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25th Jul 2017

Dinner is Served; thanks to the restoration of one of Oxford's most treasured college dining halls

The Jesus College dining hall has been said to be "among the most impressive of all the Oxford college halls", with its "fine panelling, austere ceiling, and its notable paintings”. The hall has the highest Grade I designation; a listing given only to buildings of exceptional interest. As such StuartBarr CDR were immensely proud to be awarded principal contractor status for the 2016 renovation works of this nationally important historical building. With the Savills Oxford Architectural Design team entrusted to plan, specify and oversee the project and appointing Swan Farm Studios and Cliveden Conservation to undertake specialist artisan restoration works, the project was a true meeting of minds, passions and complementary skillsets.

The hall is the heart of college life, both logistically and socially, and as such the refurbishment project demanded a high level of strategic planning and continuous liaison with all stakeholders. StuartBarr CDR Site Manager, Joel Desborough, lived and breathed college life for several months and enjoyed every minute of it; “the professionalism of all involved, from the wonderful college maintenance staff through to the highly trained specialist craftsmen, made the project a truly exceptional experience… it felt like breathing the life back into a piece of history”

The project commenced during academic exam time and as such minimal noise levels were essential; site hoarding went up using hand tools only. In order to create works access to the dining hall without disruption to the day to day functioning of the college, the stone work at the corner of the 17th century bay window was carefully removed and reinstalled after completion of the works.

Every corner of the dining hall received the care and attention it deserved. Old oak floors were levelled and replaced or restored. Alan Lamb of Swan Farm Studios, the woodwork renovation specialists, used extreme care to remove layer upon layer of Victorian varnish from the intricate wood screen to expose and preserve the remains of the original painted screen behind. Cliveden Conservation worked skillfully on restoration of the feature plasterwork, gilding and specialist decoration.

The dining hall required a made-to-measure server unit with built-in granite hot plate, designed to be at once functional and in keeping with the style of the hall. As an extra challenge, the BarrJoinery fitters were required to install the unit without recourse to fixings into walls, paneling or the newly restored floorboards. With solid oak doors and frames and inset beading detail concealing 21st century high performance Egger technology, the server unit fits seamlessly into the bay window and is held in place by scribes alone.

As with all historical building renovation or restorations the attention to detail throughout every stage of the project had to be of the highest standard. Creating made-to-measure joinery in heritage and listed properties to match existing is always a challenge, but one which BarrJoinery always relish.

Mike Sheppard, Associate Director of Savills commented “We are pleased to have delivered the repairs and refurbishment of the hall’s dining room on time and within budget. It was a true team effort, enabling us to provide the high standard of work expected by our client”

David Stevenson, property director for Jesus College adds “The services that have been provided are of the highest standard and the team has developed an excellent working relationship with Historic England and the Oxford City Council conservation team.”

Our thanks to both Savills Oxford and Jesus College, for putting their trust in the Barr Group Companies; the whole team felt privileged to be involved.

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