Cupola House rises again from its ashes

Unveiling the restored Cupola House ANL-160629-175147009
Unveiling the restored Cupola House ANL-160629-175147009

Bury St Edmunds’ Cupola House has risen from its ashes ready to take its place in the community again.

But it cannot be the building it once was.

The view from Suffolk Fire Service's aerial platform soon after the fire was put out  ENGANL00120121227103014

The view from Suffolk Fire Service's aerial platform soon after the fire was put out ENGANL00120121227103014

Project architect Simon Marks, an associate at Purcell Architects, explained: “The overall process of building a building that’s a recreation of the previous building that’s as accurate as possible, incorporating all the regulations and safety equipment necessary, was extremely difficult.”

Hidden in the floors and walls is a modern steel frame which supports old and new. Modern fire regulations are met with hidden sprinklers, fire proofing in walls and floors and fireproof glass between the central staircase and public rooms.

When Mr Marks first saw the Grade One listed Cupola House in 2012, the fire had only left a shell of the home Thomas Macro created in The Traverse in 1693. The building’s internal wooden frame had collapsed into itself.

Working with English Heritage and St Edmundsbury Borough Council, Purcell, with contractors Seamans, had to find a way to recreate what was there, incorporating things that had survived, such as some of the fire places that had fallen through four storeys.

The ornate oak staircase appears today with, from the left, Seamans contract manager Ben Whatling, project architect Simon Marks, architect Alicia Rideout and  structural engineer Dave ClarkePicture Mark Westley ANL-160629-175402009

The ornate oak staircase appears today with, from the left, Seamans contract manager Ben Whatling, project architect Simon Marks, architect Alicia Rideout and structural engineer Dave ClarkePicture Mark Westley ANL-160629-175402009

But as they got to work, they found things that had not been expected. One of the big challenges was the north chimney

Mr Marks said: “It had survived to a height of 11 metres. It was discovered that the base of the chimney had been weakened by the fire which had removed the bracing and it couldn’t survive.”

In a restricted location in the centre of the site, it had to be taken down to the ground and rebuilt to about 22m, with internal strengthening.

New panelling and features have a simpler look than the old, with the exception of the central oak staircase, which has been recreated, having been burned down to about 1.5 metres of the floor.

The steel frame hidden inside the building ANL-160629-175505009

The steel frame hidden inside the building ANL-160629-175505009

At the junction of each newel post and rail are carved brackets, only three of which survived but a local craftsman has recreated others in the same style..

The unevenness of old walls and plasterwork is obvious but meant they had difficulty matching the new up with such unevenness.

One one of the original walls the plasterwork is wavy, yet that is not the original. Holes in it revealed another layer of plaster beneath, covered with wallpaper 200 years older than the surface plaster.

Mr Marks added: “There’s no mass production here. It changes on different sides of a door.

Inside the Cupola
 ANL-160629-175517009

Inside the Cupola ANL-160629-175517009

“Everything is different so everything was bespoke.”

Researching what was there was also difficult. They had drawings of the staircase and general drawings of the building.

Helpfully, when Paul Romaine saved it from the at risk register, after he bought it from Greene King in 2002, he had photographed many details. The Bury Free Press also provided pictures of the cupola and interior.

Suffolk County Council had had the foresight to take profiles of the mouldings round the doors 20 years ago, enabling them to be recreated.

Cupola House’s exterior and structure are now complete, though interior details, such as cornices, have still to be installed.

It currently has plywood floors because the salvaged floorboards do not have the strength to be structural floors. The new tenant may also choose to carpet them when they have the interior fitted out.

A face carved on one of the replacement staircase's newell brackets ANL-160629-175312009

A face carved on one of the replacement staircase's newell brackets ANL-160629-175312009

The new tenant will be a restaurant, though negotiations are still going on with the owners OMC Investments.

Dave Clarke, structual Engineer, with the Key Hole fireplacee. Some fireplace fittings fell four storeys ANL-160629-175622009

Dave Clarke, structual Engineer, with the Key Hole fireplacee. Some fireplace fittings fell four storeys ANL-160629-175622009

Alicia Ridout, arhitect, inspects some of the salvaged tiles

 ANL-160629-175635009

Alicia Ridout, arhitect, inspects some of the salvaged tiles ANL-160629-175635009

Purcell Cupola House
Project Manger Simon Marks with a few of the team Alicia Rideout, architect, Dave Clarke, structual engineer and Ben Whatling Contract Manager
Cupola House, The Traverse
Architects Purcell give a tour.

Picture Mark Westley ANL-160629-175216009

Purcell Cupola House Project Manger Simon Marks with a few of the team Alicia Rideout, architect, Dave Clarke, structual engineer and Ben Whatling Contract Manager Cupola House, The Traverse Architects Purcell give a tour. Picture Mark Westley ANL-160629-175216009