How restorations by Seamans Building in Thurston, near Bury St Edmunds, have breathed new life into Suffolk’s historic landmarks
Resurrecting a Grade II-listed building from the ashes and renovating a landmark where time stood still are just two examples where Thurston-based Seamans Building has breathed new life into some of Suffolk’s most historic buildings.
The company, established in 1912, prides itself on being able to renovate and revamp heritage buildings damaged by fire or simply by the passing of time, restoring them to their former glory.
David Hart, Seamans’ special works manager, was one of the first on scene when Cupola House was ravaged by fire in June 2012.
Working alongside structural engineers and insurers, David helped co-ordinate the response of personnel, plant and equipment alongside the local authority and emergency services.
He said: “I got the call when the fire started and worked with emergency services and the town council to get the remains down and make the area and adjacent buildings safe.
“It took three or four weeks until the fire was completely out.
“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, it really helped seeing how the building was taken down and seeing how all the pieces fit together.”
Seamans was later tasked with restoring the Cupola House, carefully rebuilding the iconic, Grade II-listed building while taking care to retain its features and style.
Another project David said made a big impact on him was the restoration of the Tide Mill in Woodbridge, a Grade I-listed building.
“The Woodbridge Tide Mill is a favourite as before I worked on that project I had no idea of the workings and mechanics of how a tide mill works,” he said.
“While it had been clad with a modern façade, the actual oak framing and everything on the gearing inside was original.
“Once we got in there and saw that, we decided we’re going to try and keep most of it.
“We put new wooden teeth in the gearing for the hoists, and then had the team create a new water wheel.
“That has to stand out as something you realise you will never do again in your life – it really is a once in a lifetime experience being part of an exciting project like that.
“You also take pleasure from the simple things, like creating features and details that make the building feel like it is the original.
“It’s tangible – sometimes you will walk into these heritage buildings after a renovation, and you just feel as if it has always been like that.”
David said he has had his favourite projects over the years.
“There are too many to choose, but the clock tower at Rougham Hall was an incredible project to work on,” he said.
“Being there takes you back to the 1940s, when Germany dropped bombs directly on the site.
“The explosion had stopped the clock on the clock tower at the exact moment the bomb hit the ground – a moment in history frozen in time.
“When looking into the project, we discovered the mechanism that drives the clock is original, dating back to the 1920s.
“Our team got the scaffolding in place and removed six one-tonne bags of straw and debris caused by nesting rooks in the tower – revealing a timber deck and the original gearing of the clock.
“It was incredible to see the slice of history in person. It’s the sort of thing you think wow, no one gets to see that.”
David said some heritage renovations combined modern technology and building techniques to update the property, while bringing it into the 21st century.
“We worked on Thorington Hall in Stoke by Nayland, which is a National Trust property, where we did a refurb there,” he said.
“But the twist here was all the heating of the hot water was with solar panels.
“They set all this kit away from the hall and then ran all the services under the ground into the building.
“Here you have a Grade II* hall with the refurbishment reinstating everything inside meticulously, while also being energy efficient.”
Although the company has made a name for itself resurrecting some of Suffolk’s most historic and eye-catching buildings, David takes great joy in the smaller refurbishments that have an impact on people’s lives.
He said working to rebuild thatched properties destroyed in fires is hugely rewarding, putting back together someone’s dream home.
“It’s like a phoenix from the fire,” he said. “Day one you see this absolute trauma scene and then some months later you are shaking hands and handing back their home fully restored.
“It’s amazing how you can get these places back to where they were and it’s very rewarding when you see the look on the owner’s face.”
David added working on heritage projects really gives you an appreciation of the craftsmanship of years gone by.
“As someone who works in heritage properties, you always appreciate a well put together joint or a peg joint that is correct and true,” he said.
“To think these guys didn’t have the lasers or high-tech equipment we have now – it’s really impressive.
“It makes you wonder what future generations of builders will think when they see our work in years to come.
“I hope they feel that same sense of respect for the trade.”