Undaunted example of sustainable building conservation at centuries-old Cork building

Conserving old buildings allows our cityscapes to retain their history. Tommy Barker gets the heads-up on a sustainable, best-practice job
Undaunted example of sustainable building conservation at centuries-old Cork building

The shop front of McCarthy's on Daunt Square, Cork in 1935.
The shop front of McCarthy's on Daunt Square, Cork in 1935.

“OLD buildings are not perfect – they ask you to listen to them, accept them and just help them be who they are,” says archaeologist, heritage building and conservation specialist Emma Baume.

She, and a team have finished up sensitive, and minimalist intervention work, on a Cork city building with a long, and loved, pedigree, one on whose earliest days practically have dipped its toes in the city’s marshy quays, island and inlets, at what’s now Daunt Square.

People of a certain age will recall it as Lawrence McCarthy’s bread and cake shop, at 3 Daunt Square, all stacked high within with baskets of loaves and iced cakes, with grocery, flour and bakery links back to 1925, with McCarthys traded up to the early 1990s here, and at Castle Street, and Oliver Plunkett Street.

Younger folk will of course best know No 3 as a Three Mobile shop: in between its current phone shop use and time as a bakers, it was a café, Naturelle, for several years, with first floor seating, overlooking Daunt Square and the rather elegant Grand Parade.

Nobody still alive will remember it in even earlier iterations as a perfumers, as Sealys loan shop, or a clothiers and outfitters, O’Callaghans, or even as Oldens, makers of soaps and manufacturers of tallow for candles.

Cracks in the building facade
Cracks in the building facade

It’s nearly 200 years since Oldens advertised their extensive stock of sperm oil and lavender water in newspapers of the 1830s.

Their products include Olden’s Eukeirogenion, a vegetable shaving oil (eco friendly?)  and Olden’s Application, “for the cure of wounds, broken knees or any abrasion on the shins of sheep, cows or horses.”

Yes, indeed, time does move at a gallop: see a digital link in the online version of this story or on youtube to a 1902 Mitchell and Kenyon black and white film footage of trams, and carts and horses bustling and jostling on St Patrick’s Street and Grand Parade…it was clearly filmed before the Horse, Cart and Donkey ban on Pana.

See a video of how the area used to look below:

When first built, sometime after 1750, this quietly elegant corner structure, with its top floor round-headed windows, would have stood by Daunts Bridge, linking Paul Street to Tuckey’s Quay (now the Grand Parade), and by Hoar’s Quay (now St Patrick’s Street).

Thus, over three centuries, Three’s No 3 No would have seen major upheavals, like so much water under a bridge.

Given such a long history, it’s little wonder that this venerable structure was of late showing worrying signs of structural movement at the corners, and cracking, and loose stones over windows, and an 1800s staircase making its own worrying movements too.

As part of the conservation, the staircase was strengthened with resin carbonfibre
As part of the conservation, the staircase was strengthened with resin carbonfibre

“The gable wall was coming away from the rear wall, creating a large internal crack and emitting a substantial breeze; the building was felt to move in strong winds,” recalls Emma Baume, who’s a director with Cork-based Southgate Associates Heritage Conservation Specialists, a firm with a 30-year track record, spanning the salvation and securing of humble homes, bridges, cathedrals and castles.

Last year, they won an Irish Construction Excellence Award Judges Silver Medal for work they did at Blarney Castle, working with RBR Conservation on the construction side, a professional pairing that also worked on 3 Daunt Square.

This far more modest project, done between August and November of last year (the scaffold came down just in time for the Jazz Festival, appreciated by the adjoining Woodford bar, and the 1750s built Roundy bar.

Victorian sash window following conservation
Victorian sash window following conservation

A c €500,000 project all in for client Three, it has been shortlisted for 2020 the Irish Construction Industry Awards, in a conservation category, up against the likes of large-budget, heavy-hitting projects like the recent restoration at north Cork’s famous Doneraile Court, and at MoLI, the Museum of Literature Ireland at Dublin’s Newman House, UCD’s old alma mater, overseen by architects Scott Tallon Walker.

There’s a disparity in scale, but Southgate’s Emma Baume describes it as “quite a mute conservation job, from the façade treatment to the soft up-lighting, however the subtlety belies the technology that has gone into supporting the structure of the building.

"There’s an honesty of conservation and repair at Daunt Square that I am very proud of. We have removed an absolute minimum of the historic fabric, instead choosing to consolidate it with the help of modern technologies.”

The Victorian window before before conservation
The Victorian window before before conservation

Pointedly, the building’s in a part of the city where building collapse or partial failure is an ongoing concern, with examples at St Patrick Street (Superdry/Moderne), Washington Street and North Main Street.

Timeline and geography-wise, it’s an area Emma knows well as she began her career as an archaeologist, excavating medieval Cork.

She did her Master’s thesis on the Archaeological and Economic Development of Cornmarket Street “so getting a chance to be involved with the conservation of the building on Daunt Square was perfect! It also coincided with moving out of the city after 17 years in the city centre, so it was a fitting farewell to life as a city dweller.”

Here, the ‘less is more’ approach work involved minimal intervention, with some modern stitching and tying technologies (SureTwist anchors and helical ties), carbon ties in the stairs (repaired in situ,) injecting epoxies and boron rods to bolster old timbers and “retention the maximum amount of original building fabric in a cost effective manner.”

It also eschewed temptations like modern dry-lining, modern floor finishes and inappropriate lighting, demonstrating the low-impact, sustainable ‘as much as necessary’ approach to conservation.

Working with contractors RBR Conservation, and project manager Hugh Holt of The Building Consultancy, they secured No 3’s external ‘envelope,’ with lime putty/plaster also skimming internal walls; they conserved and draught-proofed the Victorian sash windows, and capped chimneys to reduce heat loss.

A joinery workshop was set up on site, to reduce any potential damage to windows, floor boards, architraves, spindles, skirtings etc among other joinery if it was taken off-site.

Fireplaces, from Georgian and Victorian originals, others 1930s, were retained, but fitted with low visual impact electric heaters, running off cleaner and renewable fuel sources.

By their very nature, conservation projects are sustainable, says Southgate Associates’ Ms Baume, as the materials used produce lower carbon emissions during their manufacture, and the use of higher emission products like sand and cement-based render and blocks is avoided.

Much of No 3’s original structure is yellow slob brick, still resting in one atop the other, as they’ve done for hundreds of years, set for generations to come, when mobile phone shops will seem as quaintly peculiar a high street presence as bakers, perfumers, soap and candle makers and, even, Olden’s Application, 'for the cure of wounds, broken knees or any abrasion on the shins of sheep, cows or horses.'

Grand Parade, Patrick Street. Cork. Pic Denis Scannell
Grand Parade, Patrick Street. Cork. Pic Denis Scannell

Southgate Associates host a Heritage Helpline on Mondays from 10.00-11.00, offering free advice for people who may wish to carry out simple routine maintenance tasks in their home during lockdown: (021-4570717).

They also back this up with weekly DIY Home Maintenance Checklist posts on LinkedIn, Instagram(southgateandassociates) and Twitter (@Southgate_Assoc).

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