Wakehurst Place Roof Refurbishment

Wakehurst Mansion is a Grade I listed, sandstone, Elizabethan Mansion, built between 1571 and 1590 by Sir Edward Culpeper. It sits amongst a 535-acre estate, surrounded by National Trust-owned botanic gardens.

The estate was purchased by Gerald Loder, later Lord Wakehurst, in 1903. Loder was a passionate gardener and collector, spending 33 years developing the property’s expansive gardens.
The subsequent owners, Sir Henry, and Lady Price continued Loder’s legacy and, having expanded the gardens further, entrusted Wakehurst to the National Trust in 1963.
Today, the West Sussex estate is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and hosts a globally important seed bank, first housed in the Mansion’s Chapel in 1976.
As with many historic buildings of this age, time has taken its toll on the Mansion, requiring an extensive roof restoration in order to preserve the listed building for future generations.
DBR Southern, one of the UK’s leading contractors, has over three decades of heritage conservation experience. Having completed many prestigious commissions on landmarks including the Chichester Cathedral and The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, they are ideally suited to carry out the wide range of essential conservation and repair work needed.

In addition, DBR is carrying out window and glazing repairs where necessary and repairing and renewing rainwater disposal systems, providing drainage improvements to the historic building.

Part of the work involves salvaging the original Horsham stone slates, requiring careful removal by DBR’s in-house craftspeople. This ensures the reuse of original material in the re-roofing process, which preserves the historic exterior where possible and ensures the continuity of the structure.

This process involves moving the Horsham slates from the mansion’s lower roof to its upper, outward-facing roof, meaning that any broken or cracked tiles can be replaced, therefore preserving the aesthetic look of the building. The lower roof tiles will be replaced with clay, which will serve the purpose of better insulating the structure.

Carefully removing the Horsham stone slates presents a significant challenge, as hard-to-remove cement mortar had been used in previous repair schemes. DBR’s team needed to remove the slates intact, and once removed, will need to sort, grade, pack, and store all the stone, presenting further logistical challenges.

Building in nature

There are a huge amount of external considerations for this project, and DBR faced the challenge of performing building work within close proximity to the botanic gardens, which will remain open to the public throughout. This necessitates regular risk assessment and monitoring of health and safety practices so that members of the public are safe at all times.

From an environmental perspective, the surrounding landscape is home to a host of protected wildlife, requiring the restoration work to take into account breeding and hibernating seasons to ensure minimal disturbance.

Particularly, the re-roofing process requires measures to be taken to mitigate the disturbance to bats who have made their home in the mansion’s roof. This includes regular briefings by the on-site Ecologist, who will ensure that the DBR team knows what to do in the event of bat discovery, as well as the construction of new, temporary roosting features.

The wrap-around scaffolding to the building has been specially designed to allow clear flight for bats and to avoid obstruction of any roosts, with purposeful gaps and openings to allow the bats to pass through.

As well as this, DBR has allowed for a ‘soft demolition’ process, meaning the entire roof will be soft stripped by hand. This means that any features and tiles can be carefully inspected, and any bats gently removed.

The work will be phased to ensure minimum disturbance to the roosts so that opening up and stripping works will be carried out in Autumn or Spring when the bats are unlikely to be breeding or hibernating.

As part of the project, DBR’s scaffolding partner D&R Scaffolding Ltd. erected a substantial temporary roof over the whole of the mansion to ensure the building remains safe from water ingress during complete roof removal.


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