6 Hyd 2023

Traditional, sustainable repairs to an historic building at the Botanic Garden, thanks to the Tywi Centre by Heritage Officer – Helen Whitear

Angharad Phillips

The ‘Peach House’ is an historic ‘hot house’, once used for growing exotic fruit, and an important

The ‘Peach House’ is an historic ‘hot house’, once used for growing exotic fruit, and an important element of the iconic double-walled garden here at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. It was built just over 200 years ago as part of William Paxton’s remodelling of the Middleton Hall estate.

Since this time, the buildings of the Peach House and the attached ‘Gardener’s Bothy’ have seen mixed fortunes, declining gracefully but steadily, for much of the twentieth century. They are now in real need of some proper TLC from people who understand how best to look after them.

So we’ve been absolutely delighted to welcome the ‘Tywi Centre’ team of traditional buildings specialists, to help with our ongoing plans to save this important part of the Garden’s built heritage. Based locally in Llandeilo, the team run training and give advice to support everyone and anyone who is looking after historic buildings across Wales (Home | Tywi Centre). We got together on site to chat to Helena Burke (the Centre’s Heritage Skills and Projects Officer), Olly Coe (Master Mason and Director of Coe Stone Ltd.) and three learners, who are currently following NVQ3 in Heritage Stonemasonry at the Tywi Centre. The learners are Chris Haxton from Wessex Conservation Company, Max Dixon from Jones and Fraser Ltd, and Matthew James from Cadw.  

Over the last few weeks, under the guidance of Olly, the three learners have been carefully restoring some of the stone-work and dressed-stone window and door openings of the Gardener’s Bothy. They’ve made the most of the opportunity to gain on-site experience in stone-masonry and repairing existing traditional stone-work, and all three agreed that working on a site like the Peach House is of real benefit. Training on this live project has made them feel a huge sense of pride in the skilled repairs they’ve made, which they are keen to point out will last at least another 200 years!

These are incredibly valuable skills – building structurally in stone, understanding the fabric of the building and how to use lime mortar correctly, are all vital for looking after our many Listed Buildings in Wales. It’s less well known that the skills are also important for caring well and sustainably for our many traditional, solid walled buildings across Wales (around one third of our existing houses are built in this way!). We know that our historic buildings are of huge cultural significance to Wales – they also have economic value and if we chose to look after them well, old buildings can be just as (and sometimes more) environmentally sustainable than new buildings.

Olly points out that there’s a massive skills shortage for working well with old buildings – most apprenticeships only teach modern building techniques. Helena added that these skills have been in decline for a long time and are in danger of being lost altogether. The Tywi Centre is working hard to reverse this situation, and here at NBGW we’re happy to have the opportunity to support their efforts in an ongoing way.