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Newly restored Crown Tower primed for sixth century and beyond

The newly restored Crown Tower atop Aberdeen’s King’s College Chapel has been unveiled, with the completion of a unique restoration project undertaken over spring and summer.

The project, using original medieval building techniques, attracted historians, conservation groups from across the north of Scotland, and members of the local community, all keen to see how stonemasonry perfected five hundred years ago is today preserving a historic building for the enjoyment of future generations of students, local people and visitors from around the world.

The award-winning partnership of Acanthus Architects Douglas Forrest, Laing Traditional Masonry, and the Estates Team of the University of Aberdeen teamed up again to undertake this project, which was supported by a grant from the Aberdeen City Heritage Trust. The same partnership has previously won awards for the sensitive restoration of the distinctive Powis Gates in Old Aberdeen.

The work on the Crown Tower involved a team of specialist craftsmen using traditional 16th century techniques to repair the masonry on the north, south, and east elevations, removing the cement pointing and replacing with traditional lime mortar. 

Angus Donaldson, Director of Estates, said: "The Crown Tower is a spectacular piece of 16th century architecture which the University of Aberdeen is very proud of. We are delighted that this 'crowning glory' of the King's College Conservation Project, has seen the Crown Tower restored to its full beauty.

"From the stonemasons, conservationists, scaffolders, clerk of works, design team and project manager, everybody has had a passion for working on one of the nation's most historic buildings.

"Those fortunate enough to have been on the 'once in a lifetime' tour of the works, marvelled at the conservation being done and the workmanship of the original builders. Whilst carrying out the stone repairs we also discovered more about the techniques used by the original builders, which helps in our understanding of the building."

Speaking on behalf of Aberdeen City Heritage Trust, Project Officer Douglas Campbell said: "Trust support of repairs to the Crown Tower will help preserve this iconic and nationally important structure which is a high point in Aberdeen's architectural heritage. There are very few crown towers of this type in the UK and it is important to ensure that where they have survived, they are repaired and preserved."

The Crown Tower soaring over King's College Chapel symbolises the heart of the medieval University, the High Street, and the conservation area of Old Aberdeen. Today, five centuries on, the Chapel remains the focus of ceremony, music, and worship. An image of the Crown Tower by architect Sir Basil Spence was voted the third most 'treasured place' in Scotland in the national competition run last autumn by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

Work involved removing cement which had been used for pointing repairs between the stone joints, and replacing with traditional lime mortars. Lime was widely used as mortar until the end of the 19th century, being a natural, breathable substance which acts a cushion, absorbing moisture and protecting the stone. However, lime gradually fell out of use in favour of strong hard-setting cement-based mortar, which unfortunately is unsuitable for the traditionally-constructed buildings of Old Aberdeen. Cement used as pointing can cause damage to the surrounding sandstone, and can also crack, allowing water to penetrate the building through the walls.

The building has had an eventful life to date. In February 1663, a powerful gale toppled the crown that had by then adorned the tower for over a century, sending the supporting masonry crashing through the Chapel roof. A fundraising appeal, and a generous grant from the town council of New Aberdeen, succeeded in reconstructing the crown, and the inscription of the master mason George Thomson still stands on its west face.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Issued by the Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen. Tel: (01224) 272014.

Issued on: Monday 15th of September 2008

Ref: 251crowntowerrestoration
Contact: Shaunagh Kirby

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