Engaging 17 year olds in heritage can be challenging, but our first excursion this week with students from Blackburn College Construction Department went really well. The site visits to Blackburn Cathedral and Darwen Terracotta generated some interesting discussion and often insightful questions from the students…….’Can I lick it?’……being one of the more unusual.
After a short walk around the Townscape Heritage Area to see some of the problems and the issues we are hoping to address through the project, we ventured over to Blackburn Cathedral to meet Cannon Andrew Hindley and Gary Rawlinson of Heritage Conservation Restoration Ltd.
Cannon Hindley’s immense knowledge of the building’s history and architecture is impressive and his wise words of advice to our students echoed with authority as we ventured through the vast and beautiful building;
“If you want to be architects, then you need to start looking up….and there’s nowhere better to start than Blackburn Cathedral.”
Blackburn Cathedral has an eclectic mixture of architectural styles from across the ages up until 2016 when they completed the new Cathedral Court – the first cloister construction in the country for over 500 years. The students were treated to a full tour of the building, learning about its origins, various reincarnations and extensions as well as its quirks and hidden building mistakes. Read more about the buildings history here.
After the tour, we ventured onsite to look at the conservation work currently being undertaken by Heritage Conservation Restoration. There was a little reluctance amongst some of the students to hand over mobile phones (for health and safety reasons), don hard hats and climb the five floors of scaffold ladders up the side of the Cathedral, but with a little encouragement pretty much everyone (except me…..what a chicken!) did it. Whist up there, they had a go at lime pointing and although HCR make it look easy, they soon appreciated the skill and patience needed to carefully rake out the old joints to be expertly replace with perfect mix lime mortar.
Once back on the ground, we set off on our next stop to Darwen Terracotta and Faience. By the time we arrived attention was flagging a bit, especially as we hadn’t had time for a proper lunch break but Operations Director Steve Allen quickly regained their attention when he showed them some of the amazing buildings they have worked on.
Darwen Terracotta has a manufacturing heritage going back over 150 years, and the company is a world class specialist in architectural terracotta and faience working on both restoration and new build projects for some of the most prestigious buildings all over the world.
Some of the more famous heritage buildings they have worked on include The Royal Albert Hall, London Coliseum, South Kensington Tube Station, Harrods, Battersea Power Station, The Hoover Building, The Natural History Museum, Blackpool Tower and Chicago’s Wrigley Building. See more information here.
The tour of the factory went down equally well. From design room, through model and cast making, clay pouring, drying, hand finishing, colouring and finally firing the students got to follow the process from start to finish, and saw first-hand the unique and impressive set of specialist skills required at each stage.
Students bombarded Steve and other staff with questions, and were keen to enquire about work experience opportunities before we left.
Over all I think the day was a real success. Some students were originally keener than others, but they all got something out of it in the end and feedback was really positive.
And in answer to the most unusual question of the day, no…..it isn’t a good idea to lick plaster dust from a drying terracotta plinth……even if it is destined for Victoria Beckham’s new retail store in Paris. Oh to be 17.