9th Jun 2020
As visitors cross Magdalen Bridge into the historic city of Oxford, their first view is of the river and the glorious 15th-century chapel tower beyond. In the latter part of 2019 StuartBarr CDR had the privilege of playing a part in enhancing this view. Working with an extended team of experts who together designed, manufactured and installed bespoke handmade railings along the riverside, to ensure the safety of its users.
The Riverside Terrace itself was a 1980’s addition to Magdalen College, expanding the ‘Old Kitchen Bar’ with the addition of outside seating space for students and visitors alike. Until last year the river edge had been secured by an industrial tube handrail system. It was clear, however, that from both a safety and an aesthetic perspective the railings were lacking and last year the College, under the guidance of Magdalen’s own Surveyor, Robert Langley, undertook to replace them.
Birmingham based architects and heritage buildings consultants Oliver Architecture were commissioned by the college to design replacement railings and secure listed buildings consent, liaising with Oxford City Council’s Principal Conservation Officer Katharine Owen and the structural engineers of SFK Consulting. The team, led by Philip Waghorn, who is well versed in heritage works on a large scale, was delighted to work on this niche assignment.
Oliver Architecture and Magdalen College agreed that the design should be restrained, simple and traditional – in keeping with the surrounding architecture. Drawings specified black powder-coated hand wrought mild steel, blacksmith crafted with traditional joints. The hidden steel brackets and deep anchors would secure the new railings for decades to come.
The railings were manufactured by the team at Ridgeway Forge, a family business started in the 1960s in rural North Derbyshire. The team there, led by Andrew Renwick, specialises in both new and restoration metalwork, largely for heritage architects and landscape designers across the UK. The forge has a particular interest and experience in working on ecclesiastical and other historic buildings and, as such, was delighted to have the opportunity to work with Stephen at Oliver Architecture on this carefully orchestrated project.
In Andrew Renwick’s own words “It was a great privilege to be invited to join in at the design stage of such an interesting project, where maker (in this case the blacksmith) and architect worked together to achieve the vision and functionality through a combination of engineering and craftsmanship. The works were carried out in an exceptionally collaborative and constructive manner, with all parties doing their level best to ensure the optimum outcomes for this distinguished institution”.
Above; The team at the Ridgeway Forge
Under the careful guidance of experienced blacksmith craftsmen Richard Lewis and Tim Puddephatt (chairman of the BABA), the Magdalen railings manufacture turned out to be a key learning experience for a young work experience student. Oliver Drezet (pictured far left) was able to gain valuable hands-on experience which will help him on his way to his goal of pursuing a career in metalwork and blacksmith artistry. In addition, Ridgeway Forge work alongside the Prince's Foundation 'Building Craft Programme Heritage Skill NVQ Level 3' providing apprentices on the scheme, in this case, twenty-five-year-old Ed Arblaster, with the opportunity to train in the craft of heritage blacksmithing. Ed was involved in both the manufacture and installation of the Magdalen railings.
Another positive parallel epilogue to the Magdalen railings tale is that once removed, the salvaged old handrails were donated to Wortley Top Forge, now an industrial museum and the last of its kind in the country. Dating back to 1640, Wortley Top Forge is a water-powered wrought iron forge that ceased commercial operations in 1910. Brought back to life by a collaboration of South Yorkshire historical societies the forge utilises reclaimed steel in the restoration of vintage machinery and to raise essential funds through the sale of scrap metal.
In line with the collaborative approach throughout the project, established from the outset by Robert Langley, Magdalen’s own College Surveyor, the StuartBarr CDR project team was on hand at every stage of the project. Delicate removal of the old railings was followed by careful preparation of the site for the new installation which allowed for the railings to be set deep into the concrete surround. All remedial works were carried out to ensures an aesthetically pleasing and long-lasting project outcome.
As with all works in a public space special attention was paid to the site set up, ensuring no risk to the public and minimal disruption to college life. Although this was a project of relatively small ‘niche’ works, care and attention to detail at every stage remained paramount. Having previously carried out projects at Jesus College, Hertford College and Rhodes House, StuartBarr CDR were delighted to be able to continue works for the Oxford Colleges – contributing to the preservation and enhancement of our great city.