Smiths Arms – Brick by Brick – A Step Too Far

25 Apr

Beamish, The Living Museum of the North

Hello HistoryME

Colliery Inn, The

Thank you very much for this and for considering the museum in this matter. I am afraid that the North West is really outside our collecting area as a regional museum of the North East. We are actually considering rebuilding another pub, but already have the remains of the sadly demolished Colliery Inn from about three miles away in store here.

As you obviously appreciate, moving a building is very much a last option. I read recently that an open air museum in the Chilterns had apparently collected a mill from Cumbria, and the Welsh National Folk Museum at St Fagans obviously collect from all over Wales, but to move buildings this sort of distance is pretty exceptional, not only because it naturally massively increases the costs of staff and travelling time and accomodation, but because one is moving a structure completely out of any cultural setting. For me this pub is magnificent, but even for its date, it is subtly unlike similar buildings on Tyneside for example.

The costs of such a project are rather a ‘how long is a piece of string’ matter I am afraid the short answer being that this entirely depends on the quality of the job. It also depends hugely on whether it is being done by your own, experienced staff, or by contractors who may have been appointed on grounds of cost only. We have moved whole buildings or, at times, just the facades. We are currently in the last stages of rebuilding the medieval and later St Helens Church from Eston, Middlesborough, and I am confident that we will have well over 90% of all the external blocks in their original position and relationships. The internals however we could not afford to manage so closely, it was random rubble, so only the right stones have gone back into the right walls, as it were. This was due to time and money constraints at the time we rescued it 15 years ago.

The last building we collected was by contract, a bit of a risk for us but actually the firm proved to be careful and thoughtful beyond our expectations. Some museums, such as the Black Country at Dudley have always made a great effort to number every brick and replace them exactly. If I was doing a Roman building, I would do that too, but my own belief is that the more one knows and understands about the time and culture that produced the building, the more one can relax about this. For your pub, then obviously every shaped brick and all the ornamental brickwork, stone work and mullions should be recorded as a minimum. Beyond that it is a matter of ethics and preference as to how far the frontage is treated and recorded, following architectural drawings and regularised photography. Would you intend to move the whole building (I do not know to what level the interiors survive), including side and rear walls? The cellars? Another issue is whether you would reconstruct the building to ‘end of working life’, as William Morris might have preferred (as do I), or to ‘as built’?

The first question to ask is actually ‘will it come apart?’ As you will appreciate, modern cements were only coming in towards the end of the Victorian period, but lime mortars can vary wildly – they are by no means always the loose white lime of the 18th and early 19th centuries used in so many rural buildings. Our Church had some C 15th mud mortar which was surprisingly hard, 1822 white lime which was very poor indeed and a pinky coal fired lime from the C 17th which was some of the hardest stuff I have dealt with: if the stones had been smaller and softer, we could have had a real problem there. Across the North East we had, in the C 19th, a lot of black ‘pug lime’ mortar. Frighteningly hard if kept dry, but in a wet derelict building it soon de-natures. The best thing to do is to make several careful holes in the building before committing to practicality, timescale or cost.

Hetton Silver Band Hall shortly before being carefully taken down - 2012

There is no doubt that it is absolutely always cheaper to restore and repair in situ; moving is always the most expensive. The small brick Hetton Silver Band Hall building which we recently collected costed £47,000 before asbestos stripping to dismantle and transport to store. I would imagine your pub might cost four times that as an absolute minimum? For more pictures on the Hetton Silver Band Hall deconstruction please click LINK.

I hope these thoughts are of some help and I wish you the best for your project.

Jim Rees
Beamish Living Museum of the North

Pictures and further details regarding the Smiths Arms can be found at this LINK


3 Responses to “Smiths Arms – Brick by Brick – A Step Too Far”

  1. Rik April 30, 2012 at 1:21 am #

    Good read, very interesting. Thanks for posting.


    • historyme April 30, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

      Thank you kindly and glad you enjoyed it.

      Sadly the optimistic project didn’t quite come off, but very much worth a try.

      Hope your enjoying the site.



  1. Save Ancoats Hospital – Letter to Council « historyme - May 30, 2012

    […] their neighbours. The mills tell one story, the Dispensary, the Cob o Coal (RIP) and the historic Smiths Arms (soon to be demolished) and the historic London Road Fire and Police Station (left to rot!) tell […]


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