Wall-Tile replacement at Max Gate

Max Gate wall tie work (c) National Trust Martin Stephen

Thomas Hardy’s Dorchester home, Max Gate, is having a facelift. The original wall ties, put in by the writer more than 130 years ago, have rusted through and are now causing the brickwork to crack and are being replaced by the National Trust building team.  The work will be happening on selected days throughout the summer and early autumn, giving visitors the opportunity to see this vital conservation work in action.Although now best known as a writer, Thomas Hardy originally trained as an architect in Dorchester. On qualifying, he moved to London and worked for the architect Sir Arthur Blomfield. Amongst other things, his duties included supervising the nocturnal exhumation of bodies from St Pancras’ graveyard during the expansion of St Pancras Railway Station to prevent them from being taken by the body-snatchers or sold to bone-mills. The eerie ‘Hardy Tree’, surrounded by the dislocated gravestones, bears witness to this period in his life.

Later in life he embarked on a self-build project, enlisting his family of builders and stonemasons to help. Max Gate was the product of this enterprise, a red brick built villa complete with turrets. It was here that he penned ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and ‘Jude the Obscure’.

Max Gate exterior (c) National Trust Images, Andrew Butler

Hardy was part of the first wave of architects to use iron wall ties in the construction of cavity walls. The cavity serves to keep the two leaves of brickwork apart, preventing damp from passing from the outside to the inside of the wall. Early metal ties were typically cast or wrought iron either untreated or dipped in tar and sand before being put in the wall. The ties span the cavity to give the wall structural stability.

Neil Johnson, the Building Surveyor working on the project said ‘When built over 130 years ago the cavity wall construction of Max Gate was state of the art construction that is still the principle form of modern houses today. It is a privilege to be involved in such an important project to repair and conserve an early example of modern construction.’

Max Gate, and Hardy’s Cottage (his birthplace which is nearby at Higher Bockhampton), are open to visitors daily until 31 October, from 11am-5pm, and on Thursday to Sunday from 2 November, from 10am -4pm.

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