Not Mere Conservation

"Not mere conservation" was the title of the illustrated talk given to members of the Society on Thursday 23rd May by Mike Salt, who runs a family firm specialising in the renovation and repair of ancient and protected buildings and monuments. It is a firm based new Wem in Shropshire. What is important about it is that it tries to maintain ancient crafts, using old materials to achieve authenticity in the restoration of old buildings and structures. Mike's father bought his son his first concrete mixer at the age of eleven. Years later when the skills of the blacksmith were in decline, Mike Salt learned the trade of the blacksmith and ironmongery and set up his own forge. It is possible to see his work in such contrasting places as Powis Castle and a night club in Leicester Square, London. I mentioned in the May newsletter that his skills were sought after by English Heritage, the National Trust, the Avoncroft Museum and the Church Commissioners. His credentials are impeccable and we were privileged to have him talk to us.

I usually make notes on the occasions of such talks. In this case my notes are extensive but I always have a great anxiety about the spelling of place names. There were so many different projects that it is almost inconceivable that such a small firm, with an employment of ten (two teams of five) should be able to cope with so much. The ranged from the fire ravaged Town Hall in Wem to the White Tower at Hawkestone park and Liverpool House in Whitchurch. There were wonderful oddities too, like the restoration of an overshot waterwheel built around 1860 and used in Cornwall and, what was clearly Mike's pride and joy, his rare Wallis and Stevens 3 ton road roller and living van. We were told of the dangers of restoration work; of an attic in a building on Market Street, Shrewsbury, held together by pigeon droppings, of gable ends moving in the wind away from the main structure and of the nightmares of dry rot.

It was a wonderful talk which brought together that rare combination of a love of old buildings with the need to respect their integrity during restoration and of the ability to apply practical skills to that restoration. The Society was very fortunate to have Mike Salt come to talk to us and it was probably an anxious evening for him because I understand that this was the first occasion on which he had spoken publicly about his work. You would never have noticed.

Mike Tole
May 1996