Home Contractor's Corner “It’s often the smallest, most ornate detailing which are the most important elements in preserving the character of listed structures”

“It’s often the smallest, most ornate detailing which are the most important elements in preserving the character of listed structures”

by Jennie Ward

Restoring one of the South West’s most important ex-naval, Grade I listed buildings in the heart of a top visitor tourist destination is no small feat, and presented a unique challenge for roofing contractor, DFR Roofing. Requiring historic methods, materials and installation over a slate area of 1,461sqm, the roof was a vital part of its restoration, helping to ensure new life could be breathed into the iconic, 150-year-old structure. Total Contractor hears why close consultation is crucial on such projects.

Constructed between 1825 and 1831 and designed by Victorian architect, Sir John Rennie, Royal William Yard is a destination steeped in history and considered to be one of the largest collections of Grade I listed buildings in Europe. Lovingly bought back to life over the years by award-winning regeneration specialists, Urban Splash, the Yard is now one of the region’s top destinations, welcoming thousands of visitors every year; home to a variety of leading restaurants, bars, businesses and shops. 

Located in the heart of the Yard, and as one of the last buildings to be redeveloped, Melville was a building originally designed to impress and a jewel in the destination’s crown. Adam Willetts, Senior Development Manager, Urban Splash explained: “With countless original features, including its iconic clock tower, and offering stunning views over the marina, Melville is an impressive feat of architectural design and a building we are committed to bringing back to life. 

“Set to become a vibrant, mixed use destination; featuring over 90,000 sq. ft of leisure, retail and commercial space, in many ways we have saved the best until last. However, as with all the buildings in the Yard, the regeneration of Melville is no small task, requiring a sensitive build approach to ensure it can be safely brought back into use and enjoyed for years to come.”

Roofing rights 

In a derelict state, and along with extensive stonework repairs, as well as a complete internal fit-out for multiple occupants – including a national boutique cinema operator – the roof required urgent attention, with its restoration not only protecting future building residents, but also the structure’s heritage and character. 

Covering a total slate area of 1,461sqm, as well as featuring extensive lead and copper detailing, leading South West contractor, DFR Roofing was instructed by Management Contractor, Atelier Build, to sensitively restore the roof to modern build, UV and safety standards; while protecting and enhancing its historic design, which included the need to use and replicate historic methods and materials. 

Having reached the end of its life, and offering little to no waterproofing or protection, the roof featured a variety of materials, from lead and slate, to felt and extensive copper detailing. Andy Pilkington, Commercial Director, DFR Roofing, explained: “Left to rot over the years, the roof was in a sad state, requiring a full thermal upgrade as well as extensive material replacement; from fitting new louvred panels and replacing failing sarking, to installing a new high performing felt system and replacing damaged gutter framing. Every element presented a new challenge with almost none of the existing roofing features meeting modern standard build dimensions.

“To protect and enhance the build’s features, we also had to conform to the materials used in its original construction, which included replicating the use of Welsh Pink Slate.” 

Removing damaged slating as carefully as possible to ensure minimum disturbance, and after extensive research, the slate was replaced with close Welsh natural slate match, Cwt-y-bugail, with the DFR team installing between 20,000 – 30,000 slates across the roofing area. 

Small stuff 

As with most historic buildings, Melville was built to last, with many areas featuring bespoke lead and copper design, as Andy explained: “Melville’s roof was a standout architectural feat in its own right when it was originally constructed, and the roof was a key part of its draw with extensive lead and copper detailing. A big part of the job was taking the time to remove and reinstall its aging copper sheets; with extensive fabrication and hand-dressing required to meet the existing build style, which also included creating double-lock standing seams.

With lead detailing also a necessity, including the creation of ornate cornices, rooflights and copings, an onsite workshop was required to ensure materials could be created and fitted to the structure’s exacting specifications. Andy added: “When working with an historic building like Melville, we often have to take on the role of designers to restore some of the build’s most important and unique design elements, working alongside organisations like Heritage England to ensure we fully understood the fabric of the building.

“When you are working with lead ranging from code six to nine, everything takes time and patience, and it’s often the smallest, most ornate detailing which are the most important elements in preserving the character of listed structures.”

Topping out 

As well as undertaking a range of bespoke detailing work, DFR Roofing also had to provide the basics, and with no insulation included in its original construction, the team needed to create a warm roof; which included the installation of a Tyvek vapour control layer, liquid waterproofing and ventilation roof insulation. Many of the materials have also had to be individually hand-cut to fit the unique build dimensions, including the timber board, insulation and slate. 

With work commencing in 2019, a large majority of the roof is already completed, however works are still ongoing on the monumental structure. However, working on a structure as historic as Melville has proved a worthwhile challenge for the South West contractor, as Andy explained: “Melville is a flagship project for the region, and we have had to undertake extensive research into historic methods and materials to protect and respect the heritage of its listed status.

“Close consultation has been required throughout with various historical organisations, contractors, architects and consultants to ensure nothing would negatively impact the build, both structurally and visually. We are proud to have played a small part in ensuring that the iconic building can be enjoyed by generations for years to come.”


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