Restoration of The Dogs Home

Rob Boden

Tony Richards posted a picture of the Dogs Home on Lakeland Cam ( in early November 2011. It showed the roof to be in very bad disrepair, with tiles off at the edges leaving the tops of the walls exposed in places to water getting in. Roger Wardale picked this up with a posting on the TarBoard website which alerted me to it. I felt strongly, along with other TarBoarders that something should be done about this situation, as the Dogs Home is one of the few incontrovertibly identifiable locations in the books. It would be terrible if we let such an iconic building fall into disrepair or ruin.

Therefore I took it upon myself to visit the Forestry Commission offices at Grizedale to discuss the matter. They were extremely interested, though the Estates people hadn't been aware of the literary connection before. However, they had no money to do any work on it. They do employ a building surveyor, and they said they would ask her to have a look at it. I would add that the possibility of them having to pull it down on the grounds of public safety was also raised: the exact words involved "taking a stick of dynamite up there".

I also wrote to Signals about what I had done and this was published in the January 2012 issue. I suggested that the TARS Board had to decide urgently whether to put some of its reserves into repairing the Dogs Home - initially just to secure the fabric by getting the tiles replaced - or perhaps to support a separate funding campaign. A survey would show what further work might be needed, and an idea of its cost, which would allow a further decision as to whether TARS could help pay for this, perhaps also seeking matched funding from grants.

I also relayed that the Forestry Commission also seem interested in an information board at Machell Coppice car park. Interestingly, the walkers route that goes from there past the Dogs Home is the purple route – the background colour of the Picts and Martyrs dustjacket!

Regrettably there was no response from the Board to my letter.

In the meantime I had met up with Mark Birchall, who was the Forestry Warden covering Machell Coppice and other areas too, for a site visit to the Dogs Home. Mark knew about the AR connections, and we had an interesting chat as we followed the purple route. We went anti-clockwise, which I haven't done before, instead using the rough track up from the gate near the two forestry houses. It's a lovely walk, and you suddenly come out on the Dogs Home - it's quite stunning!

Mark identified one major problem: the roofing timbers were rotten, leading to the tiles coming off. Indeed we found a piece of rafter with some tiles still attached on the ground at the back! Looking inside, the main central beam isn't even attached to the end gable. This could have been rot, but was actually indicative of a much bigger problem: that the end eastern gable was bowing outwards significantly and had pulled clear of the central beam leaving this unsupported at the end.

While we were looking round we also looked at the different type of stone used in the construction, with some rough stones, river boulders etc., but also some neatly finished block stonework. Some cement has been applied as well in places. Mark reckons the Forestry Commission may have already done some restoration work on the rear wall especially, probably using dressed stones brought over from the rubble of Grizedale Hall which was taken down in the late fifties. This would date any restoration work to the late 50's/early 60's.

However, the bad news was that in Mark's view the roof needed a complete replacement; and worse, that the walls need stabilising. He reckoned there wasn't much point doing a temporary roof repair, nor would it be easy to do as the rotten and broken timbers wouldn't hold any roof nails.

The good news though is that he offered to get the Forestry Commission building surveyor to assess the damage and estimate the costs of the works needed. He thought the Forestry Commission could help with such things as getting tools and equipment and materials up to the site, and even supply local timber for the rafters, battens etc.

And again he had a dire warning that the FC has a responsibility for public safety and it may be that the building would be declared unsafe and levelled. He was surprised that this hadn't happened in the sixties. I asked that it could be fenced off instead.

We did talk about bidding for grants for any works, and we agreed that working in partnership was a positive for this, as would be a package with an interpretative noticeboard at the car park explaining the Dogs Home and encouraging people to walk to it (he said the Forestry Commission has a workshop where a framework might be constructed).

Other ideas we touched on were rebuilding a charcoal burners wigwam - the FC have a map with all such features identified on it; and TARS or AR volunteers effectively taking over the route including doing some work on the path (it needs localised drainage) and generally just keeping an eye on it and the car park. The purple route could even become the Picts and Martyrs route, with a separate leaflet talking about AR, PM, the Dogs Home, coppicing, charcoal burning etc. I have to say I found all this really exciting! I even wondered about using the drystone wall to create a letterbox as in PM for children to post comments etc. All these are still possibilities but would need some funding. I have also noticed recently that the FC are promoting mountain bike tracks through the woods including part of the purple route.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, the trail went cold. The TARS Board did not offer any funding, and I worried that the dynamite might be used.

But in early 2014, out of the blue, Mark phoned me. He hadn't forgotten about it, and when a project that the FC had received funding for was abandoned, he asked that instead the £10,000 grant went to restore the Dogs Home. He found an additional amount of about £3k in FC budgets, and the restoration work was back on board. The work itself took place in February and March 2014. Some might criticise the glazing in the windows, but Mark and the FC wanted this building to last and so they were keen to make it weather proof.

And there we have it - and will have it for many years to come! I'd like to thank Mark Birchall for his persistence and imagination in coming up with the funding and preserving this most iconic of AR structures.

Rob Boden

This article is ©2016 by Rob Boden, and posted on All Things Ransome with permission.

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