King’s College unveils refurbished Gatehouse

King’s is delighted that the Gatehouse (incorporating the Porters’ Lodge and Visitor Department) has now been refurbished, and has been enjoyed for the full Lent term.

King’s Porters’ Lodge is unique in Cambridge, in that it serves both the local and University community, as well as welcoming a steady flow of tourists throughout the year. The path from the Backs to the centre of town makes it a highly useful thoroughfare. However, being built in 1873, in 2017 the lodge was not geared for 21st century operations.  Poor heating, water ingress into office spaces and an awkward layout meant that the working space and service suffered – especially inconvenient for an office staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Space on the ‘other’ side of the gatehouse was also poorly laid out for the recently established Visitor Department; it too was deserving of a refurbishment.

The project to refurbish the Lodge was given Listed Building Consent in 2016 and was implemented in July 2017 under the project management of the new College Clerk of the Works, Shane Alexander.   Shane`s background in construction project management meant that the College could serve as the main contractor, reducing costs and bring much of the expertise in-house. Philip Isaac, Domus Bursar, said of the project, “using in-house resources under the management of our Clerk of Works not only delivered savings against the project, but also ensured greater control of programming and closer attention to detail and quality”. The College Maintenance team (comprising plumbers, carpenters, electricians, painters and decorators) executed an excellent job, completing the majority of the work themselves – and often working late into the night and even early hours to ensure minimal disruption and a timely project completion.

Security has also been a consideration in this project – there has been a sustained programme of controlled external gate access and this was built into the gatehouse scheme, aligning with a long-overdue technological update for the Lodge, as the records and post management system are digitised. The advent of online shopping has greatly increased the volume of parcels received, sorted and delivered around King’s – one of the wonders of the modern age which periodically adjusts the Porters’ role further from their original purpose.

Indeed, back in the late 19th century, the Porters’ Lodge simply housed the College Barber and Gardener – and the services provided by the Porters were more similar to those of Victorian manservant. But the demands on Porters have changed dramatically, especially over the last few decades. These former ‘gatekeepers’ now have wide-ranging responsibilities which include caring for the welfare of the community, having undertaken recent training regarding mental health and how to best help individuals who are in a crisis. Often Porters are the first ‘port of call’ for visitors, and the Lodge is a warm, safe haven which is staffed around the clock.

The project took four months in total, from July to November 2017, a demanding timetable. It involved repairing the stonework on the exterior, as well as significant internal restructuring on both sides of the arch and the addition of another doorway to the Lodge and front desk to encourage ‘in and out’ movement. The stone for the repair work came from Stamford quarry, and cutting the new door entrance proved a large and nerve-wracking job – the lintel had to be placed in such a way as to not disturb the arch, and the wall had to be propped from basement level in order to slide the lintel in.   The College Conservator was able to blend the old and new stone patina, challenging anyone to recognise the old from the new entrance!

There were unanticipated issues which might have delayed completion and again through hard work from the team and prioritisation of tasks, the problems were overcome. The post room had to be completely gutted, and when the floorboards were lifted it revealed many rusted pipes and a leftover ‘soak away’ system which risked dampening the fabric of the building.  There were significant time pressures to complete the post room before the return of students to the Michaelmas Term, with Shane Alexander remarking, “the College maintenance team did a fantastic job working alongside the few external contractors, brought in for their specialist aspect of the project. The whole team had uncovered many unknown issues and dealt with them in professional way, keeping to the tight programme allowing other trades to attend and complete their given task. One of the many problems which caused a certain amount of frustration was the new entrance, having to cut a new entrance into an existing building is hard work at the best of times, doing this in a Grade 1 listed building with minimal head room clearly caused a few headaches.”

Above the post room, the Visitor Services department was refurbished and a staff room added in order to provide a restroom and training facility. This department was created in February 2016, and having being located in disparate offices around the Colleges, they are now co-located, improving communications and enhancing cohesion. Visitor Services brought together the Chapel clerks and custodians under the umbrella of Visitor Guides, which allows them to better cover the grounds – making our visitors welcome while signposting those who are disorientated in College.

During that time, the inhabitants of the Porters Lodge were removed to other temporary office spaces around the College – most notably, the ‘Porter-kabin’, which lived on the cobbles whilst the works were in progress. Operating space was very tight, and often areas in the cabin had to be used for lots of different functions throughout the day (and night). The Head Porter Neil Seabridge, said, “after a short time spent adjusting the layout to best cope with the number of visitors, the Porters adapted to their surroundings and maintained an excellent level of service. The close confines meant that the porters got to know each other that bit better!”

The new Gatehouse was unveiled and officially opened by the Provost on 11th November 2017, and has been a great success and a credit to the skills of the in-house Maintenance Team.

The College has an exciting yet challenging programme of infrastructure change, in order to bring various buildings to modern standards and introduce some new developments.  This includes a refurbishment of the front of College to compliment the gatehouse.  There are also plans to introduce additional graduate student rooms, new family accommodation and a complete refurbishment of the Chetwynd Court, to include an underground 200 seater auditorium – watch this space!

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Videos: A short walk through the new double doors of the Porters’ Lodge and The Gatehouse Clock being wound

The architect drawings for the Gatehouse renovations were drawn up by Mark Wilkinson of Donald Insall Associates, and the cabinet makers were Cubitt Theobold Ltd.

College history: http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/about/history.html

Non Resident Members may visit the College as per their NRM privileges, gaining access by their NRM identity cards. If you have misplaced your card and wish to gain another, please contact the Development Office either by telephone +44(0)1223 331313 or by email: in advance of your visit.

29 March 2018