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Once-in-a-lifetime chance for public to tour Torre Abbey - Torbay's most historic building

By Herald Express  |  Posted: November 10, 2012

  • VIEW FROM TOP: Scaffolding and the work yard at Torre Abbey Andy Uglow TQAU01112012_C_007

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SIMON Parsons is hoping a great deal of people will want to take up the special offer for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to tour his place of work.

Simon is contracts manager for Kier Construction which is currently carrying out the second phase of work to restore and regenerate Torbay's most historic building.

A sneak preview tour of the Torre Abbey construction site revealed a fascinating behind-the-scaffolding view of the internal guts and external bones of this remarkable building laid bare.

This weekend sees a rare chance for the public to tour the building themselves while the latest £4.7million phase of the work to bring the building into the 21st century is under way.

It is hoped this will be completed next May.

The seafront-facing mansion and art gallery is almost unrecognisable swathed in steel and plastic while much of the exterior finishings and some parts of the interior are stripped back, repaired or replaced.

Simon admits he has fallen in love with Torre Abbey's maze of ancient, old and modern architecture and is proud of the work Kier and the project team did on the first phase which itself cost £6.5million.

He explained this is no ordinary building site. For example, the craftsmen literally risk prosecution if they change anything they are not supposed to during construction.

One man's scabby looking wall is another man's prized medieval render. Everything is retained that can be and reused where possible.

Simon estimates that even though they faced major construction difficulties in some areas because of the state of the building, they have retained and reused around 90 per cent.

In fact, he lost a bet on one section of the building, near the mayor's parlour, surviving.

"I said the section would have to come down, but the chartered surveyor said it could be saved and I said I would eat my hat if that was the case.

"Happily, they made a very nice cake in the shape of my hat which I had to eat," he said.

The work is painstaking and precise.

For example, scrabbling under the trusses of the roof above the mayor's parlour, craftsmen are having to carefully reach down through the trusses to attach extra supports to the Regency ceiling below to preserve and protect it from above.

Down under the mayor's parlour a new education centre is being created while all the windows on the seafront-facing facade are being carefully repaired or replaced with authentic replicas.

Attention to detail is all.

Standing high off the ground on the complex range of scaffolding that envelopes the building, it is fascinating to see the old roof trusses exposed.

The original lead was taken off the main seafront facing roof, taken away, re-processed and half of it has been saved and is being re-used on the new roof.

Simon explained that they have retained most of the trusses as the roof was in better condition than expected, and are replacing the lead in traditional fashion.

But they are also retaining the uneven, wavy roof line which has developed over the years.

They are also creating a new gutter along the front of the building, using the existing wood where possible.

He said: "We have left as much as possible of the building in place and only replacing where we have had to."

Of course, when the project is finished, much of this attention to detail and the work of craftsmen's rarely used skills will be covered up.

That's why the open days are such a rare opportunity to find out more about this remarkable building.

Simon said: "I am very fond of Torre Abbey. I think it is a wonderful building. From the few plans I have seen of the final fit out I think it will be fantastic.

"But so many local people have never been here. This is a real opportunity for them to come and see and I hope they do."

The abbey is expected to reopen next summer. The award-winning gardens are staying open throughout.

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