Welsh Slate proves just the topping for Queen’s Lace

Cwt-Y-Bugail roof slates feature on a £5 million new-build private house.

 Professional landscaper Claire Merriman commissioned an architect to design the latest project in her burgeoning property development portfolio.

When they proposed Welsh Slate for the roof of the new five-bedroom, five-bathroom private house in five acres of stunning countryside in Surrey, she was happy to acquiesce but wanted to compare the British product with its Chinese and Spanish equivalents.

So, samples of Welsh Slate’s 500mm x 250mm Cwt-Y-Bugail Celtic-grade roof slates were laid on a 3m2 panel while Chinese and Spanish slates were laid on a second.

“Then the choice was obvious,” said Claire. Some 14,000 or 500m2 of Welsh slates have now been used on her latest project – the house Queen’s Lace on the edge of a Conservation Area in the village of Shamley Green, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as an Area of Great Landscape Value.

Claire was familiar with the Welsh Slate name but had never used the manufacturer’s roof slates, or any of its architectural products such as cladding, flooring, paving, aggregate and interior surfaces such as worktops, before in any form. Now it is likely to feature inside as well as outside her future projects.

With hindsight, she would have liked to have used it for the worktops in the Queen’s Lace kitchens (the property also has a granny annexe) but she had chosen to complement the sandstone elevations of the house with a sandstone composite inside.

Queen’s Lace is almost half as big again as the 1950s five-bedroomed house it replaces. Her brief to winning Surrey architects Mitchell Evans, who were one of six architectural firms she approached, was for a modern take on the arts and crafts architecture typical of the area.

This is reflected in the Welsh Slate roof which has mostly been laid to a 47° pitch apart from the lowest four courses of slates which are at a shallower pitch, with the change in pitch eased by a band of lead. The Cwt-Y-Bugail slates feature not only on the main house but also the granny annexe and a three-car drive-through courtyard building.

Claire said: “The Chinese and Spanish slates look quite similar, especially on the internet, but once we saw all of them on the panels, then the choice was obvious. You just get more depth and character with the Welsh Slate. It doesn’t look as flat. It has a lovely softness about it. The Chinese and Spanish slates are somehow shinier.”

“Mitchell Evans said something like ‘Anything would look good with Welsh Slate on it’ and I think they are right. We just think it has a beautiful colour and quality to it. It is a wonderful brand, something real and authentic. You feel you have sold out if you go for anything other than Welsh Slate. I was also delighted it was cheaper than I was expecting.”

Sustainability also played a part in Claire ratifying Mitchell Evans’ specification of Welsh Slate.

“Everything we have done on the project has been with sustainability in mind,” she said. “We wanted to make it as environmentally friendly as possible, so we have always tried to source locally. We wanted to use the local sandstone for the façade, but stocks were running low, so we had to opt in the end for Blaxter [from Northumberland], which is very similar looking.”

The Welsh slates were installed double-nailed with aluminium nails on a cut timber roof with open eaves over a total of eight weeks for main contractor KM Grant by specialist roofing contractor MJM Roofing.

MJM’s managing director Malcolm Marshall said: “The roof had a change in pitch at the eaves which created a sprocket detail where the slates had to be broken with lead flashing. This created different angles for the first part of the valleys.

“The project was quite challenging as we had stone gables to contend with, not timber. We had to ensure they were perfectly flat before we installed our roofing battens and slates. As the roof was carried out in phases, much of the protruding roof elevations were constructed from steel which arrived at a later date to the main area of roof. This meant we could only cut one side of a valley to which there were many! We would normally work on a completed roof structure and work our way round completing elevations as we went.”

He added: “My team and I were impressed with the Welsh Slate. Not much grading was required. Due to the thickness and very rivened edges the slates do sit well. We have used Welsh Slate on several occasions, mainly on large, new-build houses around the South East, and have never had an issue with quality.”

Claire, a mother of three, was quick to mark her landscaping expertise on the plot. As soon as the first stage of planning approval was through, late in 2017, she planted some trees in an area which was slightly overlooked, and these are now 6-7m tall.

They complement the lake and natural springs that already existed on the land as well as a new wildlife lake and meadow that have been created and a small stream through the site that has been regenerated. It is all a far cry from the completely overgrown site that it was. Their plans for the site garnered 26 letters of support, with no objections.

“We had been concerned that at some point the site would be split up into individual elements and even though it’s on the edge of the village we were keen to see it retained as one property,” said Claire who is a proponent of integrated design, where all aspects of a build – the structure, landscaping and interior design – should be considered holistically from the start.

Queen’s Lace (the nickname for the cow parsley that was proliferating on the site before Claire and her husband Rob, who live locally, bought it) is now on the market for £5 million.