Behind the scenes inside the castle
With fencing around the castle, portacabins on site, and machinery and plant coming and going, progess is now well underway at Hylton Castle ready for the next chapter of this magnificent building's history. Main contractor William Birch and Sons Ltd, a company specialising in heritage construction, have been hard at work since the autumn of 2017, supported by a range of specialist sub-contractors. The main elements of work so far have included interior survey work and stone cleaning, drilling for the ground source heat pump system that will heat the castle, and groundwork inside and outside the structure. All work is carried out to carefully drawn up plans and methods with input from a range of professionals including archaeologists, architects and engineers - as one of the oldest buildings in Sunderland the greatest care is taken to get everything right!
Scroll down for more images of the work so far.
Scaffolding was erected inside the castle to allow for survey work to be carried out at the higher levels and for the specialist conservation cleaning of the stone work to be carried out. A combination of steam and pressure is used to remove 600 years of dirt from the masonry without damaging the face of the stones. Inspections and tests on the blocked windows also helped inform the next stage of the project, which will be to carefully remove the modern bricks and render from the window openings whilst protecting the surviving masonry. The image below shows one of the internal wall elevations after cleaning - before this was carried out there was a green film of plant material and vegetation all over the surface of the wall.
The internal scaffolding allowed the architects and archaeologists to access alcoves and openings in the upper levels of the castle which had not been seen for many years. Many of the blocked windows are being opened again and some of the alcoves will be accessible from the new floors. Everything that is removed is first recorded, even relatively modern graffitti. Inspection has shown that many of the lintels and mullions are still strong, but others have badly eroded over time.
The internal scaffolding also allowed the team to get closer to the turrets and bartizans (the overhanging corner turrets) on the roof of the castle for inspection, with further inspections to be carried out once the exterior scaffolding is complete. Photos from the first half of the twentieth century show that there has been some loss of masonry at the very top of the building, but there is still much to see. The rooftop viewing deck will allow people to see these views when it is finished.
One of our local volunteers Christine Audsley has undertaken special training so that she can access the site whilst construction work is carried out and is compiling a detailed photographic record of the building over the construction period. More of Christine's photographs will be available to view at the Hylton Castle Drop in evening on Thursday 22nd March - see our events page for details and come along to see more behind the scenes images. In addition, we will be running hard hat tours later in the year. These will be on a pre-booked only basis and numbers will be limited. As soon as we can confirm details we will advertise on our events pages and social media.