Medieval Makeover

Much loved by tourists and residents alike, an iconic building that is an integral part of Canterbury’s heritage is getting a well-needed facelift.

It’s possibly one of the most photographed historic buildings in Canterbury, The Old Weavers House is a gorgeous half-timbered building in St. Peter’s Street, next to the King’s bridge on the river Stour.

The date on the frontage is 1500, however it is thought the foundations of the building date back as early as the 12th Century. The three-storied, timber-framed house with three gables on the front and five gables on the river elevation adjoining the Stour was reconstructed in the late 16th Century. This was a period that saw weaving centres established in Canterbury by Flemish and Huguenot refugees fleeing religious persecution abroad. Queen Elizabeth 1 granted them rights to set up their businesses in the city. One such weaving centre was founded in this property, which is how it became known as the Weavers, a name that has endured to this day.

The building was Grade II Listed in December 1949. Nowadays Numbers 1, 2 and 3 are home to popular eateries. The current works are focusing on No. 2 St. Peter’s Street, which is Wildwood restaurant, No. 1 having already been restored in the previous year.

The Kent-based Architectural practice, James Clague, who has a long-established reputation as specialists in conservation architecture, is working with Bekbuild Kent, a family-owned southeast building firm who have over 25 years experience of working on landmark historic buildings and heritage conservation projects.

Remedial work on the exterior began in November 2021 and is still ongoing, as there have been the inevitable delays due to the pandemic causing problems with supplies and illness amongst the team. The works involve removing the rotten timber details and replacing them with new timber. The team is also painstakingly removing the old lime mortar back to the original laths, removing them
and then replacing them.

Once that’s done, they are replacing the protective lead strips that run along the bottom of the infill panels, which helps avoid water ingress and any build-up of moisture that can result in rot. Next, a layer of coarse lime render is used to cover the laths, which is left to dry for at least a week, this is then covered with a final layer of fine lime mortar.

Ensuring authentic breathable materials are used on all stages of the cladding process means the layers are all safe from moisture build up. Finally, the timbers are given protective undercoats and painted black, to restore the beautiful traditional black and white appearance. The large extension at the rear of the property is also having similar work carried out to the exterior to restore and ensure it stands the test of time. Essential work on the roof has already been done; replacing hips, valleys and lead work, along with removing any broken tiles and replacing them with authentic Kent peg tiles where necessary.

The interior of the building is as charming as the outside with many period features, old twisted beams with delightfully undulating white plaster infill that reflects its history. It is being sympathetically decorated, with the Bekbuild Kent team, using the same meticulous level of care and attention to detail. Amazingly for its age there are very few areas of concern, but where necessary plasterwork and timber beams are being carefully repaired.

There is a steel post to be installed to prop up a beam at the rear of the property on the ground floor near the staircase. Barry Smith, Bekbuild Kent’s MD explained, “There is a dip in the large beam that traverses the building at the rear, it’s not a major concern as it has been like that for many years, possibly hundreds, but to be on the safe side we’ve been asked to install a steel post, which we’ll happily do. We’ve worked on many historic buildings over the last couple of decades and we know it’s vital to ensure we do everything we can to preserve buildings like this, they are our heritage and we must keep them safe for future generations to enjoy. The whole team has enjoyed this project, it’s great to be a part of such an important restoration, we have to be sensitive not just to the building but to the clients’ need to carry on running their restaurant, so we are working around their opening times to avoid disruption wherever possible.”

The end of the project is in sight and soon the Old Weavers will reclaim its rightful position as an important historic landmark in the Canterbury cityscape.

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