Journal of Architectural Conservation

Volume 10 Number 2 July 2004

Holkham Hall,Norfolk, where a country estate is 're-discovering ancient wisdom' in its choice of long-lasting. cost effective and sustainable paints for the estate


See 'Holkham Estate Returns to Traditional Materials and Craftsmanship' by Viscount Coke


Windowcraft - Part Two Sonja Allback and Hans Allback

Holkham Estate Returns to Traditional Materials and Craftsmanship Viscount Coke

Conservation of Structure in Historic Buildings John Warren

Developments in Conservation Policy: The Evolving Role of the Commission 
for Architecture and the Built Environment John R. Mansfield

Brick and Tile Deterioration at the Hoca Ahmet Yesevi Building Complex, Turkestan 
Ahmet Gulec

The Saving of Wotton House in the Fifties and Sixties Donald Insall



The value of knowledge

David Watt


In reading recently of the quest for the North Pole, comment made by the American journalist-explorer Walter Wellman (1859-1934) caught my attention. Discussing his reasons for seeking the Pole, Wellman states:

To make this unknown known was one of the highest ambitions of man. The utilitarian value of that knowledge is perhaps nothing. Its scientific value is a matter of opinion and discussion. But the true scientific spirit is: 'Wherever in all the realm of physics there exists an unknown, a missing link, a dark spot, go find what is there, and discuss its value afterwards in the light of the knowledge gained.'

What better way is there for describing the importance of an open and inquiring mind - whatever the subject?

It is often not possible to gain two sides of the same story, but in this issue we have just that. In Holkham Estate Returns to Traditional Materials and Craftsmanship, Viscount Coke provides an informed discussion on issues regarding maintenance at the Holkham Estate in Norfolk. The paper gives careful consideration to joinery repairs and decoration, and in so doing provides compelling evidence in favour of the use of linseed-oil paints and other products on the estate. In this, it also provides a practical link with the work of Sonja and Hans Allback in Sweden.

In the second part of their own paper, Windowcraft, Sonja and Hans Allback continue the story of how they developed a range of linseed-oil products to meet their own practical requirements. This includes instruction on use, supported by technical data drawn from testing against environmental criteria, and commentary on the wider benefits of adopting a holistic approach to building maintenance. 

Technical testing and analysis form the basis for Brick and Tile Deterioration at the Hoca Ahmet Yesevi Building Complex, Turkestan by Professor Ahmet Gulec of Istanbul University. This paper considers the materials used in the earlier restoration of the Hoca Ahmet Yesevi building complex, explains associated decay mechanisms, and highlights considerations in recent conservation repairs. Whilst technical in content, this paper highlights the benefits to be gained from establishing a close working relationship between scientists and building conservators.

On the Conservation of Structure in Historic Buildings by John Warren is based on his presentation at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies in York last year. The paper raises thought-provoking issues and ends with the statement that: 

Building conservation, like architecture itself, is a community art. ...Its evolution responds to the needs and objectives of the community, led and served by those who study and mutually teach.

These are sentiments that must strike a chord with many who work within the historic built environment.

In Developments in Conservation Policy: The Evolving Role of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, John Mansfield provides a stimulating account of how the quality of design has been promoted through various government initiatives. The role of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) is considered in the context of private- and public-sector design issues, with concern raised for its apparent move towards regulation and growing impact on development within historic centres.

Lastly, in The Saving of Wotton House in the Fifties and Sixties, Donald Insall offers a personal recollection of his work at Wotton House in Buckinghamshire. Saved by the late Elaine Brunner, Wotton is very much a living property with its present owners, Mrs Brunner’s daughter and son-in-law, continuing to restore the house and grounds. An exhibition - Saving Wotton: The Remarkable Story of a Soane Country House - is being held at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London from 2 July to 25 September 2004.


Windowcraft - Part Two

Sonja Allback and Hans Allback


The first part of this paper, outlining our work and describing evidence of the performance of old doors and windows in use, was published in the March 2004 issue of this Journal. This second part describes our work in rediscovering the qualities of linseed oil for use in linseed-oil paint, putty, and soap, and our experiences of using these products. Since 1982 our goal has been to investigate forgotten knowledge about linseed-oil paints, expertise which had developed over hundreds of years and which was lost in recent times with the increased use of modern paint systems. In running our own business concerned with the care and maintenance of buildings, we have worked determinedly towards the development of materials that fulfil our requirements in respect of technical properties, drying time, eco-friendliness, storage properties, ease of maintenance, attractiveness, and economy. 

Traditional European skills and ancient wisdom, in combination with modern production techniques and cooperation with local farmers, have enabled the development of a totally new generation of linseed-oil products that do not require solvents at any stage of their use. 


Sonja Allback

Together with her husband, Hans Allback she developed the new Windowcraft profession. Since 1982, via documentation, product development, marketing, education and administration, she has been working to commercialize their innovations. Since 1985 she has run a private school for building care and focuses on windows and doors. Since 1998 she has also run Allback Linseed Oil Products Limited. 

Hans Allback

Hans Allback was an apprentice carpenter in 1968-70 and started his own company to restore old houses in 1970. Hans was employed as a painter/decorator for several years and was also project leader at the regional arts and crafts museum in Sjobo. In 1982 he started the new Windowcraft profession with his wife Sonja Allbäck and has since been inventing tools and restoring thousands of old windows and doors in different European countries.


Holkham Estate Returns to Traditional Materials and Craftsmanship

Viscount Coke


This paper outlines the quantum of maintenance work that the Holkham Estate is responsible for, concentrating on the annual repainting programme and incumbent joinery repairs. The resultant dissatisfaction with various modern paints led to the search for more effective and sustainable paint systems. Our discovery of the Allback linseed-oil paint, products, and working system (Windowcraft) led us to change our approach to window repairs and painting.

Ultimately we were so pleased with the products and finished results that we ended up importing the paints from Sweden and making them available to a British audience through the formation of Holkham Linseed Paints. This, in itself, concurred with our wish to continue the diversification of the largely agricultural estate and importantly it concurred with our mission statement: 'The Holkham Estate will work to ensure that the Hall and wider estate are managed and enhanced to the highest standards so that we are one of the very best, to be enjoyed by future generations.'


Viscount Coke BA(Hons)

Tom Coke degree in History of Art at the University of Manchester in 1987 and then served with the British Army for six years before returning to Holkham where he embarked upon a diversification programme on the estate.


On the Conservation of Structure in Historic Buildings

John Warren


This paper is based on the first of an annual series of lectures sponsored by the Alumni Association of the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies (IoAAS), now part of the Department of Archaeology, at the University of York in 2003. In the paper, presented as 'Thoughts on the Conservation of Structure in Historic Buildings', the author explores the view that structure is the essential component of buildings. Conservators have the options of structural repair, reinforcement, or replacement. The comparative ethics of these options are considered. The guiding principles are those adopted at the IoAAS, with a preference for repair of the existing structure and retention of function. Accurate diagnosis is essential. Respect for the tangible historic fabric controls decision-making. Reinforcement is acceptable, but must not be paraded. Replacement may mean substitution of an original structural system by an alternative structure, even where the fabric is retained. Ethical arguments may be complex, requiring clarity of thinking in relation to general principles and our own motivation. The interdependence of conservators and their mutuality are considered.


John Warren RIBA, FRTPI, FSA

The author is a Bachelor of Architecture (1956), Master of Letters (1961), and RIBA Rose Shipman Fellow (1961-62). He has worked as an architect, planner, and conservator in private practice since 1963. John Warren is an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies in York, where he has lectured regularly for 30 years.


Developments in Conservation Policy

The Evolving Role of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment

John R. Mansfield


The quality of urban design, particularly in the historic urban environment, has been recognized as a key issue in achieving the much-publicized urban renaissance. To redress the apparent loss of quality that has occurred over the last 30 years, the government has sponsored a number of initiatives that promote design through influence rather than by control. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) was established in 2000 as a 'design watchdog', and has been afforded the opportunity to make comment on a kaleidoscopic array of private- and public-sector design issues. Yet, in the short time since its introduction, CABE has evolved rapidly and has begun to present a more pervasive agenda that goes beyond mere guidance. This is problematic, and indicates the potential introduction of a series of non-regulated requirements that need to be addressed by developers in their design solutions.


John R. Mansfield BSc, MSc, MRICS

John Mansfield is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Property and Construction at The Nottingham Trent University, where his teaching is concentrated on aspects of real-estate valuation, investment, and finance at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.


Brick and Tile Deterioration at the Hoca Ahmet Yesevi Building Complex, Turkestan

Ahmet Gulec


Bricks and tiles used in the previous restoration of the Hoca Ahment Yesevi building complex in Turkestan were badly deteriorated. An attempt was made to determine the deterioration processes of these new materials, as well as the original ones, by using various chemical and physical deterioration processes of these new materials, as well as the original ones, by using various chemical and physical analyses. It was found that the deterioration was caused by soluble salts that were conducted from the repair mortars and plasters, as well as the different physical properties of the old and new bricks and tiles.


Ahmet Gulec PhD

Dr Ahmet Gulec is a conservation chemist and is Assistant Professor in the Department of Restoration and Conservation of Artefacts at Istanbul University. He has carried out extensive research on ancient Byzantine and Ottoman mortars, plasters, and Iznik tiles. He has wide experience of stone conservation and the use of chemicals in conservation gained during his previous professional work in the Restoration and Conservation Laboratory of the Ministry of Culture in Istanbul.


The Saving of Wotton House in the Fifties and Sixties

Donald Insall 


The saving of Wotton House in Buckinghamshire is now the subject of a major exhibition at Sir John Soane's Museum. Built between 1704 and 1714, its then-fashionable design (attributed to John Keene, master mason) was inspired by the original Buckingham House. After a severe fire in 1820, the Main House was redesigned for its owner, the Marquess of Buckingham, by Sir John Soane. The two flanking Pavilions overlooking the Forecourt meanwhile remained unaltered. But by the mid-twentieth century, the whole group had been neglected and become semi-ruinous. The Estate was subdivided for disposal; and there seemed to be no prospects for the House, now threatened by exposure, dry-rot and the likelihood of demolition.


Donald Insall CBE 

Donald will be well-known to Journal readers as a pioneer conservation architect, who has led the way in caring for Britain's historic buildings and places. He was founder (1957) of Donald Insall Associates, chartered architects and historic building consultants with an international reputation, and who have offices now in six historic cities.

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