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Mr Lead’s legacy gets the key to the door! Print E-mail

It is hard to believe that it’s 21 years since members and associates of the Lead Contractors Association (LCA) came together to celebrate the announcement of the first Murdoch Award. The award was presented in 1996 in honour of Dick Murdoch – ‘Mr Lead’ – on his retirement. They were founded to mark his tireless efforts and success in raising quality standards in lead-sheet work, part of which led to the founding of the LCA in 1984.

A decade later the Murdoch Sponsor’s Award was added. That featured the smaller installations that used less than five tonnes of lead sheet, but which could be equally demanding of the leadworker’s skills as the larger, more eye-catching projects.

The two awards represent the highest accolade in the lead sheet industry, when the specialist leadworkers are recognised by their peers as achieving excellence in their craft. In the 21 years that have passed since that first award was presented the industry has seen many changes, developments and improvements, and these prestigious awards reflect that on-going progress, attracting many entries of an excellent calibre.

The judging of this year’s entries took place in August, by a panel of highly-respected professionals in the sector. As usual, it was with eager anticipation that LCA members, associates and their guests attended the gala dinner – this year at the Manor House Hotel in Castle Combe, Wiltshire – to learn who had taken the top honours.

In his welcoming speech, LCA chairman Mike Hempstock thanked all delegates and their guests for taking part in the evening’s celebration of the Murdoch Awards. He handed proceedings over to general manager Nigel Johnston, who in turn introduced the national sales manager of Associated Lead Mills (ALM), Alan Barker. ALM has sponsored the Murdoch Award since 2005 and created the Sponsor’s Award the following year.

Alan spoke about the background and importance of the awards, before introducing Dick Murdoch. Dick took the opportunity to summarise the technical comments of the judging panel before announcing the results of the Sponsor’s Award.

In third place was Norfolk Lead Sheet (UK) Ltd, for their work on the porch of a private dwelling in Winford, Norfolk. Just pipping them into second came Webb Roofing Solutions Ltd for their work on Lewis Crescent in Brighton.

However, in the judges’ opinion the winner of the award was in no doubt: Leadwork Contracts Ltd for their work at Sotheby’s on St George Street, London. Steve Hempstock stepped forward to receive the award on behalf of Leadwork Contracts director Ben Herbert, who was unable to attend the presentation. 

Speaking later, a delighted Ben Herbert explained the background to the project and some of the challenges faced along the way.

“The crown roof at Sotheby’s, at 1-2 St George Street, was in dire need of renewal and we had repaired it many times over the last 20 years,” he said. “The old lead was code 6 and laid in bays that were too wide and therefore oversized. In addition, the timber substrate was poor, so we overlaid with 18mm WPB-ply, laid to new falls with increased drip heights. There were also a few bays that were restricted due to tapering and breaks in the brickwork, which created additional design issues.”

Leadwork Contracts used rolled lead to BSEN 12588, which was supplied by ALM. Codes 5, 6, 7 and 8 were used on the project, which equated to 4.5 tonnes of lead.

One challenge which was unique to this project was the value of the items inside Sotheby’s premises. As Ben explained: “Keeping the roof watertight was critical, as there were some extremely rare and expensive items just feet below. Because of that we only stripped areas of roof that we could put back in a day, leaving minimal sheeting overnight.” Ben added that the project is also covered under the 25-year guarantee scheme.

On to the Murdoch Award itself: as with the Sponsor’s Award, the judging was extremely close. Norfolk Lead Sheet (UK) Ltd took third place again – this time for their work on New Manor House in Hales, Norfolk. Runners-up were Full Metal Jacket Ltd for their work on the Islamic Galleries at the British Museum in London.

However, the outright award went for a record fourth time to NDM Metal Roofing & Cladding Ltd for their work on Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. NDM’s managing director Nigel Miles explained that they won the prestigious £1.8m contract after considerable negotiations had taken place by his commercial director Brian Shepherd.

The works are still on-going and will eventually have taken more than a year: they began in January this year and are programmed to end next March. The job involved stripping some 230 tonnes and replacing it with 310 tonnes of lead sheet.

Nigel explained: “Our project manager Wayne Hall has been on site since the start of the project and has overseen a superb installation, alongside Chatsworth’s own resident team and Stephen Gee – a knowledgeable architect with a keen eye for correct detailing and workmanship.

“Predominantly the work consists of large code 8 gutters with code 9/10 roofing sheets of varying pitches. There are approximately 25 roofs that have been stripped and recovered, varying in sizes from 10m2 up to 850m2.”

He added that this project involved a first for a Grade One-listed building, with the introduction of stainless steel gutters to overcome some awkward gutter substrate details.

Nevertheless, the most challenging aspect of the project so far has to be the re-roofing of the dining hall, attached to the main house and housing possibly one of the world’s most expensive paintings. The hall did not have a temporary roof over it and Nigel admitted that the entire workforce became concerned – even paranoid – about night-time protection.

“We were all greatly relieved when the house declared that the main contractor was going to be responsible for that!” he declared.

He was proud to confirm that throughout the period on site NDM have maintained the same workforce, enabling all of the work to be consistent in its appearance.

“In my estimation, other than St Paul’s Cathedral, Chatsworth House has to be the ultimate lead roof to re-roof,” he said.

The search is already underway for next year’s award winners; so any LCA member, client or architect that has used an LCA member can enter a project by contacting the LCA via their website at


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