Passion for the Past
The world of heritage conservation and historic buildings is a fascinating landscape that is peopled with characters that appear to have something in common, a passion for the past. They seem to share a love of social history and how the people who previously inhabited the structures they are involved with leave traces and clues that tell us something of the lives they have lived, allowing intriguing glimpses that tell us stories of times gone by.
One such individual who has been captivated by these alluring snapshots into bygone eras is structural engineer, Simon Goddard. We’re taking a brief look at his role as a structural engineer in the historic buildings and restorations industry, how key events have inspired and influenced him in his choice of career, and by identifying some of his notable projects over the last couple of decades. Simon has had long lasting relationships with many period properties and their owners in the south-east over many years, he is now the MD of BSF Consulting Engineers in Canterbury, with a hefty thirty years plus experience in the construction industry. He now heads up the company’s heritage conservation sector leading the team on Civil and Structural projects for both commercial and private clients, whilst working in partnership with James Clague Architects in Canterbury. He believes it is vital that our valuable heritage and historic buildings environment should be protected, by delivering sympathetic restoration outcomes that combine modern and ancient techniques, along with paying attention to reducing BSF’s carbon footprint and promoting ‘greener’ work ethics.
Prior to qualifying as an engineer, he owned his own restoration and project management business, where he was heavily involved with restoring some of Kent’s most historic buildings. But what was it that led him to follow this career path? It’s an interesting tale in itself and takes us back to events that happened in 1975 when Simon was a boy growing up in Kent. His family was living in the Yews in Denton, a 16th Century cottage that was previously an inn. Whilst carrying out renovations they pulled up the old ‘lino’ that was covering the kitchen floor and discovered a cellar door. The cellar housed two stables, in the corner of the cellar they also found a door behind which was a chalk tunnel that on further investigation led to nearby Denton Court. It was believed that the purpose of the tunnel was to secretly bring contraband goods through to the inn. The stable was to keep the smugglers’ ponies in during the illegal operations, if there was a risk of discovery, the perpetrators could exit by the cellar, take their ponies out via the tunnel and come out at Denton Court, to make their getaway.
Exciting stuff indeed and just the sort of evidence of their house’s colourful past and the history of the area they lived in that can fire the imagination of an inquisitive young chap. Further explorations of a small fireplace in the house revealed a previously hidden huge inglenook fireplace, with a secret door in one side, behind which was a priest hole. Left behind by one occupant were the remnants of a shoe and leather bag.
From that point on Simon was fascinated by old buildings and the tales they tell, it’s no surprise that as he grew up this interest led him into working on the fabric of those historic buildings, as his interest spread to learning about how they were built, the materials and methods that were used to construct them so many years ago, and how to help preserve them sympathetically, by the using authentic methods. In 1992 he was asked to help renovate the Grade II Listed Rectory at Denton, whilst stripping the roof they found an area of loft that was concealed by plaster, hidden in this space was a strange collection of objects: a bone toothbrush, a tube of fishbone toothpaste, candles, matches, packets of Woodbine cigarettes and a faded envelope, inside was a letter from a soldier in Germany who had previously been billeted at the Rectory during the war. The letter was to the vicar’s teenaged daughter. It was thought that, they were having a clandestine love affair and she had been secretly smoking whilst reading the letter from her soldier by candlelight, then using the toothpaste to clean her teeth. Another interesting insight into the lives of people previously living in the Rectory, and further fuel to fire Simon’s imagination and fascination with social history.
Shortly after this Simon and his wife formed their own building company with a small team that eventually morphed into a full-blown restoration company driven by the amount of period property owners who asked for solutions to problems with their buildings. It was interesting and challenging work, he went to great lengths to match authentic materials from reclamation yards, using his love of history and his keen eye for details meant his team were very much in demand with some clients happily waiting 2 years for works to be carried out.
One of the properties that Simon has had a lasting relationship with is Tappington Hall, an Elizabethan mansion, which incidentally was where Thomas Ingoldsby supposedly lived, this was a pen name of a clergyman, Richard Harris Barham who wrote the ‘Ingoldsby Legends’. This is a famous collection of myths, legends, ghost stories and poems, first published around 1840 that captured the public’s imagination and has continued to be popular to this day. On and off over the last 30 years, Simon has been involved with the ongoing renovation, including a systematic painstaking removal and replacement of tiles and laths in different sections of the whole roof. A glance at the photo of the manor house with its numerous angled roof sections shows what a mammoth task the sympathetic restoration has been, wherever possible reusing the existing Kent peg tiles.
Another project Simon has been involved with is the beautiful, 17th century Perry Farmhouse. Previously owned by nuns from a convent in Brighton, who used it as a country retreat in the mid 20th century. Unfortunately they had made a botched attempt to maintain the interior of the roof by using expanding foam, which resulted in the destruction of the oak timbers. Simon sourced authentic period timbers, which dated back to the 17th century from a reclamation yard. The photo shows the stunning results of the restoration of one of the rooms after renovation, half of the timbers are reclaimed. Work was carried out on the exterior of Perry Farmhouse too. The dark tiles on the rear roof were originally in patterns, but over many years they had been moved around and replaced. They were removed and set aside and then reinstated with the pattern just as it would have been when the house was built.
The distinguished Victorian double-fronted property in London Road, Canterbury was another project Simon was instrumental in renovating. Built in 1869, the house boasts many fine decorative features typical of houses of this period. Sadly many of the beautiful scalloped tiles were broken along with some of the ridge tiles. Efforts to find suitable replacements meant searching every salvage and reclamation yard in Kent, with exact replicas having to be made of some of them to achieve the results you can see in the photo.
There are many more examples of Simon’s dedication to his work and the lengths he and his team have gone to, to help period property owners achieve the most authentic and sympathetic restorations, too numerous to mention, but let’s salute him and recognise the debt we owe to him and all the people who strive for this level of excellence in the work they do to safeguard our heritage. We’ll finish with a brief mention of this project at Heart’s Delight in Kent. The oast house and farm were owned by a retired farmer, whose request was to have them restored but wanted them to still look old. One particular long, low barn’s walls had splayed apart, when they were pulled upright it made its quaint old tiled roof look much straighter and removed the charming undulations that time had created. By cutting the rafters to different lengths the old appearance was recreated, the result was a happy owner and a demonstration of Simon Goddard’s commitment and enduring passion for the past.