Conservation and heritage bodies are not generally known for encouraging, or even allowing, dramatic exterior paint-jobs on listed buildings. However, in 2007, the owner of Kelburn Castle, the Earl of Glasgow, decided to commission four Brazilian street artists to paint a mural featuring a psychedelic series of interwoven cartoons on the 13th century old building.
The unusual painting was completed in a month at a cost of £20,000, initially on the understanding that it was temporary pending the replacement of the render within three years. Historic Scotland has since allowed the grafitti to stay following meetings with Lord Glasgow, and North Ayrshire Council supported the project.
Lord Glasgow says the grafitti will stay until the building’s current cement render is eventually replaced by a more traditional harling render. Harling is a rough wall finish of lime and aggregate traditionally used on Scottish castles where it proves effective at protecting the buildings from the wet climate and its pebbled finish means painting is unnecessary.
Cement render is stiff and susceptible to cracking under stress and, when applied to older property that is prone to expansion and contraction, can result in hairline cracks and other problems. In wet conditions, cement render can result in water penetration through small cracks, which cannot then diffuse. The water will eventually penetrate the softer stone beneath the render, causing damp and more damage.
The cement render at Kelburn was, in places, found to have adhered to the underlying stone to such an extent that the stone would be damaged as the render was removed. Painting the walls and turret was deemed the solution.
It is likely that listed building consent will be required when the cement render is removed in order to protect the character of the building.
The tenth Earl of Glasgow, Patrick Boyle, claims his family has been in residence at Kelburn Castle since 1200, making it perhaps the longest habitation of a castle in Scotland by a single family. Lord Glasgow is a Lib Dem peer in the House of Lords.
Kelburn’s grafitti mural has featured on ‘top 10’ lists along with Banksy and other street artists and thousands of visitors are attracted to the castle annually by its grafitti, as well as numerous events throughout the year.
If you’re buying a castle or a more modest older property, ask a Chartered Surveyor for a building survey, including advice on any rendered walls and cracking. Any existing or potential problems will be highlighted, to make sure your property is suitably protected for its age and building materials.