Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Fire Protection for Historic England

Historic England (formerly known as English Heritage) is the Government body that helps people care for, and enjoy, England’s historic environment.  Historic England has consulted Smith & Garratt regarding technical matters concerning historic buildings in its own office estate in recent years; and we are currently helping with fire protection at two significant sites – Bessie Surtees House in Newcastle and 37 Tanner Row in York.  Whilst we wouldn’t normally broadcast information about a client relationship, our activities relating to these two buildings are in the public domain due to making planning and listed building applications and assisting with tender packs.  We are happy to explain that we are helping Historic England (i) to upgrade the fire-detection system at Bessie Surtees House; and (ii) to improve fire-safety and compartmentation at 37 Tanner Row.

Bessie Surtees House is HE’s north-east regional office.  It is a Grade-I listed amalgam of two former merchants’ houses, dating from 1465, at Sandhill, fronting the River Tyne in Newcastle.  The house got its name following the elopement of Bessie Surtees who, in 1772, escaped from a first-floor window (from a very fine panelled room with an early decorated plaster ceiling) to join John Scott and ride to Scotland – where they married, contrary to their parents’ wishes.  Scott, the son of a coal merchant, became a successful lawyer, and was later ennobled as Lord Eldon and became Lord Chancellor of England.  His union with Bessie was eventually accepted by the families and they re-married in Newcastle.  The Jacobean timber-framed houses have five stories, jettied out over the street, with fine carving to the oak beams.  Few of the early buildings in Newcastle and Gateshead survived the Great Fire of 1854, so these are special and rare.  The public rooms and gallery at Bessie Surtees House are open daily.

37 Tanner Row is HE’s Yorkshire office.  A former hotel in central York’s Micklegate, it is a handsome, four-storey, Grade-II listed, brick building, dating from around 1850.  Its impressive nine-bay façade has painted bands below a broad cornice on modillion consoles; and a full-length cantilevered balcony at first-floor level, passing over a central portico supported on detached, rusticated Tuscan columns.

Protecting listed buildings from fire requires a comprehensive understanding of the fabric of the buildings, the heritage, modern regulations, and the materials and equipment available in today’s market.  Fire protection need not mean ugly interventions and compromised utility.  Smith & Garratt have the relevant expertise to optimise the balance between sensitivity and safety.