Behind the sheets of Old Grammar School

Behind the sheeting at the Old Grammar School in Harborough. (Picture by RDA Plastering)
Behind the sheeting at the Old Grammar School in Harborough. (Picture by RDA Plastering)

Have you wondered what is happening behind the plastic sheeting of the Old Grammar School building in the centre of Harborough?

Today we can reveal some exclusive pictures giving readers a behind-the-scenes glance at some of the work being done to repair and refurbish arguably the town’s most iconic building in its 400th year.

The Old Grammar School restoration project in Church Square is now over half-way through and although slightly delayed by high winds in March is now on track and on budget to be finished in October. Its custodians, Market Harborough & the Bowdens Charity, are overseeing the project, working with main contractor W W Brown & Sons, specialist architect Bryan Martin, English Heritage and plastering company RD Allsopp.

The timber-framed building is built on 10 octagonal wooden posts on stone plinths with carved braces and dragon beams above. The first floor saw plastered infilling with pargetting from an 1868 restoration. Renovation of the external and roof elements of the building was needed to fix the roof which was starting to sag and push the walls of the structure outwards.

Experts from Weston by Welland firm RD Allsopp have been working behind the tarpaulin that has covered the building since February.

Its craftsmen are masters in historical and contemporary plastering. Their job began with the removal of cement render due to its poor permeability. Cement is very rigid and unforgiving and not really suitable for timber-framed buildings – all in all a poor choice by the Victorian builder predecessors.

However, cement was a very unusual and rare in the early Victorian era so it was potentially quite a technological leap at the time.

It is believed the two designs of shields that surround the first floor were added during the 1868 restoration. They were cast and fixed to the building rather than bordered and hand-carved, known as pargeting, but they have been kept in place and delicately cleaned rather than having any restorative processes applied to them. The removal of cement render meant the removal of the existing soft wood larch timber lath, but the RD Allsopp team have replaced the under-render lathing with like-for-like materials.

Rob Allsopp said: “Wherever possible, the techniques used are in-keeping with the historical values and stipulations that apply to a Grade I-listed building.

“As a local man, the pressure of doing this on your doorstep is high.

“The best result we can hope for is that once complete, the people of Harborough will not be able to see any difference to how it looked before.”