The exceptional quality restoration of 17th and 18th century farm buildings plus a new build element, together creating a classic car showroom and maintenance garage at Essendonbury Farm in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, won the project a shortlisting in two categories of the RICS East of England Awards.
Shortlisted in the Building Conservation and Commercial sections of the awards, the scheme provides a new home for classic Aston Martin restorers, engineers and upholsterers – Nicholas Mee & Co.
The scheme was designed by Brooks Murray Architects. Main contractors for the project were Ekins Builders, who were commended for their work.
The two acre site now hosts state-of-the-art workshops including an upholstery workshop, small office space, mechanic bays with hydraulic lifts, customer reception and showroom.
Gavin Murray, director of Brooks Murray Architects said: “This was a fascinating project and we were very pleased to be shortlisted. The main contractors also did a very good job and have a long working relationship with the estate.”
The farm sits just outside the Hertfordshire village of Essendon, north east of the Grade I listed Hatfield House and the Registered Parkland of Hatfield Park. The erstwhile Hertfordshire farmland and barns are owned by Gascoyne Cecil Estates.
Gavin Murray said: “At the beginning of 2017, the farm comprised a listed seventeenth century farmhouse, a listed eighteenth century three-bay oak barn, with projecting porch, and an early nineteenth century four-bay oak and elm barn and several incongruous, ugly and newly-added buildings.
“Technically in ‘agricultural use’, the barns were in varied stages of decay, since they had been for some time unused.
“Before beginning the design process, our team consulted the Hatfield House archives to better understand the history of the site. This provided a deeper understanding of the heritage value of the existing buildings, and guided the redesign.”
It informed decisions to remove several ugly, ad-hoc buildings that had emerged in recent years, thereby improving the setting of the listed farmhouse and barns. It also informed the decision to reinstate the prior double courtyard arrangement shown on the historic 1896 plans.
This courtyard was recreated through a new ‘traditional’ barn, setting the farmhouse once again at the head of the courtyard with long views towards Essendon village to the south. This new barn is a galvanised steel structure clad in handmade tiles and black painted weatherboarding complementing the historic barn buildings.
Level access and accessible facilities were an intrinsic part of the design.
The decayed timber frames of the existing listed barns were assessed by a timber specialist, before being carefully repaired using traditional joinery details to meet Historic England standards.
This included retaining original fixing elements such as nails and straps and repairing and repointing brickwork using a high quality lime mortar mix. Good quality materials were used throughout, including handmade bricks and tiles, timber windows and cast-iron rainwater goods.
Another element of the project involved the installation of security systems, including cameras, sensors and security gates by Bison Security. The company has received excellent feedback for providing protection from illegal occupation, theft and vandalism. A spokesperson for Bison Security commented:
“We pride ourselves in providing excellent service to Nicholas Mee and are particularly pleased when our efforts are recognised and rewarded. We feel we have successfully met our client’s brief, the systems are working effectively providing 24 hour security and minimising our client’s previous financial overheads.”
Longevity not only makes business sense for the Estate, who retain the buildings in perpetuity, but slowly enhances the quality of the local environment.
The historic use of the barns as open working environments has been returned through the careful selection of long-term tenants, Nicholas Mee & Co. Seeking a more permanent home than their West London workshop, they have invested in their new home and both parties aim for a long and happy tenancy.
Changing the use of the barns to workshops, rather than offices, enabled treatments to be more sympathetic – reducing the need to over insulate the walls, allowing barn doors to be left open, retaining an open floor plan arrangement and exposed timber structure.
A principal challenge, however, was finding creative ways to accommodate NM’s specific requirements; this included threading almost 1.2miles of new services through the building fabric to their state-of-the-art workbenches and cabinets, and designing the concrete slabs to accommodate the hydraulic car lifts adjacent to listed brick plinth walls without the need of undermining the foundations.
During the works, a historic threshing floor was discovered in the early nineteenth century barn. The floor was then surveyed and preserved beneath the new slab.
Speaking of other key challenges of the project, Gavin Murray said: “Because Nicholas Mee wanted to move within a fixed timescale, the project had to be completed very quickly within a 14 month timescale. At the same time it was also key to maintain a very high quality, without cutting any corners.”
The development has brought significant landscape benefits to the area whilst protecting local wildlife.
Essendonbury Farm has a strong concept based upon rigorous historic analysis and a thoughtful approach to reimagining listed barns in the twenty-first century. The project team repurposed these buildings to a high standard to suit Aston Martin specialists Nicholas Mee & Co challenging requirements. The result is a bespoke, but adaptable, development, which brings new people, and new purpose, to a beautiful corner of rural Hertfordshire.