Restoration work of RD Allsop Plastering

Old Grammar School

The Old Grammar School in the centre of Harborough is one of the towns most notable features, an unusual building that stands on wooden stilts. The schoolroom had been built upon posts to allow the butter market to be held on the ground floor. The school was founded in 1607 and The Old Grammar School building constructed in 1614 through the generosity Robert Smyth a local man who became the Comptroller or financial controller of the Lord Mayors Court of the City of London.

Teaching only boys in the subjects of Latin, Greek, Mathematics and Hebrew, many pupils were subsequently sent to Oxford and Cambridge universities. Best known former pupils include John Moore who became the Bishop of Norwich in 1691 and Bishop of Ely in 1707 and William Henry Bragg, Nobel Prize winner. William Bragg is commemorated by a plaque displayed on a wall inside the old schoolroom. Although now moved to Robert Smyth Academy, the school badge still includes the arms of the City of London with one of the schoolhouses named Bragg.

The structure is a restored timber framed building with open ground floor with the schoolroom above. It is formed of substantial framing built on a timber arcade of 3 bays facing the high street and 2 bays to either side with 10 octagonal posts on stone plinths with carved braces and dragon beams above. The first floor saw plastered infilling with pargetting from an 1868 restoration. The roof turret was originally put in place in 1697 with a bell from the same date being replaced in 1868 when a rear staircase wing was also added.

The Bowdens Charity is now funding a renovation of the external and roof elements of The Old Grammar School in order to make good the roof, which was starting to sag and push the walls of the structure outwards.

We have been behind the tarpaulin that has covered this beautiful building in the centre of town and spoken with the team from RD Allsop Plasterering, a heritage plastering company of dedicated craftsmen, masters in both historical plastering craft and contemporary plastering alike.

The job that the RD Allsop team has undertaken began with the removal of the existing cement render due to its poor permeability. Cement is a very rigid and unforgiving material and is not really suitable for timber framed buildings- all in all a poor choice by our Victorian builder predecessors. However, cement was a very unusual and rare choice of material in the early Victorian era so it was potentially quite a technological leap that these renovators took back in the 1800s. It is believed that the two designs of shields that surround the first floor were also added during the 1868 restoration. They were cast and fixed to the building rather than bordered and hand carved, known as pargetting, but they have been kept in place and delicately cleaned rather than having any restorative processes applied to them.

The removal of the cement render meant the removal of the existing soft wood larch timber lath, but the RD Allsop team have replaced the under-render lathing with like-for-like materials. Although this will never be visible from inside nor outside of the building, it is important for historical restoration that the original craftsmanship is retained.

We are using some modern building ideas to help with issues such as weatherproofing, Rob Allsop of RD Allsop Plastering explains, but wherever possible, the techniques used are in keeping with the historical values and stipulations that apply to a Grade I listed building of such high status.

When asked if he felt the pressure of working on arguably Harboroughs most iconic building, Rob said Of course! But as a local man, it is a great honour to employ many of the skills and experiences that we have gained through working on historical buildings throughout the UK to aid the restoration of such a beautiful building. The knowledge we have of using modern techniques to marry the old with the new such as lime rendering will look similar to the original plastering but will ensure that the Grammar School stands strong for another 500 years. That said, the pressure of doing this on your doorstep is high. The best result that we can hope for is that once our work is complete, the people of Harborough will not be able to see any difference to how the building looked before.

RD Allsop Plasterering work on numerous projects nationally and internationally from local residential plastering projects through to the ornate plastering of celebrity houses, to working on famous landmark buildings. A recent project saw Rob and his team working on famous White Stair at Apethorpe Hall.

Apethorpe Hall Heritage Plastering project Apethorpe Hall Heritage Plastering projectApethorpe Hall Heritage Plastering project Apethorpe Hall Heritage Plastering project

Apethorpe hall sits in quiet picturesque rural Northamptonshire countryside. This impressive Jacobean Hall has a simply fascinating history with parts of the building dating back to 15th century. Since its initial build, Apethorpe Hall has entertained many impressive guests, including King James I and Queen Elizabeth I.

Many decorative plaster ceilings and details were commissioned to coincide with these visits from their Royal Highnesses, the wonderful White Stair being one such commission. Plastered during a remodeling of Apethorpe Hall in 1740, The White Stair sits at the Western end of the State Apartments, which date back to the early 17th Century.

Further alterations during the 19th Century saw a new landing being inserted and the structural challenge of moving the lower stair into a new position. Unfortunately, this change cut straight through the beautifully designed ornate plastering unbalancing the overall symmetry.  

The White Stair plasterwork style is dainty and delicate with small geometric panel mouldings. Inside each panel is a rosette with a large central floral motif. Set between the panels is a fine trailing stem with flowers and leaves tumbling from both sides. The wall panels are filled with the same hand modeled stem and flowers with fruit enrichments vertically formed. The stems, flowers and fruit hang from plaster ribbons, which diminish in size as they near the staircase and floor. Very imaginative, highly skilled and beautifully decorative artistic work fit for a King or Queen.

RD Allsop Plasterings team of heritage plasterers began the careful restoration of the white stair in the Spring this year using materials and techniques carefully selected to match the original work as closely as possible.

Moulds were made of each piece of the design in order to precisely replicate the missing leaves, flowers and embellishments ensuring that The White Stair returned to the immaculate perfection it was when first built. The floral stem was hand modeled in situ and any missing sections were re-crafted to match the original impressive design.

The restoration of the White Stair brings to an end the repairs of the stunning ornamental plasterwork at Apethorpe Hall after 7 long years. Now it can truly be enjoyed by generations to come.

See more of the project here White Stair at Apethorpe Hall

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