Conservation in action at Boxley Abbey, Kent
The best way of learning practical methods and the theory of built heritage conservation is through hands-on immersive work, surrounded by lots of enthusiastic and knowledgable people. The SPAB working party managed to achieve all of that.
On 10-14 July 2019 I pitched my tent in the grounds of Boxley Abbey, ready and excited to start on the first of a few days of practical conservation at the SPAB’s annual working party. I have never attended one of these events before, didn’t know anybody there and had no idea what to expect. Simply put I LOVED IT!
History of the Abbey
As you all know I love historic churches and so Boxley Abbey felt close to my heart (you can read more about my church visits here). William od Ypres founded Boxley Abbey as a cistercian monastery in c.1146. Like most other abbeys and priories Henry VIII dissolved Boxley in 1537 and the monks surrendered it to him. The king later granted the abbey and lands to Sir Thomas Wyatt in 1540. Some of the abbey buildings were transformed into a house, parts of which survive in the current house which is mostly 19th century. A large 13th century Hospitium, several walls and the fragmentary remains of the church still survive. Interestingly Victorians made the remains of the church and grounds into a romantic ruin and a pleasure garden.
What did we get up to?
Over the 4 days around 70 volunteers carried out lots of tasks. We lime-washed the inside of the Hospitium, repointed ancient stone and brick walls and introduced soft topping to one of them. Lime mortar experts built a kiln and burnt locally sourced stone and chalk to create our own lime mortar which closely matched the one used originally.
SPAB have also bought the nearby St Andrew’s chapel and this was subject to several small investigative archaeological digs.
The work was tiring under a baking sun but we got a lot done and had lots of fun in the process. I enjoyed lime washing the inside of the Hospitium and was so impressed by the finished result – if not a bit exhausted from carrying buckets of the wash up and down scaffolding!
Why was it so great?
Over the course of the four days I met lots of new friends and colleagues that I will hopefully work with again in the future. It was so rewarding to build on my knowledge of built heritage conservation and to help others build up their knowledge and experience too. Everybody was so friendly and open to chat, it was a wonderful experience. Even getting lime-wash in my eye (which burned like crazy) turned into a positive experience because everybody was so kind and caring.
One of the most rewarding things was being able to talk to like-minded people, debate about the latest theories of conservation and be inspired by people who give so much time and energy to preserving our built heritage. As I said in my opening statement: practical and immersive experiences are by far the best way to learn conservation techniques!