Route to the job
I qualified in civil engineering at the Westminster Technical College and set up my own business in 1966. I had an office in Islington, and got involved in the repair and restoration of Georgian houses both there and in Spitalfields. My interest in conservation was also stimulated by working with a consultant which specialised in vibration and its effect through vehicles on large historic buildings like York and Worcester Cathedral.
It became apparent in those early days that there was a lot of conservation work to be done, and very few specialists about. So I took a two-year, part-time course on historical buildings with the Architectural Association, which gave me the chance to look at aspects of conservation beyond engineering.
Since that time, the firm has specialised in conservation work.
In 1980, I was asked to join the buildings committee of the Victorian Society, and later I was also lucky enough to work for the Crown Estates, working on its historic buildings. I continue to work on churches and cathedrals, and was appointed engineer of Lincoln Cathedral in 1988.
Now I have a staff of 16 people, most of whom joined the firm soon after graduating in their specialist fields. We have just completed work on the Albert Memorial - which was a 10-year, £14M project, and are now working on a £15M project converting one of the West India Dock warehouses.
We are also constructing a new tower for Bury St Edmunds Cathedral, which was built in the 1960s, but never had the planned tower added. Our practice is busy on 100 churches at any one time, and we also specialise in restoring old cast iron conservatories and greenhouses. It is extremely exciting, interesting and varied work.
You really do have to care about conservation, and you must be able to look at problems from first engineering principles. The work involves using engineering skills all the time, but not necessarily relying on complex calculations. My philosophy is that if a building has been standing for more than 100 years, then very little will need doing to it. I would suggest that anyone interested in this sort of work does a course similar to the one I took, which will provide the general background and a feel for the philosophy of conservation.