St Albans almhouses set for first repairs in more than 100 years

PUBLISHED: 12:00 26 August 2016

Duchess of Marlborough's almshouses

Duchess of Marlborough's almshouses

Archant

Over a century since major repairs were carried out on the roof of St Albans’ biggest almshouses, the risk of rot and damp have forced its trustees to take action.

The Duchess of Marlborough's almshouseThe Duchess of Marlborough's almshouse

Listed building consent is being sought to carry out much needed renovation work of the Marlborough Almshouses in Hatfield Road, founded by Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, in 1736.

If the district council agrees to the repairs of the striking Grade II listed building, it will be the first time the roof has undergone major improvement work since Victorian times.

The trustees have asked for permission to renovate and repair the internal loft space, roof and chimneys, along with hard and soft landscaping works at the 0.55 hectare site, opposite Alban City School.

Bill Fardell, clerk to trustees for the Charity of Sarah Duchess of Marlborough, said: “We suspect a massive upgrade was last done in the Victorian times.”

The roof of the Duchess of Marlborough's almshouseThe roof of the Duchess of Marlborough's almshouse

Surveyor and project manager Simon Gurd, explained in the application that the although there is “no significant structural concern,” 20 per cent of the joists are “affected by infestation damage”.

The proposal is to upgrade the roof structure, to mitigate the risk of further infestation, and to strengthen damaged timbers by adjoining new timbers.

Another problem is that insulation in the loft is minimal, which means the building is losing heat through the roof and “thus heating bills are high”.

The scheme includes boosting insulation from the current 100mm to 300mm, and to create ventilation in the loft void to decrease the risk of condensation and prevent damp and humid conditions.

The Duchess of Marlborough's almshouseThe Duchess of Marlborough's almshouse

As the “considerably old” clay plain tiles on the roof are showing significant signs of deterioration, the plan is to replace all of those which are damaged.

Although the chimneys “appear structurally sound”, the trustees want to replace all flashings, because of water ingress.

Landscaping changes include lifting and re-laying flagstones in the courtyard, which are uneven at present.

There are six almshouses in St Albans, of which Marlborough is the largest, with 36 flats.

They were built in 1740 for the needy - and over 60 year olds - for people who have fallen on bad times.

The application is under consideration by the council.

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I should probably have taken the hint! Walking out into the garden recently an unprecedented flock of thirty or more crows raucously greeted me from the treetops at the bottom of my garden. Cawing and croaking these big, black birds clung clumsily to the top most branches and twigs, jostling and flapping to stay balanced in a constant flurry of feathers. There is always something ominous about crows – they are after all carrion crows, the vultures of the bird world – always watching for scraps and weakness that might mean their next meal.

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