It is not often a highly qualified building surveyor is given to using superlatives, but Paul Hannent believes that 17, The Green is no ordinary restoration challenge.
Hannent, owner of Kingston-based Hannent Chartered Surveyors, has worked on many heritage sites, not least several buildings in Hastings on the South Coast, dating back to the post Norman Conquest era. But this former 18th Century Coffee House presents a rare challenge.
Since its inception in the mid 1700s it has never been fully restored. With the exception of a new roof three decades ago, the building has remained virtually untouched.
“This makes is both extremely fragile but also fascinating because it is so unusual to find a building which has hardly been touched. Almost every day we find something which is breath-taking in its historical importance. You can literally feel the history in the skeleton of the building,” says Hannent, who has been on site as the lead technical and structural designer, Party Wall Surveyor and Health and Safety adviser for the last three months.
“It will be an incredible home eventually but everything in it needs very careful handling. We have the best experts on site and the local authority’s Building Control officials, Gary Sumpter and Mike Jennings have been fantastic, but we need to move forward swiftly in order to preserve everything we can and make the building safe. Any delay now is a problem,” said Hannent, whose proven track record in this work is re-assuring to everyone working on the restoration project.
The up side of the lack of historic refurbishments is that so many of the original features remain lending the building a unique bond with its past. Any visitor to the site gets a clear and resonant insight into how the building would have felt during its colourful past.
One example of clues to its provenance are the large pieces of hand-painted 18th Century Oriental wallpaper revealed when the work began. Residents, retailers and several local history associations are fascinated with the work and have been reading the narrative boards on the front wall to learn more about the building.
“I can honestly say that in nearly twenty-five years of surveying this is one of the most interesting projects on which I have worked. All we need to do now is work diligently and quickly in order to preserve what is one of the great, iconic buildings of Richmond.”