Architectural Conservation at Kent: A Conservation Officer’s Perspective

The MSc in Architectural Conservation of the University of Kent provides training for planning officers and many of our graduates currently hold conservation officer roles in London and Southeast England. Tracey Clarke combines her current studies in our programme with her role as Heritage Officer at Dover Distric Council. In the following text, Tracey shares some highlights of her Conservation studies at Kent, alongside some stunning photos of historic buildings she has visited and surveyed in our programme:

‘Historic buildings and ancient ruins have intrigued me since my childhood, so it was no surprise I followed this path in my career. I work as a Heritage Officer for Dover District Council and determine Listed Building Consent applications and act as consultee for Planning Applications. The MSc in Architectural Conservation at the University of Kent has perfectly complimented my job (and vice-versa) and I have studied this on a part-time basis.

The MSc covers an interesting range of topics with site visits consolidating the learning. Visits to Canterbury Cathedral to walk through the roof structure, Fort Burgoyne, St George’s Church in Ramsgate and Chatham Historic Dockyards were particularly enjoyable, especially with the opportunity to enter normally inaccessible areas. Even when that included a rather hairy ascent up St George’s belltower and lighthouse on a slightly windy day!

I have focused on some fascinating buildings for my assessments whilst learning about conservation principles, philosophies and legislation or structural analysis, repairs and interventions. These have included a wide range of case studies, from 12th-century churches and a 14th-century Great Hall to 17 Fleet Street, and early 17th-century building that survived the Great Fire of London. I believe the MSc has provided me with the knowledge and ability to read buildings more effectively and understand the processes of preservation, repair and change. All of which help me make more informed decisions as a Heritage Officer.’

Ramsgate, Church of St. George, view of tower















Ramsgate, Church of St. George, Interior of Bell Tower
Dover, Fort Burgoyne
Wingham, Parish Church of St. Mary
London, No. 17, Fleet Street

Infusing new life to Medieval Buildings: Charing Palace

Judit Heli’s work on the Spring Term module ‘Intervention at Historic Buildings’ involves the preparation of a new Conservation Plan aimed at revitalizing the Great Hall of Charing Palace. This major Scheduled Monument is currently owned by Spitalfields Trust. Earlier this year, the Trust invited the students of the MSc in Architectural Conservation to study the building and use it as a case study. As Judit notes, ‘the hall’s evolution from a palace hall to a barn and, later, to an oasthouse, makes this a particularly inspiring backdrop. I was particularly interested in the industrial oast-conversion, which lay the foundation for my intervention concept.’

As the project’s name ‘(h)all-round’ suggests, the proposal ‘aims to establish an adaptable space for diverse uses, providing public access to the Hall while integrating a manufacturing area to maintain continuity with the building’s past. While introducing modern architectural elements to foster organic growth, ensuring coherence between old and new components, the approach emphasizes minimal interventions to the existing historic fabric. 

Rather than prescribing a specific function, the proposal offers a flexible occupancy scheme to accommodate various business models. This approach facilitates diversified occupation, enabling the adaptation of multiple sustainable business plans to ensure the building’s long-term usability and viability. Furthermore, the proposal includes recommendations based on case studies as part of the documentation, contributing to the preservation and economic sustainability of the building.’

Charing Palace, Retracing the Phases of Construction, J. Heli, 2024
Charing Palace, plan of proposed intervention, J. Heli 2024
Charing Palace, Proposed Intervention, Sections and Elevations, J. Heli, 2024


MSc in Architectural Conservation: a Student’s Perspective

Emily Darragh (MSc in Architectural Conservation 2023) writes vividly about her studies in Conservation at Kent.

‘As a student with no architectural background approaching the Architectural Conservation MSc was daunting. However, I had an appreciation for historic buildings through my BA in History and my volunteering with the National Trust’s conservators which both led me to look into the MSc in Architectural Conservation at Kent, as I was interested in developing skills in this area.

The lecturers were extremely supportive of those of us who did not have as much, or any, experience with architecture as a discipline. They encouraged us to join first year architecture students in their lecturers on CAD and Sketch Up to help us develop our skills to the same stage as more experienced students, on top of giving direction in our own seminars. We were encouraged to present the progression of our work each week which would be commented on by a lecturer, while viewing our peers work demonstrated potential methods of working.

We went on several fieldtrips, where we were able to learn firsthand how the ideas we were learning about were put into practice and were able to talk to those currently working on conservation projects such as that at St Andrews chapel and Canterbury Cathedral. These fieldtrips also made us aware of opportunities to gain our own experience and learn from others who work in the conservation of historic  buildings. For example through the Society for the Protection of Ancient Building’s Old House Project. Lecturers also encouraged us to attend volunteer events where we can learn more about building conservation. This support has helped me develop my skills in the field of conservation, gain hands on experience and meet experienced heritage and architectural professionals.’

MSc in Architectural Conservation Students and Jonathan Garlick (SPAB) explaining the recent developments in the repair of St. Andrew’s Chapel, SPAB’s ‘Old House Project’.

Exploring the Historic Dockyard in Chatham

While working on a live project of adaptive reuse, our students draw inspiration from major conservation projects around Kent. On 19 February, we visited the Historic Dockyard in Chatham, to explore some of the most stunning Georgian and Victorian buildings in the UK. Guided by Stephen Billington (Chatham Dockyard), our students observed the repairs to the stunning 1833 covered slip, one of the largest timber structures in Europe. They also had a guided tour of the 1801 Smithery, currently refurbished to house and display collections of the National Maritime Museum of Greenwich. One of the day’s highlights was the visit to the elegant interior of the Commissioner’s house, a fine example of early Georgian residential architecture. The day closed with a workshop inside the refurbished Joiner’s Shop, a Scheduled Monument featuring a hybrid timber and metal structure. This gave the students the opportunity to fully experience a reused fabric, not only through the lens of a conservation architect, but also from the point of view of the user.

Exploring the 1833 Covered Slip with Stephen Billington
Chatham Dockyard – No. 1 Smithery (1801) refurbished to display the collections of the National Maritime Museum
Stephen Billington (Chatham Dockyard) and the team in front of the Commissioner’s House

MSc in Architectural Conservation students begin work on Charing Palace and St. Andrew’s Chapel at Maidstone

Fieldtrips and work on live projects are a key aspect of the MSc in Architectural Conservation. Last week, our students started work on two facinating medieval monuments: the Archbishop’s Palace at Charing and St. Andrew’s Chapel, Boxley Abbey. The Charing Palace project marks our first collaboration with the Spitalfields Trust. During the next three months the students will carry out a detailed survey of the ‘Great Hall’ of the palace, and draft a plan for its future use and conservation. At the same time, we were very pleased to continue our collaboration with the prestigious Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). Visiting the medieval St. Andrew’s chapel, the students were guided into the recent repairs and the conservation challenges of this fascinating site. We discussed the discrete consolidation of the building, the sourcing of local building materials (including the clay used in the roof tiles and the lime mortar – calcinated and slaked on site), and the building’s sustainable new extension.

Six of our students with Architectural Historian Heloise Palin in front of the Great Hall of Charing Palace, with the tower of the church of St. Peter and Paul in the background.
Jonathan Garlick (SPAB) explaining the recent developents in the repair of St. Andrew’s Chapel, and sharing exciting insights into the use of local natural materials.
Jonathan Garlick (SPAB) and four of our students in front of the ‘Hospitium’ (?) of Boxley Abbey, near St. Andrew’s Chapel.
The team observing the South Elevation of St. Andrew’s Chapel, and amalgam of different phases of construction from the 15th to the 19th century.

Exploring the architectural heritage of Kent through field trips and workshops

The students studying on the Conservation in Action module have wonderful opportunities to visit unique sites that demonstrate the work being undertaken in the area of East Kent for buildings and sites which are designated heritage at risk. They hear firsthand from charities, private clients and diocesan regeneration officers and a local reverend on the journey they are taking to secure a viable and sustainable future for their projects. This term we visited former Fort Burgoyne a Scheduled Monument site in Dover, the church of St George in Ramsgate (Grade I listed), Chatham House (part of the Historic England High Street Heritage Action Zone listed Grade II*), St John the Divine Church in Chatham by Smirke (listed Grade I). Knowledge and experience gained from these visits will now be taken forward for the rest of the term as we explore the legislative, ethical and administrative framework for the heritage sector and they select a case study for their assignment.  It has been an amazing start to the term! Prepared by Fiona Raley, Lecturer in Architectural Design and Communication at the University of Kent.

Fiona Raley, 11/2023

The students of the MSc in Architectural Conservation of the University of Kent, visiting the interior of St. George’s in Ramsgate, 2023.

Conservation students begin work on the Conservation Plan for St. Andrew’s Chapel, near Boxley Abbey in Maidstone

The students of the module ‘Intervention at Historic Sites’ (ARCH8430) visited the ‘Old House Project’ of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. Currently being refurbished by the Society, St. Andrew’s Chapel has a varied and rich history: probably built in the 15th century, the original chapel was transformed to a house after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The ‘Chapel’ is currently a patchwork of different phases of construction, including a 1900s timber-frame extension that transformed the house to a Post Office, prior to its abandonment in the second half of the 20th century. This site provides a unique opportunity to engage with a wide range of architectural forms and methods of construction.  Our students are currently preparing a Conservation Plan that will help to infuse new life into the building. Their work started with a guided site visit to the chapel and its vicinity, which included the medieval ‘Hospitium’ of Boxley Abbey. Despite the cold January weather, the students were fascinated by the site’s incredible Medieval and Early Modern buildings and the opportunity to meet the expert technicians of the SPAB currently working on their preservation.

Jonnathan Garlick (SPAB), left, showing the repairs of the SPAB on the east wall of the former chapel to the students of the MSc in Architectural Conservation

Visiting the Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Willesborough with Nicholas Lee Evans

Our module ‘Intervention at Historic Sites’ gives our students the opportunity to learn from recent projects of adaptive reuse, which aim to breathe new life into seminal historic buildings. Examining intervention projects elsewhere plays a key role in developing the knowledge and methods required to tackle the challenges of this module. On 14 March, we visited the church of St. Mary the Virgin at Willesborough near Ashford to explore the recent work carried out by Lee Evans Partnership. Nicholas Lee Evans, managing partner and the architect of this project provided us with a detailed presentation of the recent intervention at the building, which included the installation of a new floor, and the creation of new indoor facilities that aim to breathe new life into the building, supporting its role as a centre for the local community.

Exploring the Vaults of Canterbury Cathedral

On 10 November 2021, the students of the MSc in Architectural Conservation of the University of Kent enjoyed an unusually close view of the vaults of Canterbury Cathedral, with the guidance of Purcell engineers as well as the managers and conservation specialists of the Canterbury Journey project. The scaffolding and deck inside the nave provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe the late-Gothic lierne vaults and their rich sculptural ornamentation. Dating back to the late 14th century, and associated the work of Henry Yevele these wonderful ribbed vaults constitute a feat of engineering and one of the masterpieces of vaulted architecture.

The students of the MSc in Architectural Conservation (Kent) on the ‘vault deck’ inside the nave of Canterbury Cathedral, November 2021

Leaving the vault deck, we moved to the top of the western towers, which gave us the chance to examine the recent preservation of pinnacles and louvres in a part of the structure that is exposed to particularly harsh weather conditions. Closing with a panoramic view of Canterbury, this visit has been one of the highlights of our programme this year.

The students of the MSc in Architectural Conservation visiting the western towers of Canterbury Cathedral, November 2021