University of Bristol

Client: University of Bristol
Architect: Capita Architecture, Bristol
Contractor: Camilleri
Type of works: supply of SSQ Ultra Riverstone® Grey random roofing slate to the HH Wills Physics Laboratory.

The medieval grandeur of its spectacular turreted and castellated tower suggests the University of Bristol’s HH Wills Physics Laboratory has been with us for centuries, not just a mere eighty years. Opened on 21 October 1927, the building is a tribute to HO Wills, head of the Wills tobacco empire, founder of the university and its first chancellor. The building, designed by (Sir) George Oatley, stands in the gardens of the Royal Fort, the tower being one of six planned to crown the hill.

A recently completed restoration project has rejuvenated the exterior of the grade II-listed building. Iain Martin, Director of Architecture at Capita Architecture outlines the challenge provided by the roof: “It’s a mansard roof with dormer windows interrupting the lower pitches, the slate covering being laid in an attractive random width, diminishing course pattern. Two different slates had been used – most were very old, possibly reclaimed, Cornish Delabole and were in very poor condition with up to three-quarters of them being ‘blown’ from water damage, and there was also a small, more recent section, of an unidentifiable, but possibly Cumbrian, slate.”

The condition of the slates led to four possible solutions being explored including reclaiming what could be saved and supplementing them with new slates, to replacing the entire roof. Kevin O’Flaherty, the university’s Capital Projects Officer takes up the story: “The project team discussed the options with the conservation officer overseeing the project and it was decided to re-roof with new slates. We considered three premium-quality slates – Delabole, Burlington and Riverstone – but chose Riverstone as it was the most similar in colour to the original Delabole slates used, was within our budget and was readily available. With the decision made, Camilleri, the roofing contractor involved with the project, stripped the roof back to the frame, replaced the battens and underlay and faithfully recreated the random, diminishing course effect of the original. We’re all delighted with the result.”

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