Construction firm Beard replaces historic columns as part of refurbishment of Grade I listed library

Quad 2

Oxford-based construction firm Beard is replacing 28 400-year-old columns as part of a major refurbishment of a Grade I listed building, within the grounds of one of the UK’s most important architectural sites.

The family-run firm, which specialises in the education sector, has been on site from July at St John’s College, Oxford, to work on the £10 million project to refurbish the 16th century Old Library and 17th century Laudian Library extension, located in the Canterbury Quadrangle.

The columns are a central part of the historic Quadrangle and had been beginning to fail structurally, ruling out a cosmetic repair. Once it was clear the columns would need to be removed, Wright and Wright architects and the Beard team set out to find the right replacements.

As a world-famous seat of learning and listed building it was essential to ensure the aesthetic of the new columns remained in keeping with the rest of the building, however the site where the original stone was quarried has long closed down. The stone for the original columns is Bletchingdon marble and was mined locally.

By working with expert stonemasonry firm, Szerelmey and Wright & Wright architects, a carboniferous limestone, Swaledale fossil, was identified as the ideal 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 carefully worked to shape.

The columns are particularly important as Canterbury Quadrangle is one of the few remaining examples in the UK of the high baroque architectural style, dating back to the early 17th century.

The project manager at St John’s, Jonathan Brock from Beard explained: “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.”

Beard, which has won a number of contracts from the University of Oxford in recent years, was trusted with this historically important building due to the quality of work and faultless delivery for phase one of the project, and its track record in the wider education sector.

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 refurbishment of the College’s existing Laudian Library and Old Library, with remodelling of an area known as the Paddy Room under the Old Library.