Tricky ground conditions and budgetary concerns prompted Bamburgh Castle to bring its scaffolding operations in-house.
The site of Bamburgh Castle has seen a lot of change in its 1,500-year-plus history.
Starting as a fort in Anglo-Saxon England, this rocky outcrop on the Northumberland coastline became home to a fully fortified castle during Norman times – part of which still forms the core of the present-day structure.
The castle changed hands a number of times over the centuries – it is thought that King Henry II built the castle’s keep.
Ownership passed to the Forster family, who struggled to afford the castle’s upkeep, before it was bought by Victorian industrialist Lord Armstrong in 1894, whose family still own the castle today.
Now, Bamburgh Castle is one of the largest privately owned and inhabited castles in the UK. It was last restored more than 100 years ago and was due some care and attention when work began to restore the castle’s outer curtain wall.
Ancient curtain wall
“We got all of the lower sections of the wall re-pointed years ago, but we needed to do the higher portions as they were exposed to the cliff face and were eroding,” explains Bamburgh Castle director Chris Calvert.
“The work we had done previously involved scaffolding being put up by a third party, but we decided to get our own men trained to do the work directly instead.”
Scaffolding firm PERI had provided the equipment for previous projects at the castle, and the owners were keen to reuse the company to remove vegetation and carry out further re-pointing, but with their own men.
“We were asked to go up and review some of the problems that had emerged at Bamburgh,” says PERI product manager for scaffolding Howard Ball.
PERI recommended a modular system for the project that they could train the Bamburgh staff to use.
The outer curtain wall is very long, meaning it was not cost-effective for Bamburgh Castle to pay for a large amount of scaffolding all at one time.
The PERI-UP system’s modularity meant a single section of wall could be worked on and completed, before moving on to the next.
“We only have two stonemasons and they have been able to carry out the work themselves”
Chris Calvert, Bamburgh Castle
“It was pretty simple and just all clips together, meaning it was easy for our staff to learn,” Mr Calvert says. “We only have two stonemasons and they have been able to carry out the work themselves, while we have only had to hire the equipment we need.”
The castle is also Grade I-listed, meaning no anchors could be placed onto the stonework. “The PERI-UP scaffold is freestanding so it got around that problem, too,” Mr Calvert explains.
The work is part of a wider programme of refurbishment at Bamburgh Castle. “We get weekly visits from PERI to support our two staff members, checking on how it’s going and helping us with drawings,” Mr Calvert explains.
“We’ll finish refurbishing eventually, fixing it to last another 100 years or more”
Chris Calvert, Bamburgh Castle
The last full refurbishment took place between 1896 and 1904, costing £1m at the time – equivalent to more than £57m today.
Those works were designed to last 100 years, hence the need for urgent work now. “There is no set finish date for the work,” Mr Calvert says.
“After the curtain wall, we’ll be moving onto a tower on the landward side of the castle that is cracked. We’ll have to use top-down scaffolding there, as there isn’t enough space at the bottom for us to build from the bottom practically.”
The lack of a firm end date is due to unforeseen problems that are being uncovered all the time.
“We’ve discovered that Lord Armstrong was a big fan of installing metal girders and then pouring concrete around them – as they’ve rusted, the concrete has cracked, so we have to fix those, too,” Mr Calvert says.
“But we’ll finish refurbishing it eventually, fixing it to last another 100 years or more. The castle is changing but it will still be here.”