Beard replaces columns in St John’s quad

Swaledale fossil was identified as the best replacement for the original Bletchingdon marble that is no longer quarried

Beard has been on site since July 2021 at the University of Oxford on a £10m project to refurbish St John’s College’s 16th century Old Library and 17th century Laudian Library extension, in the Canterbury Quadrangle.

The columns had begun to fail structurally, ruling out a cosmetic repair. Once it was clear the columns would need to be removed, architect Wright & Wright and the Beard team set out to find the right replacements.

As a listed building the aesthetic of the new columns had to be in keeping with the rest of the building but the site where the original stone was quarried closed down long ago. The stone for the original columns was Bletchingdon marble and was mined locally.

By working with stonemasonry specialist Szerelmey, a carboniferous limestone, Swaledale fossil, was identified as the best replacement. As the stone is not commonly used in Oxford, approval from Oxford City Planning Department and Historic England had to be sought. After passing these approvals, the stone was quarried and worked to shape.

Beard project manager Jonathan Brock said: “It is a massive honour to be entrusted to work on a building of such huge historical and cultural significance. As the columns are vital for the structure, it was crucial we found the perfect stone.

“By working with the expert team at Szerelmey and the team at the college, we’ve found the ideal replacement that will ensure the aesthetic of the college remains, while ensuring it is structurally sound.

“The building has to be temporarily propped while the columns are removed and despite all the planning we’ve done it is still a nerve-wracking experience to replace the columns.”

Zoe Hancock, principal bursar of St John’s College, said: “A site of such national importance requires a high calibre of expertise and quality of work which Beard and the team have delivered. The replacement of the columns is a significant step in the refurbishment of this exceptionally historic building and to ensure it remains safe and sound for future generations.”

The final phase of work is expected to be finished by early 2023 and consists of refurbishing the Laudian Library and Old Library, with remodelling of an area known as the Paddy Room under the Old Library.

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