidation of all joints, cracks and gaps within masonry is usually a straight forward exercise. However at Seaton Delaval Hall we were working against 6 species of bats that were living in those spaces we needed to fill. As part of the National Trust site induction, Team Force Restoration were trained by ecologists from TNEI in finding bats prior to filling gaps which concealed them. After taking all precautions, we filled the gaps and joints taking care to be selective with deeper cavities. The deeper cavities were left to allow bats to return to their homes following their summer holidays outdoors.

Structural Works to Stair Tower Corbels, & Cornice

With scaffolding up, we were able to carry out a full investigation of the ceiling. Initially we thought that the internal cornice might be the same section of masonry as the external cornice, however this was not the case. With no other direct load on top of the internal cornice, the cornice rotated due to rusting iron cramps underneath, this rotation caused downward pressure on top of the corbels and cofter panels damaging them. Cracked or broken corbels and cofter panels were simply pinned where necessary with stainless steel rods and resin, then all cracks were repaired with a mortar repair, lime binder, soft sand, and stone dust.

Structural works to the Central Balcony

The central balcony was highlighted as a main concern in the structural survey carried out in November 2010. This was because only 3 of the 7 original corbels supporting the balcony remained; the rest presumably lost due to the fire and subsequent weathering.

Extra strength was added by cutting three channels in the concrete to a depth of approximately 50mm deep and 30mm wide above the lost/broken corbels. Cranked at one end to 45 degrees, stainless steel threaded bars were drilled into the main central hall wall and resin bonded the steel bars in place ensuring that the cranked section went firmly in, to 600mm. We made good by carrying out an epoxy concrete repair to the surface of the balcony floor.

East Wing

Consolidation to Urns, East Wing

Highlighted as a health and safety issue in both the building surveyor’s condition survey and the structural survey, the decorative urns were extremely hazardous to the public. Their poor condition meant that huge sections of stone were teetering on the edges of the roof parapets, with the public potentially walking below. This work consolidated urns situated on the roof of the East wing, where water had penetrated through the bed joints, and small cracks leading, in turn to frost expansion within the urns.

The urns were not being replaced so were pinned with stainless steel dowels and grouted with a suitable breathable grout. Any large cracking was mortar repaired with a combination of sands, lime binders, and stone dust to match the existing material. This is sufficient to ensure their survival for a few more years.

Marble floor

The central hall floor was completely taken up and repaired. Pieces of slabs were sent for a petrographic examination to identify the materials, confirming the black slabs were Kilkenny Bituminous Lime stone and the cream ones were Marble.

The whole of the existing presumed Vanbrugh lime screed was very friable and was dug out. A bespoke lime screed, created from new raw materials was then used. The floor tiles were repaired by cutting a channel into the reverse side of the slab, and inserting stainless steel threaded rods, fixed with resin.

A key consideration was that the floor retained the aesthetics qualities that tell the stories of the past centuries – patina, staining, texture, scorch marks from the fire – all now contribute to the character of the floor. Therefore, a higher percentage of the original slabs were retained through this method.

The External Consolidation and New Interventions.

The exterior of the central hall was challenging, especially the Ashlar walling. Approximately 50% of the beds and joints were stone on stone and, after many years without a roof, the mortar had simply washed away.

Phase 3 in the slide show above shows the Capital and the natural bedding planes of the stone. It was apparent that the underside of the volute of the capital was highly likely to fall very soon. Stainless steel pins were inserted through the Capital and bonded to hold the volutes in place.

A corner stone weighing almost 1 tonne had corrosion in existing iron cramps which caused the stone to split in two vertically. As it was above the front entrance, safe access made this a priority for replacement. The old stone was cut up in situ and removed; a new slab was brought in to the site and then hand carved in front of the building as part of a public engagement exercise.

We were thrilled to have the carving of the cornice stone, and its lions head, filmed as part of the 2015 series of ‘More Tales from Northumberland’ with Robson Green. This aspect of the project also gave us demonstration opportunities with the hall’s visitors; the stonemasons answered lots of questions, and explained the heritage skills used.

Urgent remedial work was also needed for the urns; these masonry units were resting on the copings on the parapet walls all around the east wing. Earlier inspection revealed that they were crumbling and at risk of falling.

Teamforce Restoration Limited has worked regularly and successfully at Seaton Delaval Hall since 2011. Their work has been admired and approved by many of the National Trust’s regional and national specialists. This testimonial seeks to acknowledge the company’s contribution to the National Trust’s aim of engaging our supporters with the restoration and conservation work we do. As newly appointed Site Lead in 2014, I found their support with public engagement, on the ‘Saving the Central Hall’ project, invaluable. Their passion for stone work, and a willingness to share this with everyone is evident. Given a small work compound in front of the Hall itself, and a stall at the Chilli Festival (attended by 4000 people over 2 days), they happily chatted to adults and children alike, helping the National Trust team to fulfil a key commitment to engagement that had underpinned the funding from the outset. Brendan collaborated with the site team to support the ‘More Tales from Northumberland’ filming, as well as delivering a straightforward schedule for the lifting of the one tonne cornice, and lion’s head carving, on the North side of the Hall. Brendan’s carving work is dotted all over the SDH site, for all to see. I believe that Teamforce has a real affinity for Seaton Delaval Hall, possibly driven by its location so close to where the company is based, in Blyth.

Justine James - Operations Manager & Site Lead Seaton Delaval Hall (National Trust) Northumberland

The Seaton Deleval project staff was overwhelmed by Team Force’s professionalism and enthusiasm for the work. The quality of workmanship has received the highest praise from many including the Project Building Surveyor, the National Trust’s Head of Buildings, the Architectural Panel, English Heritage and the project conservation officer. As well as the professionals, the property staff received outstanding feedback from members of the public who took part in the tours and training sessions.

Cheryl Moore - Project Manager National Trust, January 2013

Project Details

  • Client: National Trust
  • Cost: £197,000
  • Duration: Summer 2010 - Summer 2014

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