3. Understanding the Past to Inform the Future: The Methodology of this Study

This research aims to understand the types of work undertaken on historic houses since the 1870s, and suggest ways in which that understanding of the recent history of buildings could benefit both management and interpretation of them for the public.

In order to answer the research questions about changing practice in relation to historic building reconstruction, a range of evidence and methodologies have been employed. The observation and investigation of the structures of example buildings, and the study of a range of documentary resources provide the key evidence for change. This evidence is then analysed to reveal patterns in the types of work carried out on historic buildings.

Using a dataset of all historic houses originally built between 1400 and 1600 now open to the public, the histories of these buildings have been researched and the types of works undertaken to enable them to be opened and interpreted for the public have been identified. These reconstruction works have been identified using published sources, unpublished sources and material evidence in the buildings themselves. Published sources include descriptions in guidebooks and information leaflets, plus references in local literature, including newspapers. Unpublished sources include archives held at the buildings themselves, archives of the organisations that own the buildings e.g. the National Trust regional archives, and national archives such as the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings archive and the National Archive at Kew. A fundamental element of the research has been visits to all the buildings to identify changes in the structure, and photographs often illustrate the works undertaken at different phases - where they are still visible in the present structure.

This article aims to investigate the changes in the ways in which historic houses have been reconstructed, and relate that to the conservation philosophies of the era; this will be mapped against the broader pattern of contemporary reconstruction works to identify changes in approach. Figure 3 shows the number of reconstructions which a building has undergone, and for each case study a descriptive phased analysis and a flow diagram shows the type and extent of those within the context of the philosophies of the time.

The establishment of a historical biography for a building right up to the present places the modern reconstructor, manager, curator or conservator in an informed position. In this research an overview of the structural history of a house since it was opened to the public and transformed into a heritage site is established. This is used to inform the flowcharts developed to illustrate the change to a building through the process of reconstruction. The questions asked here to focus attention on the recent history of the house include:

The need for this type of information is encapsulated in formal conservation guidelines:

To understand the fabric and evolution of the place to identify the cultural and natural heritage values of a place, its history, fabric and character must first be understood. This should include its origins, how and why it has changed over time (and will continue to change if undisturbed), the form and condition of its constituent elements and materials, the technology of its construction, any habitats it provides, and comparison with similar places. Its history of ownership may be relevant, not only to its heritage values, but also to its current state
(English Heritage 2008, 35).

Understanding the history of an individual house will then enable the reconstructor to place it in the wider context of other works undertaken through the same period(s).

Access analysis is employed in this study to highlight the changes in spatial relationships within case-study buildings. Access analysis maps the relationships between spaces (represented as circles) and the links between them (represented as lines) and shows the layers of rooms that have to be passed through as you move through a house from the outside (represented as a circle with a cross). This technique was developed as part of spatial analysis, and has been applied to historic buildings (Hillier and Hanson 1984; Fairclough 1992). It is a highly effective technique to demonstrate changes in the ways space functions following reconstruction work, and the impacts this might have on visitors' understanding of the buildings. The number of spaces through which a visitor has to move to reach a certain room is measured as 'depth' into a building. The most private spaces tend to be set deepest into a building (Hillier and Hanson 1984, 108). This approach has been utilised here to understand the ways in which the modern visitor is able to move around and experience the linked spaces that make a house in comparison to the means by which people have done this in the past. Access analysis is, in some ways, a simplistic tool which cannot consider the ways in which individuals experience space, only their physical abilities to move around it. There has been detailed consideration of the difficulties of understanding past phenomenological experiences of buildings, recognising the ways in which modern viewers overlay modern understandings onto historic spaces (Giles 2007; Graves 2007). Despite these limitations, this research is able to explore the historic and modern functioning of spaces and buildings, and show some of the impacts of those changes made in order to display buildings to the public. These changes affect the structures of the buildings and the ways in which people experience and understand them and their use in the past.

The recent history of buildings, the works undertaken within the last hundred years, needs to be understood in order to inform present and future reconstruction. This type of information should be included in a conservation management plan. Management plans, as building blocks of the overall management of the historic environment, have gained currency as an international standard in planning for the care of historic places (Cleere 1989, 11-17). Conservation Management Plans have become fundamental parts of projects on historic buildings, and are requirements of some funding bodies (Heritage Lottery Fund 2008). In Conservation Management Plans there is consideration of the impact of this recent history (e.g. Sayle and De Boo 1998). As the histories of houses can be complex, and can be related, and because parallels can be drawn between buildings reconstructed at the same period, the creation of graphic representations of the processes of historic house reconstruction have been generated for the case study buildings to show the development, ongoing impact and content of the history of building reconstruction.

The types of reconstruction described above clearly have impacts on the structure and image of a building. Many of the example houses considered for this study have been through more than a single reconstruction epoch of reconstruction. It is these multiple phases of reconstruction which are seldom presented as part of the history of a house, but which often have a significant impact on the way it now appears.

The number of phases of reconstruction will plausibly relate to the date of first reconstruction, as a house first reconstructed in the 1980s or 1990s is unlikely to have gone through more than one or two phases. Multiple small reconstruction works within one epoch have been grouped for clarity. The reasons for ongoing and repeated reconstructions at a historic house will vary, and in some cases may indicate the ways in which reconstructions reflect the period when they were undertaken, and therefore start to look 'out of date' within a few years.

Figure 14

Figure 14: Model for recording phases of reconstruction and relating them to contemporary patterns of reconstruction

Works to reconstruct a building for the public are often evident in the structure, and visitors will therefore see them, but without explanation they may be misinterpreted or overlooked. The flowchart model presented here (Fig. 14) collates what can be found about buildings from studying their fabric and from archive sources.

The ongoing impacts of one phase of reconstruction from one phase to another will be carried over to further phases: Phase I will impact Phase II as indicated, but will also have an impact on Phases III, IV and V. The different layers of reconstruction could become confusing and easy to misunderstand. It would be possible to map layers of change and reconstruction at many historic houses in this way; here we focus on a few key case studies that exemplify the phases of reconstruction and the different philosophies at play in different periods.

While works to historic buildings over recent years might be more disposed to retaining material from different phases of history, this research does not aim to judge historic reconstruction projects. Instead, it seeks to provide context for the changes seen at individual buildings over the last 130 years, and establish means by which those alterations might be recorded and used in management plans, both to inform current management and in possible future work to interpret houses.


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