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Glazed bricks repaired at Victorian School

The phrase “back to basics” has become synonymous with education reform in the new millennium, but on one recent schools contract undertaken by Plastic Surgeon, it was the restoration of Victorian era glazed brickwork which the client was seeking.

The project focussed on a 19th century building in the London Borough of Croydon known as The Robert Fitzroy Academy, where Plastic Surgeon was called in by main contractor, Geoffrey Osborne, one of the nationwide repair specialist’s regular clients.

Essentially the challenge was to make good a variety of historic damage done to the old hand made glazed bricks, which are seen throughout large parts of the property’s internal spaces, including the staircase and corridors.

The scale of the work was such, however, that the initial estimate by Plastic Surgeon’s regional Sales Manager, Richard Sugden, required a total of 88 days involvement for the firm’s highly trained Finishers.

Gary Commins, a Senior Finisher leading one of the two teams put on the site, recounts: “When I first went into the building in Croydon I was quite shocked at the extent of the damage the place had suffered.  Down the years it had been converted into a form of drop in day-centre, and is now being refurbished as a primary school to meet growing population demand in the area. But it is not just where holes had been drilled to fix notice-boards or fire extinguishers, there were places where new doorways had been cut through walls, or where whole bricks were missing from the arches over the original ones.”

Geoffrey Osborne’s own bricklayers had undertaken the basic structural repairs, and filling up of the larger holes using sand and cement with a plaster skim, but its management team realised that the restoration aspects to the task were beyond the skill-set of regular trades-people.

All too often main contractors task decorators or less well equipped repair companies with this type of work, but Geoffrey Osborne is aware of the investment Plastic Surgeon has made in developing techniques to deal with almost all building substrates; and the customer’s confidence proved to be well founded on the Croydon contract.

Dividing the glazed brickwork into two zones by their basic colour – browns in the circulation routes and a deep green in the former dining hall – the half dozen Finishers set about their task.

The method they employed involved utilising Plastic Surgeon’s specialist premium fillers to rebuild any missing bricks back up to slightly proud of their original profile, then smoothing them back.  The irregular nature of some of the bricks with imperfections from their firing, and the fact that the mortar joint or grout-line varied – in some places by as much as 10 mm in thickness – introduced further complications.

And while on the staircase and in the dining room the glazed brickwork ended at dado height, in the hallway it rose to ceiling level; multiplying the amount of repairs required.

Gary Commins continues saying: “Although Osborne’s people had started the repair process, we were still removing a lot of plastic plugs and the sort of timber inserts which would have served the same purpose in earlier times, and we were getting through half a dozen tins of filler a day for most of the job. I did wonder whether we would make the deadline, but with half a dozen of us there for most of a five week period, we actually finished two days early; and the architects as well as the client were very pleased with the results.

“We had to work around other subbies such as the people fitting suspended ceilings, and even the temporary lighting cables coming through some of the walls, while we also had to match the colours of the old bricks by eye. In the corridor, for instance, this meant mixing a chocolate brown colour for the bottom four courses, and then a lighter, tanny brown for the brickwork above. We managed to replicate the glazed appearance in the base coat of our specialist System 20 coating, and then protect it with a final layer of lacquer.”

Plastic Surgeon has over 100 Finishers out on the road around the UK, divided into regions, with the majority of them being trained in the repair and restoration of all types of brick, stone, stucco and other types of masonry or ceramic materials. The company can also offer a brick tinting service to deal with such problems as efflorescence, graffiti, or where the labour force has failed to ‘pick and mix’ from different palettes to avoid banding.

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