Wall at Stratford Road
Written by: Peter Bradley
A mid-19th century local sandstone wall with pillars at intervals forms the historic boundary of RSPB The Lodge reserve, but had become dilapidated and overgrown, and in some places lost entirely. Some key sections that would benefit from restoration work were identified, including the Blue Gates piers (TL18590 47667) together with a small section of adjacent wall, and a longer section with a bridleway gate (three piers and wall) at the southern entrance to the reserve (TL19193 47617). Tenders were sought from skilled sandstone craftsmen. The tenders proved unachievable with the original budget, so the work was slightly scaled back to ‘comprehensive repairs and re-pointing pillars and wall sections’ in agreement with GCLP / HLF. RSPB staff and volunteers removed surface vegetation prior to the restoration starting, to further reduce costs. The work was carried out and completed to a high standard in August 2020 by Brown & Ralph.
Delivering the project felt like an achievement – we had struggled with doing anything with the wall, the costs of restoration being so high, and all our monies (rightly) prioritized toward ecological works. The project was difficult, in that as site manager I needed sufficient budget, I also needed expert internal advice to ensure the tender was correct as this was outside the normal skill set for a manager of a nature reserve. In the end, despite budgetary complications, complexities of the work, and COVID the work was completed, and the restored sections look fantastic and should stand for several more decades as a result.
Benefits to People
RSPB neighbours were consulted about works affecting them and were very supportive – though surprised at the cost of restoration; I think they now understand better why RSPB is only able to restore selected sections of the wall. The sections of wall are seen by limited numbers of people, but I think the quality of the restoration is apparent, especially to users of our lower bridleway entrance (about c10k per annum), and will to some extent enhance their sense of local heritage i.e. this is an area where sandstone walls might be seen as part of the landscape.
The lower bridleway entrance at TL19193 47617 is used by many atypical visitors (young people 10-18 yrs from Biggleswade).
I feel more confident about arranging for other sections of wall restored, as I now have contractors contacts, a tender document that could be adapted, understanding of what this type of work entails and an idea of likely costs so I can budget more effectively.
Benefits to Heritage & Landscape
Of the historic sandstone wall around The Lodge, the Blue Gates piers (TL18590 47667) together with a small section of adjacent wall, and a longer section with a bridleway gate (three piers and wall) at the southern entrance to the reserve (TL19193 47617) are in far better condition, look fantastic and should stand for several more decades as a result.
Challenges & Lessons Learnt
- Budget was insufficient for the planned works. GCLP (HLF) were able to offer a high proportion of funding and were willing to allow the restoration to be scaled back to meet the budget available.
- I needed expert internal advice to ensure the tender was correct as this was outside the normal skill set for a manager of a nature reserve. I obtained support from Colin Eason, the RSPB buildings officer.
- COVID threatened to undermine the project, with uncertainties what could progress and when. I obtained clear guidance on COVID precautions and ensured these were in place through liaison with the chosen contractor who was very professional.
‘Thanks to Peter and Yourself for the spirit the works were carried out under.’
– To Colin Eason, RSPB Building Officer, from the contractor Andy Brown.
‘I’m delighted to have been able to organize these restoration works during my 17+ year tenure as Senior Site Manager at RSPB The Lodge.
We have restored some of the most impressive sections of the historic sandstone wall on site. The end results look fantastic and are a reminder to all of traditional Bedfordshire Greensand building and the historic landscape in which we live.
It feels to me that we have delivered a real legacy project, as this historic sandstone wall will now be able to stand for many decades to come.’
– Peter Bradley, Senior Site Manager