skip to main page content :: Town & Regional Planning Home > Glossary Home > S >

SEA CAPTAIN'S HOUSE AND CALENDER WORKS, 48 ST ANDREW'S LANE DUNDEE. BUILDING REFURBISHMENT CASE STUDY.

Abstract : In February 1992, Tayside Building Preservation Trust began to investigate two buildings near the centre of Dundee, which the owners wished to demolish. The buildings proved to be of considerable architectural and historic interest, and having been subsequently included on the statutory list, the Trust set out to acquire them and restore them to an appropriate new use. This case study describes in some detail the work the Trust had to undertake to achieve their objective, and illustrates many of the complexities often faced by restorers in what the majority of people would view as a fairly straightforward and laudable objective.

Terms used include : additionality , Architectural Heritage Fund, architrave, astragal, bay , bill of quantities, buffet, building preservation notice, building preservation trust, building regulations, cement render, contingencies, contract/contractor, cornice, eaves course, exit strategy, fabric, fireproof jack-arch construction, fluted, gallet, Georgian, Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland, JCT 80, lime, mural cavity, preliminaries, public funding/public sector funding, Regency, rubble, sapwood, sarking, lightening scarf, shake, skew putt, sub-contractors, tender, VAT, wet and dry rot.

In May 1990, Bett Bros PLC approached Dundee City Council to enquire about the possibility of clearing a number of buildings from a site close to the city centre, at 48 St Andrew's Lane, to form a small car park. None of the buildings were listed and the site was not within a conservation area. Subsequent inspection revealed that the site was occupied by a somewhat ill-proportioned 2 storey, 3 bay villa which had been roughly harled in cement (Illustration). To the rear was a three storey, 10 bay, rubble built industrial building. The two buildings were only some four metres apart. Loading bays had been added to the two gable ends of the villa which was connected to the industrial building by a flat roof at first floor level. (Illustration)

There had been extensive water penetration and as a result wet and dry rots were in evidence, but despite this, woodwork of very good quality survived within the villa in the form of fluted architraves at doors and windows, and ornamental dado rails and panels (Illustration). Within the industrial building massive timber beams and columns were also unaffected. These massive timbers hinted at an important industrial survivor (Illustration), in a city with a remarkable collection of industrial buildings which, since the early 1800's, have been blessed with fire-proof jack arch constructions. A water powered hydraulic lift linked ground and first floors (Before & After Illustrations). Further inspection revealed that both buildings were in fact quite sound. The roofs of the villa and the warehouse were watertight, both had horsehair felt which suggested that they had been re-roofed at least once, and the water ingress was due mainly to the failure of the flat roof which spanned the area between them. The rot outbreaks were as a result, quite localised. There was a basement under part of the building but elsewhere in the ground floor, wet rot was in evidence, caused by floors sitting on earth with no ventilated space.

Betts continued to indicate a preference for demolition, and so, largely on the basis of the visual evidence of the quality of timber and the fact that the buildings were structurally sound, the local planning authority served a building preservation notice, which Historic Scotland subsequently confirmed, listing both buildings category B.

Dundee Building Preservation Trust was formed in March 1991, as a company limited by guarantee, with the objective of acquiring, restoring and finding appropriate uses for historic buildings at risk. Betts, unsure of what to do next, agreed to give the Trust an option to purchase the property, and The Trust, with the benefit of a feasibility study grant from the Architectural Heritage Fund, began to investigate the buildings. An architect and quantity surveyor who had previously worked with the Trust's chief executive undertook much of the feasibility work at risk, in the expectation that the Trust would eventually reach a position of being able to appoint them to run the project. Both also subsequently agreed to "rear end" their fees that is, not make any financial demands until work began on site, and grants started to be paid to the Trust

Desk top survey revealed that the villa dated from the 1770's, and was one of a pair with gardens stretching almost to the river bank. There was reference to the owner being a 'maritime gentleman' hence it began to be called the "Sea Captain's House". Ground was steadily being reclaimed to facilitate port development, and as the waterfront retreated from the villa, and the harbour grew, so the character of the area changed to become industrial. William Shaw started the Dundee Calendering Company in 1822 and it is probable that the timber framed building dates from around that time. It has since been known as the "Calender Works" although its use was probably warehousing with some manufacturing on the top floor. Other buildings followed, and the villa became swallowed up and used as the company's offices. Alexander Warden, an important Dundee figure whose writing did a great deal to dignify the weavers trade, was for a time the manager.

Physical investigation of the building followed. There were a number of puzzles, wall thicknesses varied suggesting at least two periods of building, and there were differences between the thickness of the astragals in the windows, on the rear and front elevations where they were thinner and more graceful (Illustration). Architecturally the front elevation of the villa was not inspiring, but part of a skew putt, and a profile of a missing top cornice, were found to be concealed by a later loading bay (Illustration). Removal of the cement render revealed rubble stonework, with extremely fine joints, galleted in places, which suggested a lime wash or render (Illustration). It was obvious that raised margins had been struck off of the door and window surrounds. Most remarkably sliding shutters, concealed within a mural cavity were discovered in one of the upper floor rooms, a detail nobody on the professional team had ever seen before (Illustration). Further investigation showed that with the exception of the first floor centre window, all of the windows on the front elevation had at one time been similarly equipped, although no other shutters survived. A decision was made, to restore, where clear evidence existed, original features, and redrawing the front elevation to include the missing detail revealed that the villa had originally been quite well proportioned.

The Trust had continued to negotiate a purchase price with Betts, who had initially suggested a figure of £40,000. The Company became more interested and enthusiastic over the Trust's findings and having reduced their asking price to £15,000 eventually agreed to a figure of £1 - 50p per building!

Listed building and planning consents were obtained for repair and conversion to office use, and The Trust finally let a contract for demolition of loading bays, eradication of all rot, restoration of the exterior of both buildings and the interior of the villa, and provision of services. The total cost was £430,000. Financial assistance was obtained from Historic Scotland, The Architectural Heritage Fund (loan), Scottish Enterprise, Dundee District Council, The Pilgrim Trust, The Manifold Trust, The TSB Foundation and The Sinclair Henderson Trust. Fund raising was initially difficult, because typically, public bodies were reluctant to commit themselves until they knew where the rest of the funding was coming from, but they quickly warmed to the project and became extremely positive. The contributions from other Trusts were comparatively small sums, but were extremely valuable in terms of confidence boosting and the problem of additionality. Scottish Enterprise were concerned about this, believing that there was too much public sector funding as opposed to public funding, but eventually agreed to consider Betts sale of the building for £1 as a £40,000 donation. The Architectural Heritage Fund loan of £175,000 counted as public funding, and this body were remarkably helpful. When a legal hitch prevented the local council acting as guarantors for the loan, the AHF agreed to accept the building as collateral.
(Before & After Illustrations)

The control of dry rot was an initial consideration and a reputable local timber specialist was asked to prepare a report which turned out to be a fairly cautious document with recommendations for extensive stripping back and chemical treatment. This work was to be undertaken in advance of the main contract.

A full bill of quantities had been prepared and six firms had been invited to tender, four did, all coming in above the estimated price, but the client and the professional team felt that they could negotiate with one of the firms who had quoted. This proved to be the case, and the contractor took possession of the site in August 1994, with a completion date of June 1995. There was one nominated sub contractor, Lime Consolidation Company Limited, who were asked to repoint and limewash the villa, which at the time was seen as specialist work outwith the experience of the main of contractor. JCT 80 had been quickly selected as the most suitable form of contract for the project.

The preliminaries to the bill might have been more specific on a number of points, particularly relating to the contractor's obligation to protect all original fabric. The contractor who eventually developed a real enthusiasm for the project, started with the attitude that it did not particularly matter if anything was damaged, he could replace it! Also, more thought might have been given to the phasing of the work. The bulk of the AHF loan was available at the start of the project, but even so, the Trust were heavily dependent on being able to claim grant to maintain a cash flow, and each grant giving body were contributing to different things. While it never actually happened, a situation could have arisen where over a certain period, not enough grant could be claimed to pay the contractor.

Contingencies had been all but removed from the contract sum, which would have proved problematic but for the fact that a report prepared by Ridout Associates, specialists in timber preservation, suggested that because of oversizing and quality of the original timbers, much more could be left in situ, and only minimal chemical treatment, necessary because of the saturation of the rear wall was required. There were few signs of insect attack, which was confined to the more vulnerable sapwood. Some relatively new softwood shelving had been installed in attic rooms, and as this had remained unaffected it was concluded that there was no insect activity and insecticidal treatment was not necessary. All of this saved almost £11,000 on the original specification, prepared by the local timber specialists. They agreed to work to the Ridout specification and to give the work their thirty year guarantee, which would be a comfort to any end user, and was in fact the real reason why they were originally employed. The saving was quickly swallowed up when a timber beam, which had been concealed behind plaster, was found to be carrying a gable of the calender, and was badly affected by dry rot at one end. It required support and resin repair.
(Illustration)

A number of the "mysteries" of the building, in particular the presence of the basement and the different wall thicknesses remained unexplained, but this is not unusual, historically people have always adapted and reused buildings, and there is documentary evidence of an earlier building, a chapel, close to the site. However, a possible reason for the quality of the woodwork which looked to be a later Regency style rather than mid Georgian, quickly emerged. When removing dado panelling for safe storage, a hollow was revealed. This turned out to be a buffet which had been concealed behind later plasterwork (Before & After Illustrations). It would appear that some time in the 1820's perhaps in a vain attempt to slow down encroaching industrialisation, the villa was modernised. It proved abortive, because shortly after it became the office for the calender works, and the villa's owner, probably joined the exodus to the developing west end of the city - a nice essay in the urban morphology of Dundee. Late in the contract, The Trust was approached by a Captain Rattray, whose forebear, also Captain Rattray, had been the original Sea Captain. The original captain had three ships, engaged in the Baltic timber trade, which may be an explanation for the quality of the timber, and why timber rather than cast iron was used in the calender works.

Building regulations did not prove too problematic. There was an insistence on the provision of roof vents which would have been disfiguring to the front elevation, but this was overcome by tilting up the eaves courses of sarking and providing a continuous ventilation strip. Everyone involved wished to leave the timberwork exposed in the calender, which was only possible if the building remained in one use and was not divided up between a number of different users, when the risk from fire would have been increased. This timber was in superb condition, there were a number of shakes in the uprights which did not effect its strength, and the beams were jointed at intervals along their length with lightening scarfs.

At the time work started, there was no end user. No marketing had been attempted. Initially the Trust were concerned about attracting vandalism, but it was also felt that it would be difficult for most people to appreciate the potential of the site until the later stages of the work, therefore the project commenced without an exit strategy. However, the work quickly attracted attention and early in 1995 an agreement was reached with the St Aidan's Project in which they would take the building over when work was complete. Matching funding for the amount raised by The Trust was then obtained from Europe for fitting out to St Aidan's requirements. This allowed the contract to be extended, a price was agreed with the contractors, and work finished in June 1996, at a total cost in excess of £900,000. St Aidan's are a charity who specialise in training people with learning difficulties. The accommodation these buildings offered, where the villa would provide offices and the calender works training space, was ideal for their needs. VAT could have killed the project, there was no relief either through the building's listing or the charitable status of the parties involved. The Trust "opted to tax" which meant that the tax liability was passed on to St Aidan's, they were registered for VAT, but as it was decided there was no business use the VAT payable was zero-rated.

Contained within the European funding was a sum of £200,000, to enable St Aidan's to purchase the buildings from The Trust, which was the sum The Trust required to repay their loan to The Architectural Heritage Fund. The buildings were sold under a conservation agreement, much the same as that employed by the National Trust for Scotland in their Little Houses Scheme, which requires St Aidan's to maintain the buildings in good order, and to notify the Trust of any changes they might wish to make in the future. St Aidan's who obtained an ideal property, in a perfect location, at a fraction of its true value, in honour of the Sea Captain changed their name to "Helm". The Trust on completion of the project decided it needed to widen its area of interest and became The Tayside Building Preservation Trust.
Internal (Before & After Illustrations)
Loading bays removed (Illustration)
Woodwork (Before & After Illustrations)
Rear View (After Illustration)
Front view (After Illustrations)

In all of this, the water powered lift emerged as a real problem. While a number of people wanted to remove it, The Trust was determined it should be restored. Water power was common in Dundee, mains water pressure is considerable. One other lift is known to exist in Dundee, but this one dating, it is thought from the 1870's is quite early. Heritage Engineering of New Lanark agreed to examine the lift and estimated that approximately £25,000 was required to restore it to working order. Historic Scotland agreed to offer a maximum of £16,000, but the shortfall was beyond the trust and the lift also required protective screening and interpretive material. By this time the lottery was in operation, and a grant of £54,000, some of which was earmarked for landscaping work, was obtained from The Heritage Lottery Fund. Work was completed in November 1996 and was acknowledged with a restoration award from Historic Scotland. A number of problems emerged during the snagging process, mainly relating to shrinkage of internal lime plaster, and staining of paint finishes due to the slow drying out of the thicker masonry walls, but all retentions were eventually settled by July 1999.