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New tiles for old at Keble PDF Print E-mail

An enlightened and practical approach to the restoration of a Grade One-listed building was evident in the project at Keble College Hall in Oxford.

Founded in 1870, Keble College is an outstanding example of Victorian Gothic and is built to the design of William Butterfield (1814-1900). The hall has been in constant use ever since, with over 500 meals currently served per day, 350 days of the year. After more than 130 years of heavy foot traffic from students, academics and visitors the original Minton tile and oak board floor was literally crumbling away. Major restoration commenced as part of an estimated £1.5m project to restore the entire hall being carried out by Beard Construction.

For specialist period tile producer Craven Dunnill Jackfield the key challenge was to make 4,500 replacement tiles, perfectly colour matched to the remaining originals in non-standard dimensions.

There was considerable discussion with the conservationists as to whether the floor should be reconstructed using original materials – including the troublesome lime mortar – or whether the original look could be achieved using more modern and enduring materials. Edith Golnast, Oxford City Council’s conservation officer, was convinced of the benefits of using modern materials, so the floor was stiffened using plywood and a synthetic mat on which the tiles were fixed using modern, flexible adhesives. Permission was granted to replace the encaustic tiles with hand-made, dust-pressed versions, ensuring continuous colour throughout the 20mm thickness. Craven Dunnill Jackfield then had to master the process of hand-dust pressing, having never undertaken it before.

The restoration of the floor is being phased to accommodate its continued daily use. The first phase was recently completed and to mark the occasion a celebration college supper was hosted by Bursar Roger Boden and Domestic Bursar Janet Betts for all the specialists involved.  Janet’s enthusiasm and passion for the project is matched by her admiration for the craftsmen at Craven Dunnill Jackfield and the fixing company Mosaic Restoration.

The Hall is the longest college hall in Oxford, measuring 38m x 11m, and stands 12m high with a trussed roof and panelled ceiling. The internal walls feature the striking polychromatic brickwork, for which Butterfield and Keble College is renowned, interspersed with stone, marble pillars, and oak panelling.

The floor is tiled and inset with polished oak on which the oak dining tables stretch the length of the room (pictured). The main signs of deterioration are the lime mortar, in which the tiles were originally set and which has broken up, and many of the original encaustic tiles, which have lost their colour and become uneven. Refurbishing the floor is proving to be a journey of discovery for Janet Betts and consultant architect David Yandell of Feilden and Mawson, as prior to starting the project there was no record of how the floor was constructed.





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