Simon Farley (Head of Fundraising and Development, St George’s Bristol), Suzanne Rolt (CEO, St George’s Bristol), Helen Wheatley and Nick Balaam (both representing Heritage Lottery Fund), and Sallie Blanks (Client Representative, Building a Sound Future)

Making a grand entrance with National Lottery at St George’s Bristol

NATIONAL Lottery funders inspected major works at St George’s Bristol this week (15 August) including the removal and repair of the concert hall’s historic pennant steps.

Representatives from Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) met with members of the team from St George’s and Hancock Stone responsible for delivering the restoration elements of the project.

The work is part of a wider initiative to transform St George’s into a world-class creative space for music and ideas, due to relaunch in February 2018. The ‘Building a Sound Future’ project, valued at £6.3million, includes a new extension, with multi-purpose spaces, a café bar and improved access.

Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, the HLF’s £775,000 grant is also supporting heritage interpretation, and activities, retelling stories of the many lives of the Great George Street building – from an 1823 ‘Waterloo Church’ to World War 2 air raid shelter and finally as a music venue attracting some of the world’s leading musicians.

Work on the steps is due for completion in time for St George’s autumn season, which opens at the end of September with a concert by the Brodsky Quartet.

The St George’s project, undertaken by Hancock Stone, includes:

  • The removal of 140 large stones, weighing between 100kgs and more than half a tonne;
  • Digging out the decayed mortar bed below the stones;
  • Pouring lime concrete by hand to form the shape of the steps;
  • Refixing the stones to tip forward slightly to prevent future water damage.

And without this work the steps would have eventually collapsed.

Money for this and other projects supported by Heritage Lottery Fund is generated thanks to the players of the National Lottery.

Nerys Watts, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we’re delighted to support this project which will ensure the physical heritage of this Grade II building and its decades of cultural heritage remain an integral part of St George’s exciting future. It’s fantastic to see first-hand the hard work being put into this project and we look forward to seeing the benefits it will have for Bristol’s culture and communities.”

St George’s Chief Executive Suzanne Rolt said: “After almost 200 years of constant use, our pennant steps were in need of repair and restoration.

“We are extremely grateful for the support of the National Lottery, which is helping us to create a beautiful grand entrance as well as sharing fascinating, and unexpected, stories of St George’s and the people involved in its history.”

Glenn Hancock, Managing Director of Hancock Stone, explained the scope of the work involved: “The steps were in a very poor state. They were uneven and tipping backwards, meaning a lot of water ingress onto the old mortar beds below. The mortar had turned to a soft soil in most places, which would have continued to deteriorate if left, and would have eventually caused the steps to collapse.“

He added: “Moving each individual step was a task in itself with some weighing in excess of half a tonne. Once the steps were removed, we dug out all of the loose soil and poured a lime concrete, all by hand, to form the shape of the steps. The stones were then refixed to a straight line and slightly tipped forward in order to shed any water.”

St George’s Bristol programmes world-class classical, folk, jazz and world music, as well as family, heritage and spoken word events, and is used by touring groups, local orchestras and choirs, and corporate and private venue hire clients.

For further details, including ways to support St George’s Bristol, please go to stgeorgesbristol.co.uk or call 0117 929 4929.

The St George’s Steps Factfile

A total of 140 stones make up the 23 steps from Great George Street to St George’s;

Stones weigh between 100 kg and more than 500 kg – the equivalent weight of an Arabian horse or the heart of a blue whale;

The steps are made of pennant stone, probably quarried in Fishponds, Crews Hole or Easton

In 1823, the year work on St George’s was completed, an 11-year old Franz Liszt was personally congratulated by Ludwig van Beethoven; Robert Peel abolished the death penalty for more than 100 offences; the medical journal The Lancet was founded; work began on the British Museum, designed by Sir Robert Smirke who was also the architect for St George’s;

The steps from Great George Street lead to St George’s but the entrance into the Main Hall has always been from Charlotte Street at the rear of the building;

From February 2018, visitors to the café bar, auditorium, and heritage interpretation space will be able to enter via the new foyer in the pavilion-style extension.