Chris Wood, editor for the Practical Building Conservation series, discusses this revised, expanded and comprehensive series.
Each of these books is large and comprehensive, and the set of ten makes a truly impressive sight on bookshelves! How did Historic England bring together the necessary expertise?
It was the major project of the Building Conservation and Research Team, and it occupied us for quite a few years! Team members served as researchers, writers, editors, and photographers, and we even laid the books out ourselves, so we could be sure they were clear and easy to use. On top of that, we drew heavily on the expertise of dozens of our colleagues inside and outside Historic England… This was an unmissable opportunity to bring together, into a single place, as much as we could of the knowledge scattered widely across the field of buildings conservation: things learnt from years of practical experience, as well as from research. It's not a project that could be repeated any time soon, so we wanted to make sure that the results were just as up to date as they could be.
Are the books aimed exclusively at a professional audience, then?
Not at all: although they are packed full of information - and indeed there will things in all of the volumes that will be new even to a specialist - they have been written and laid out to be accessible to any reader. To our pleasure, they are proving very popular with owners of historic homes looking for one-stop books that can give them the technical background they need to look after their buildings with confidence.
Would you have to buy the complete series, or can a single book be useful on its own?
Each of the books is intended to be stand-alone, so for example someone caring for a brick building might content themselves with Earth, Brick & Terracotta, and perhaps Mortars, Renders & Plasters. But they are all cross-referenced to the other volumes using a colour code, just in case the reader wishes to go into more detail about a particular topic. So, for example, the information on metal window frames in the Glass & Glazing volume and on rebars in the Concrete volume points towards the Metals volume, which goes into much more detail about processes like corrosion. Many of the cross references are to the two “fundamentals” volumes of the series, Conservation Basics (which looks at the detail of heritage protection and project planning) and Building Environment (which covers the effect on building materials and systems of factors like water, temperature, and light; that’s important information if you’re trying to prevent deterioration).
Tell us one thing about the books of which you are particularly proud.
The books all follow a similar structure, which begins with a brief history of the building material or system. We’ve been told these make great reading; but even better, it was in pulling together these histories that lots of the pieces of the conservation puzzle just fell into place for us. For example, it’s easier to understand why older buildings never have damp-proof courses when you discover that the first mentions of “rising damp” occur only in the second half of the 19th century, as people struggled to deal with leakage into cellars from the new Victorian sewers! We hope that readers enjoy the results.