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Heritage special: Grimsby’s landmark restoration

8 January 2018 | By Will Mann

Image: David Lee Photography

Local contractor Britcon has been delivering a challenging restoration project on the Grade I-listed Grimsby Dock Tower, a Tuscan-inspired landmark in the North Sea fishing port. Will Mann reports.

The word iconic comes up frequently in the architectural lexicon, but rarely can it be more fitting than for the Grimsby Dock Tower. Completed in 1852, and standing 94m tall, the Grade I-listed brick structure at the entrance to the fishing port dominates the town’s skyline and is visible for miles around.

The tower was built to provide water pressure to power hydraulic machinery at the docks, and designed by architect James William Wild, who based the design on the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy. Its technology became outdated only 40 years after construction, but it has remained a landmark for Grimsby, as well as a reminder of the port’s heyday.

With its coastal position, the tower is exposed to the elements, and last year its owner, port operator ABP, appointed local firm Britcon to carry out restoration work on the brickwork.

Given the access challenge – with work at heights of up to 65m – and heritage requirements, this was no ordinary masonry repair job. Prior to starting, ABP project engineer Steve Parrish used a drone to scope out the project. 

“We did consider rope access for the survey, but this would have given us only close-up details, and the drone meant we could take general photographs at high definition which would allow us to pan around the tower and zoom in as required,” he explains.   

The tower has stood at the entrance to the port since 1852 (Wikimedia Commons).

Image: David Lee Photography

Britcon’s contract, which started in July, was to repoint and replace worn bricks on the two western elevations. “The drone survey showed that several areas of brickwork had weathered where the tower buttresses overhang at the top to accommodate the water tank,” explains Grimsby man Andy Toyne, the firm’s contracts manager.  

Approximately 100 bricks required replacing across the five arches and buttresses on the two elevations, plus a further 100 bricks with eroded faces above the arches on each elevation. Britcon employed heritage specialist Bosa Contracts to carry out the work.

The methodology and materials had to be approved by English Heritage and the local council conservation officer. An estimated million bricks were used in the original construction, made of clay from the marsh adjoining the docks, and set in blue lime mortar.

“English Heritage’s requirements are for the ‘bricks to be a close match to the originals’,” explains Parrish. “ABP sourced and reclaimed bricks from other buildings in the Port of Grimsby of a similar age, type and colour, and this was approved by the council’s conservation officer.” 

“A sample of the original lime mortar was analysed so as to ensure its colour would match the original and it would weather in the same way,” Toyne adds.

Mast climbing work platforms, supplied by Apollo Lifts, provided the access, with the platform supports fixed with anchor points every 9m. 

“The platforms had a 300kg capacity, enough to support two men on the working platform plus tools and materials,” says Toyne. “Two platforms were erected to the same height, abutting at the corners, so that they formed a right angle with continuous access around the two elevations. This was for health and safety reasons – in case we had any issues with one of the platforms, this meant we could get any workers back to ground safely in the event of an emergency.” 

Work on the two elevations was completed in September, before the winter weather set in. ABP plans to assess the tower’s two remaining faces and says any further works will be undertaken this summer.

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