Ship shape: extraordinary finds

Hyphen has a long track record delivering projects in conservation areas, from Rag&Bone in Westminster to Kate Spade in Glasgow.

Many of these historic buildings include features such as decorative cornicing and glazed tiles that give a nod to their past. However, when we redeveloped a handful of properties in the heart of Mayfair, we were surprised to discover what was considered to be a ship’s mast. Built between 1800 and 1850; the properties comprising 13, 14 and 15 Old Bond Street vary in levels, construction methods and configurations. Our challenge was connecting the three together so that we could provide a more pragmatic, practical space for letting to retail and office clients. Following a strip out, we discovered a large rounded section of timber in the upper floor of 13 Old Bond Street – spanning front to back under the floor. Fortunately, our engineers confirmed that, whatever its previous structural purpose, the beam had been superseded by steel in the proceeding years so it could remain in place for future generations to discover.

Although surprising at the time, this discovery is not unusual when considering the floors and the façade of Liberty London. Designed by the former president of RIBA, Edwin Thomas Hall, and his son, Edwin Stanley Hall; the Tudor House that formed what still stands as Liberty London was completed in 1924 to house the designer-led luxury department store conceived by Arthur Liberty. Legend has it that the timber used for the teak flooring in the retail areas and mock-Tudor façade came from two warships (the decommissioned HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan).

From Tudor times until the turn of the century, timber from decommissioned ships would have been broken down and sold off for uses ranging from furniture to firewood. In some instances, the curved components are known to have been used in the construction of roofs and crucks or decorative interior curved features. In fewer known instances, ship building yards, such as the one owned by Castle, would transform timber into straight members (better suited to construction). Castles’ ship building yard used to sit on the Baltic Wharf (now home to a curved riverside residential block by Stanton Williams and a Henry Moore statue) and they supplied timber all across the UK.

With this in mind, I wonder how many more properties house these unusual timber features – yet to be discovered?