Kirkstall Abbey Restoration, Leeds, SAM and grade I

Currently the best example of a Cistercian monastery in the country, it was completed in 1180 using local gritstone. Following its dissolution in 1539, the abbey reverted to the Crown and through theft and neglect, became ruinous. By the early eighteenth century it was recognised as a significant ‘romantic ruin’, attracting the attention of painters, poets and writers, and in 1889 it was given to the City of Leeds.

The £4.5m project

A major package of new and repair works to the Abbey and Reredorter that included major restoration elements such as reintroducing roofs to the transepts and aisles for the first time since the Reformation, and extensive hidden strengthening work to the Reredorter roof.

Amongst the substantial remains of the monastic buildings is the Lay Brothers Reredorter. Converted by the Victorians into a barn, we reverted it back to its original form for interpretation whilst also converting it into the visitor centre for the abbey, complete with timber framed extension.

Capstones work included

Specification for the extensive scaffold design. High level access and assessment, finding many areas of high level masonry in a very poor state having had no attention since 1895. I detailed the new timber rood structures with simple robust joints with sturdy timber sizes, all in oak, befitting the building, forming honest and simple timber structures.

A close inspection of one of the West Front Pinnacles revealed a pattern of cracks/open joints to the weathered sandstone. I discounted rust jacking and my three dimensional model depicting the cracking helped consider repair options.

The Reredorter roof had been altered significantly in the 1970’s with the introduction of laminated timber arch strengthening to the five king post trusses. As part of the work to remove these arches.

With my Masters Degree research on the development of the truss, I was in favour of retaining the good quality and uncommon 1970’s work, but rationalised that if new work should be reversible, then it must be accepted that sometimes it is to be reversed! The compromise reached was to retain one arch. For the remainder, I designed a set of 4 slender steel trusses, hidden within the roof build up, to provide the strength for the remnants of the historic roof, remaining below.

There was an exposed archaeological dig across most of the ground floor. below. In order to make the floor accessible to the public, I designed a suspended steelwork structure complete with panels that could be lifted to view the remains below. Working with the severe limitation of not disturbing the archaeology, I proposed a system of closely spaced structural grid, minimising the point loads. As a result no excavation into the historic remains was needed: the new floor simply sat on the archaeological dig.

Role - consulting structural and civil engineering
Client - Leeds City Council
Architect - Purcell