An Old Farm gets a new award

A project which required the special production of imperial-sized roof slates has been awarded the first Welsh Slate Living Heritage Award outside of the UK.

Almost 5,000 Penrhyn Heather Blue capital grade slates from Welsh Slate’s Penrhyn Quarry were produced to the original imperial size of 18” x 9” (and 120 slate and a halves), instead of the usual contemporary metric sizing, to match as closely as possible the original Welsh Slates on Old Farm, Strawberry Hill in Albany, Western Australia.

Old Farm was the home of Sir Richard Spencer, who served with Trafalgar hero Horatio Nelson. He was appointed the Government Resident of King George Sound (Albany) and emigrated there in 1833 with his family – and enough Welsh Slate to roof the main house, a barn and an outbuilding.

But after almost 180 years, the roof required replacing and funding by The National Trust of Australia and a grant from the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities enabled the work to go ahead under the expert hands of specialist sub-contractor Carter Roofing & Slating Pty Ltd.

The project has now been recognised by Welsh Slate with the presentation of the first Living Heritage Award by Michael Hallé, Welsh Slate’s commercial director. The award was received by Julian Donaldson, CEO of the National Trust of Australia (WA) which now conserves and interprets the property.

Old Farm is of exceptional national and state historical significance. It was the first farm in Western Australia, with some six acres being developed by the officers of the military settlement of King George Sound. Sir Richard himself pioneered farming methods suitable for the extreme environment.

Old Farm, Strawberry Hill is the oldest heritage-listed slate-roofed building in Western Australia. During the recent conservation works charred pine roof battens from a fire on Easter Sunday 1870 were lifted, conserved and then retained in the roof.

The Welsh Slates were tracked down by Eric Hancock, conservation project officer for the National Trust of Australia (WA), who was presented with samples for matching by Michael Hallé, Welsh Slate’s commercial director. The new ones, manufactured to the old sizing, took more than six weeks to be shipped to Freemantle.

Eric Hancock said: “During his visit to Western Australia, Michael was able to clearly identify the slate as originating from Penrhyn Quarry due to a pale green spot on the surface that only occurs in this quarry and the slate width of 9¼ inches in comparison to the then standard of 9 inches.

“Whilst not a large project, the age, significance and fragile nature of the building required some delicacy of planning and work. The builder, roof slating sub-contractor and engineer were all selected on the basis of heritage experience and previous successful conservation works.”

Michael Halle said: “For this historic project it was important to not only match the original source slate but also the size and the colour.”

A time-lapse video of the project is available to view.