Smethwick Council House
A GRAND CIVIC BUILDING
In autumn 2018, Stone Edge completed a major restoration project at Smethwick Council House, a Grade II listed civic building in the heart of the Black Country. The Town Hall building, which was constructed in the early 20th century boasts a splendid terracotta façade. ‘Terracotta’, literally translated, means ‘baked earth’; it is a form of fired clay. Most commonly, we think of clay in the form of bricks and tiles – but terracotta used in the facades of historic buildings is made from a far more finely-milled material, containing fewer impurities. This means it can be used to create much finer detail and a far sharper finish. The hollow masonry block-work used here was at its height of popularity during the Victorian period.
INTRICATE TERRACOTTA WORKS
Stone Edge has repaired and restored many buildings of this type. It is intricate work and very rewarding: just the kind of project we relish. Our project here, for Sandwell Council, consisted of repairs to the terracotta blocks which form a band at eaves level and consist of several courses of decorative terracotta pots, filled with concrete. The repairs were needed to halt the deterioration to the fabric of the building, caused by water penetration into the blocks. This had been caused mainly by steel spikes driven into them, designed to support pigeon deterrent wires. The water had penetrated the concrete fill, causing expansion. Frost damage had subsequently resulted in delamination and spalling of the terracotta. Ultimately, it had penetrated through the building envelope and there was saturation of brickwork and plasterwork in some interior rooms.
To remedy the situation, work was required to the front elevation and both side elevations. A number of repair techniques were required, depending on the degree of damage. Some pots needed crack repairs, others required new material to be fixed to the original pots. The worst damaged of all needed to be replaced, by newly manufactured units of terracotta, which were inserted after the damaged pot was cut out.
Careful consideration was needed to some elements of the work. Some of the damaged terracotta pots form part of the pediment, and are attached to a steelwork beam behind them. Stone Edge was responsible for investigating the exact construction of the pots and the wall they form part of, measuring and taking moulds to manufacture replacement parts. We also designed the methodology for the repairs and replacement of blocks, and for the removal and and fixing of the new blocks to the steelwork. Adequate propping was required, to preserve the stability of the structure and carry the work out safely.
TAKING CARE OF THE DETAILS
Beyond the intricate, specialist terracotta work, our contract also included re-pointing, window repairs and cleaning of the facades. Even the smallest features were important. Our leadworkers carefully reinstated the fine lead details on the building’s crest.
The lion had lost his tail and arrow, which were duly replaced and painted, with the design copied from historic drawings. The knot on the side of the lion represents the county of Staffordshire.
UP ON THE ROOF
Away from the facades of the building, our team also carried out a major re-roofing project of this complex building. This was a significant heritage roofing contract, with all of the roofs re-covered in Westmorland slate.
Our heritage leadworkers carried out replacement of the lead valleys, hips and ridges, and ornamental leadwork to the cupola. Cast iron rainwater goods were installed. The building’s landmark clock was also restored, with the clock tower’s original paint scheme reinstated.