Brechin’s oldest town-house could soon be teaming with life following the completion of its restoration.
Merchants House, an A-listed building, had become a blot of the High Street having lain empty for 40 years.
Now, after just over a year of construction work, the building is ready for its first tenants in four decades.
The Merchant’s House, situated within the City’s Conservation Area, was identified as one of seven priority projects by the Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) with the Heritage Lottery Fund, Angus Council, The Prince’s Regeneration Trust and Historic Scotland, primarily due to its poor condition, location, high costs to restore and its historic significance.
Although the oldest part of the building dates back to 1575, and the rear wing dating to 1717, the roof beams date back a further 100 years.
Owner of the building Kit Martain, who has restored a number of historic buildings in the past said: “One of the interesting things about the project was that it did not look like there was great potential when you look at the front.
“Obviously it hadn’t been lived in for 40 years and, for that very reason, it has all the nice details still on it, because nobody has altered anything for such a long time.”
In the 1960s the building was in such a poor and deteriorating condition that invasive works by the local council was carried out.
This included the installation of a cement asbestos roof which is thought to have been key in saving the timber roof structure which is largely intact.
“The council was very important because a corrugated roof was put on in the 1960s and that probably saved the roof struts of the building,” he continued.
“The roof dates back to 1470, having been re-used when built in the Merchant’s House, and has now been carefully restored.”
Maria Perks of Prince’s Trust, Kit Martin and Doug Reid of James F. Stephen Architects and Sarah Kettles project manager of Brechin THI carried out an initial visit of the site in May 2010.
With the formation of a steering group, led by Sarah Kettles, first meeting in June 2010, work to get all the relevant planning applications and grants took place quickly.
A design team was established, led by Doug Reid of James F. Stephen architects in Glamis, with W. H. Brown acting as main contractor and work began in January 2011.
Also involved in much of the work was Pauline Megson of Prince’s Regeneration Trust, who saw the completion of the building.
“The idea was to make two houses and that works quite well because originally you had one Merchant’s House, then you had two shops and two separate flats above, but, because in the 19th century they put in a pen to divide the house in two it splits it quite nicely,” explained Kit.
Using traditional building methods, original features such as the extraordinary 15th century roof structure were repaired, elements such as the Nepus gable chimney, a distinct local feature, were reinstated whilst a traditional lime harl was applied to the exterior.
A small, single storey building, the old print works, was reconstructed to the rear and high quality bathroom and kitchens were fitted within both properties.
Traditional building methods were used throughout, and Georgian paint schemes adopted in keeping with the surviving interior architecture of the rear wings of the properties.
During the construction phase the contractor arranged for two apprentices to work alongside skilled crafts men on the project as part of the craft fellowship funded by Historic Scotland.
“The aim of the exercise was to save and restore any special and historic features such as the wonderful wooden shutters, exposed trusses dating from 1470, traditional architraves and original fireplaces,” added Kit.
“Whereas one might be lucky enough to find such historic features within grand country houses, churches, and indeed Brechin’s own cathedral, they are extremely rare in a more modest town house.
“The lovely thing about these properties is that once you move to the back of the building you feel like you have moved from the town to the countryside.
All that is left now is for new residents to move into both the two and three bedroomed houses.