The expansive and intricate roofscape of The Bowes Museum - one of the North of England’s most stunning buildings and home to some of the best European fine and decorative art in the UK - is being meticulously re-roofed in traditional Westmorland Green natural slate at a project cost of £2million.

Supplied by the UK’s leading natural roofing slate producer, Burlington - situated in the Museum’s neighbouring county of Cumbria - work on phase one of the roof restoration project is now complete. Coordinated by Peter Pace Architects of York, and with grant funding provided by English Heritage, the initial phase of works has centred on the removal and replacement of slates on the building’s central pavilion and adjoining main roof areas: the latter being punctuated heavily with mansards that are typical of this building’s grand French Chateau style architecture.

Replacing the existing Westmorland Green slates that have served as the building’s roof covering for over 120 years, and which are believed to have also originated from Cumbria, in excess 5,000 tonnes of new natural slates have so far been used on this famous landmark that stands proud in Teesdale’s historic market town of Barnard Castle.

Installed by roofing contractors W B Robinson & Sons Ltd of Middlesbrough, and with associated lead work having been carried out by main contractors for the project, William Anelay of York, the Westmorland Green slate has been supplied as purely random product and laid in traditional diminishing courses. On the central domed Pavilion, curved slates were handpicked for the project. Again replicating the design and construction of the original roof, the Burlington slate has been fixed direct to boarding and without the use of felt. Joiners on this part of the project were Daltons of Thirsk.

Comments architect, Peter Pace: “Whilst the original intention was to salvage as much of the slate that we could, the overall aim of the project is to reinstate a roof that has the ability to serve equally as well as the original one has done for the last 100 years. With this in mind, the decision was made to use new slate for the entire roof area and, when the project is finally complete, the Museum’s unique collection of paintings, ceramics, furniture and textiles will get the protection they continue to deserve well into the next century.”

As Peter adds: “Not only will the finished roofscape serve to protect the building and its unique and precious contents, it will also greatly enhance the look of what remains a classic building that is typically French both in architectural design and inspiration.”

Work on the remaining roof areas of The Bowes Museum - these being the building’s additional pavilions that serve to flank and define its grandeur - is scheduled to commence in Spring 2008.

The Bowes Museum was purpose-built in the 19th Century by John and Joséphine Bowes who developed the idea of creating a world-class museum in order to introduce the wider world of art to local people. As Joséphine was a Frenchwoman and Teesdale was John’s ancestral home, the building was perhaps not surprisingly designed with the collaboration of two architects, Jules Pellechet from France and John Edward Watson of Newcastle.

The magnificent French style chateau took 13 years to build - during which time the project was blighted by the deaths of Joséphine and John. However it was officially opened to the public in 1892. Built using stone quarried from the nearby Bowes estate at Streatlam, the museum was the first building in the UK to be designed in metric rather than imperial.

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