If you think about the Curzon team then what do you think about? Passion, resilience, pride ……..? Exactly the qualities I observed in every single person I met on my recent media tour to see how the work on the roof restoration was progressing.
We were met by our tour guide, Hilary Neal, Chair of Trustees for the Curzon who reminded us that the cinema has remained open since April 1912, when sculptor and monumental mason Victor Cox opened The Picture House with a matinee screening, to raise funds for the Lord Mayor of London’s Appeal for survivors and relatives of those lost on the Titanic.
Our lovely cinema has survived two World Wars, the Spanish flu, the rise of television and the age of streaming services: only to be stopped in its tracks by the current pandemic.
But it’s not all bad news! Whilst they have been shut down, and as worried about the future as the rest of the arts and culture sector, the roofing contractors have been hard at work.
Joining us on the tour, was architect Oliver Forsyth from Bristol based DHV Architects who specialise in historic building conservation. They are particularly experienced in the care and conservation of historic and ecclesiastical buildings and have been involved in some exciting projects. Check them out here: https://www.dhva.co.uk It was clear from the outset that Oliver cared deeply about the Curzon restoration, and conserving the integrity of the building was of paramount importance to him, even down to the choice of scaffolding and tarpaulin.
I asked Oliver about the particular challenges in this project and he explained that the internal layout of the cinema is particularly complex and there were a number of internal areas which presented issues of site health and safety, involving working at height and in confined spaces.
Added to this, access for scaffold structures and a site compound area was restricted and the existing structures had insufficient capacity to carry any additional abnormal loads.
However, Oliver was obviously enjoying work on the building, saying:
“It has been really exciting to work with a historical building that has not changed operationally since it first opened its doors to the public more than 100 years ago. The Curzon Cinema is a fantastic heritage asset to Clevedon and a building that should be celebrated for its contribution to social and cinematic history. We cannot wait to see the Curzon reopen its doors to the public with a new fixed roof!”
Equally passionate about his work was Arthur Murray Site Manager for Corbel. Corbel are also experts in historic building conservation and work in close partnership with many leading heritage specifiers such as the National Trust, English Heritage and The Churches Conservation Trust. Check them out here: https://www.corbel.org.uk
Corbel have been shortlisted for RICS Awards in 2019 and 2020. These awards showcase the most inspirational initiatives and developments in land, real estate, construction and infrastructure. They recognise outstanding achievement, teamwork and companies.
I love Corbel’s strap line:
“Every Building Has a Story – At Corbel it’s our purpose and passion to ensure this story is upheld”
I asked Arthur whether he felt he and his team were managing to do this,
“I think without a doubt we are continuing this building’s legacy and story. From a practical point of view, the new weathering details and careful execution of these by skilled craftspeople mean that we are stopping the very damaging water ingress in the roof and securing the building’s future. From the viewpoint of continuing to tell the story of the building, details such as exposing the new steel roof structure and carrying out honest repairs with new timber to old, show how each stage of work on the building is a new chapter in its history. We’re very proud to have a part in that.”
Hilary guided us up through the layers of history starting in the Undercroft where we saw all the tiles decorated through the tag-a-tile scheme – it’s not too late to get involved with this scheme, the link is at the end of the post but you can read about it here: https://bit.ly/33IQZ6Q
We then moved up to the imposing crimson and gold auditorium with its exquisite Art Deco decorations where we saw the light on the stage – an old theatre tradition.
“whenever the auditorium is empty, be sure to leave one light on”.
This is known as the ghost light and is typically on a stand in the centre of the stage. There are many stories about its origin but it means that, although the auditorium is empty, it will be filled again.
For the Curzon team, the light is symbolic:
“ We might be down now, but our passion, creativity and drive is still centre stage.”
When the doors finally open in October, the auditorium which normally seats three hundred and twenty will be set out in such a socially distanced way as to seat just ninety. Arrangements about how the seating will be organised and how we will book are currently being finalised but one thing is for sure, this reduced seating represents a huge reduction in revenue and we will have to make sure that every single one of those ninety seats is filled. Hilary hinted at exciting plans to coax back a possibly anxious, post lockdown audience.
Up again to the Oak Room with its Viennese inter war café interior and finally, up to the as yet unrestored balcony.
This was the view inside the Curzon’s roof just before work stopped. The enormous roof space had been cleared and cleaned by Corbel. Added lighting installed up there, meant it was possible to see the back of the skelionite tin panelling that lines the ceiling above the auditorium. You can see just how unprotected from the leaky roof they have been.
The Curzon team cannot wait until the roof has been successfully restored and they can look towards phase two of the plan to restore the whole building – revealing the stunning ceiling to the auditorium below.
Although I’ve been on tour before, it was nevertheless really interesting and reassuring to hear of future exciting plans.
Arthur and Oliver then escorted us to the top of the huge expanse of scaffolding where in complete contrast to the auditorium it is a hive of activity.
We met stonemasons, roofers, lead workers and carpenters, all trained in heritage restoration, all totally immersed in their work but nevertheless happy to break and answer our questions. Their answers reflected tremendous attention to detail, an absolute passion for retaining the integrity of the building and huge pride in doing so.
Replacing the 12,833 tiles is far more complex than I had realised, there is a colossal amount of restoration work to the structure of the roof before you start any tiling. This photo taken by Arthur, shows the steel work installed in the north roof above the second floor gallery, to strengthen the structure where a new secondary roof is required.
The secondary roof will not be visible, but will ensure that the roof is fully waterproof. Steelwork has also been installed at the base and between the roof trusses to prevent further movement where they have become misaligned.
These photos taken by the Curzon’s CEO Susannah Shaw show a lead worker creating the flashing around the new roof lights. You can see little details like the Onduline which has been put in under the new tiles and if you look very closely, at the lower edge of the tiles, fringing, to stop birds and bats coming to roost in the roof space!
It was good to see first hand the work of these talented individuals and good to hear from Hilary of all the discussions taking place around re – opening safely.
The total cost of the project is c.£600,000 which also includes a new Activities Coordinator to deliver a series of events and activities for the community – a requirement of the generous £239,900 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Incredible support from the community, who have raised in excess of £120,000 so far, along with Trusts and Foundations, meant that the Curzon reached its target in February 2020. However, tenders from contractors came in higher than the architects expected and the Curzon staff and volunteers need to raise an additional £8,000 for the project.
It was a great tour and it was good to see first – hand that this unique Grade II building with its neoclassical stonework and ornate tin panelling, as well as its historical archive and collection of cinema technology was in such specialist hands, hands that displayed such care and attention.
I know that when the Curzon reopens, those ninety seats will be filled each session. I also know, given the loss of revenue during the lockdown that the fund raising will need to continue, and we look forward to more of the innovative, creative ventures such as ‘Art on the Tiles’. For those not familiar with this fabulous project, you can check it out here: https://bit.ly/31yjHVv
In the meantime if you would like to donate you can do so on their justgiving page here: https://bit.ly/2XMO35E; you can still tag a tile, here’s the link: https://www.curzon.org.uk/tag-a-tile/ or perhaps you’d like to buy a gift card for future use: https://bit.ly/3gIYlLl
When the situation is back to normal you might like to join a tour or book a private group tour, you’ll find all the details here: https://www.curzon.org.uk/heritage/tours/
If you’d like a free roof top tour for yourself and a friend, such as the one I joined, then simply e mail me the answer to this question or message me on social media:
‘How many tiles in the tag-a-tile scheme have been tagged to date?’
Unfortunately for health and safety reasons the tour is only open to those over 16.
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