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Great Detail: Duerden on Baines' Westminster Hall roof repair

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The fifth in a new series looking at the building details that have impressed and inspired our readers. Today: Patrick Duerden from Donald Insall Associates

Architect Frank Baines, Ministry of works
Building Westminster Hall, Palace of Westminster, roof repair (1923)

Westminster hall roof detail

Westminster hall roof detail

Source: Public Records Office

Between 1914 and 1923 Frank Baines of the Ministry of Works saved the medieval roof of Westminster Hall, inserting steel trusses between the medieval timbers largely relieving the medieval roof of its structural function. Why do I admire this? Firstly because of the massive scale of Baines’ achievement. The roof spans over 20 meters and was, for 450 years the largest spanning roof north of the Alps. Secondly, because Baines’ additions are invisible from ground level. He managed to hide steelwork that would be at home in a railway station within plain sight.

’Baines’ additions are invisible from ground level’

But most importantly, it would have been impossible to repair the medieval roof structure with the size of oak timbers available in the aftermath of the First World War. Instead, Baines design solution allowed an estimated 80 per cent of the medieval timbers to remain in the roof. Have I tried to copy this? The chance to do so would be a very fine thing indeed.

But Baines has already done the work for us. It is enough for me to learn the secrets of the greatest achievement of the English medieval carpentry tradition, to salute Baines’ achievement as a master of conservation, and to conserve both as found.

Patrick Duerden is an accredited conservation architect and associate director at Donald Insall Associates

Westminster hall completed photo (c) sir donald insall

Westminster Hall completed photo (c) Donald Insall

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