Our new long term site lease enables us to make a start with some of those building projects designed to round off the Railway Centre, that have been planned for many years.
The first major project is to build a Conservation Grade store and Reference Library (the Charles Gordon Stuart Annex) attached to the existing Museum Building. This will hold the paperwork, photographs and other delicate items, cared for by the Great Western Trust, in archival conditions, and is therefore regarded as a high priority.
Planning Permission has been gained and £170,000 so far raised in donations towards its construction. Work started on the ground on Monday 26 November 2012 and we hope to achieve a weatherproof building by the end of 2013, using funds built up over many years. Grant aid is likely to be available from museum bodies for the fitting out stage but we will need to help by more fund raising too. The building will provide proper access to the Trust's material for amateur and professional researchers. Further donations to the Trust for both the building and the fitting out work will be very welcome.
If funding permits, we would wish to transfer the archive collection to the new building for student access by Summer 2014, coinciding with the 30th Anniversary of the Trust’s founding.
If you'd like to contribute to this exciting project, cheques sent to Didcot Railway Centre and made payable to ‘The Great Western Trust’ with ‘Library Fund Appeal’ on the back will be most gratefully received and appreciated.
Work on the foundations started towards the end of 2012, when the 'first sod' was cut on 27 November. One of the major challenges for any building project at Didcot Railway Centre is to manage the logistics of the delivery of bulk building materials, which must necessarily be transshipped into our rail wagons for the final part of their journey into the Centre. To this end suitable aggregate deliveries have been filling any spare incoming wagon capacity for some months, and more recently deliveries of bricks for the outer cladding of the walls have started to arrive - these having been purchased in advance of a considerable price increase!
Work over a particularly cold and frosty winter saw work on the foundations progress to the point where the main concrete pours to form the foundation slab were able to take place once the frosts could be guaranteed to stay away for a few nights.
As ever with foundations, a vast amount of effort goes into digging a hole and then refilling it, so that the finished result is outwardly disconcertingly similar to the starting point. However as all builders, and Biblical scholars, will be aware, you cannot skimp on foundations!
The main pours for the concrete foundation slab took place in the Spring of 2013, with the first full day of concreting being on 9 April and the last on 16 May. As we don't have direct road access, ready-mix is not an option and all concrete must be mixed in our batch mixer, which is probably now an historic item in its own right!
With the concrete foundations completed, all was ready to erect the steel frame. This was done, on schedule, using the 5-Ton Steam Crane on 22 May 2013.
Before handing the construction work over to contractors there was one final volunteer push to cut 8000 bricks in half in order to achieve the historical and pleasing effect of English Bond in the external brickwork. This compared to the Electricity Supply Building operation where we tackled about 1500. A major brick cutting session took place on Sunday 9 June. The activity was very simple and easy - just picking bricks from the brick packs, placing them in special boxes we had made, which take about 25 bricks, run along them with an angle grinder and then cut them individually by brick bolster and hammer. Repeat 7999 times!
With this done it was time to hand over to the bricklayers ...
The 'first lift' of scaffolding outside the building was put up on 8 July and by early August both the inner skin insulated block work and the outer skin brickwork had reached some three quarters of the way to the eaves. Many pallets and packs of bricks and blocks were craned to and fro to keep up a handy supply for our contract bricklayers. The bricklayers quickly got used to the relatively sticky nature of the lime mortar we had adopted for the work and people think that the results look terrific already. They are also getting used to our tea supply!
Timber rafters and a sub base for the clock tower were added between 12 and 16 September. Our carpenters also set up two dummy rafters at the London end so that the bricklayers can build up the gable end there too, this being the next stage before the final roofing.
By the end of October the masonry was virtually finished, including circular features in the gable ends. The first slates were taken off the existing Museum roof on 10 October ready for connection with the new building. After weeks of calm dry weather, that night saw a deluge and we seem to have had nothing but deluges and gales ever since!
The lead sheeting around the clock tower base was cut and fitted on 19 and 20 December allowing the roof itself to be completed on Tuesday 14 January 2014 with the external scaffolding removal completely by Sunday 26.
By Easter 2014 the ceiling was plastered and work well under way to complete the finishing of the interior walls and undertake the first fix of the electrics. Outside the building mainly needs to dry off after the 2013 and New Year deluges to take its timeless place but the sharp eyed will note that the one of the rainwater pipes and the doorways (that at the Oxford end will be bricked up once the concrete floor is complete) still need completion (and we still need to fit the clock tower of course!)
We had set ourselves the target of completing the Annex ready for use this summer so the pace of construction work continued unabated. Most work being focussed inside on the ceiling and wall finishes, much plasterboard having been unloaded, but we have also fitted three of the four rainwater downpipes, dug the trench for the cable ducts and planned the ordinary electrical and the H&V work.
By July work was well under way with the fitting out. The picture (bottom left) shows the conservation store, and the structure being erected is the rack to hold posters. On the far left is one of the metal frames on which posters can be mounted. The black handle can then be used to pull the frame out so the posters on it can be viewed.
There will be 33 of these frames in all (11 in each of the three bays). Each can hold four quad royal (40 in high x 50 in wide) framed posters - two each side. Alternatively they can hold eight double royal (40 in high x 25 in wide) framed posters - four each side.
The rest of the conservation store will contain shelving for storage of artefacts. This will be on wheels to allow the shelves to be close together, and moveable to gain access between them.
Through the opening on the left (which will be closed by a door) is the library area.
The fitting out of the building was sufficiently complete in the first week of August 2014 to allow the Great Western Trust to start moving some of the archive material into the store, but a good deal of fitting out work remains to be done.