• CLIENT : Herefordshire Council
  • LOCATION : Ledbury, Herefordshire
  • COST : £3.25 million

The Master’s House

Located in the market town of Ledbury, the Grade 2* listed Master’s House has a timber frame medieval building at its core, encased in later Georgian and Victorian additions. The building was carefully repaired and regenerated as a public building for Herefordshire Council, with facilities including a library and council customer services. The completed building is a public resource, a visitor attraction and a starting point for orientation and interpretation of medieval Ledbury.

“The building is proving to be such a success – it is so satisfying to see people’s reactions and to see that it has already started to provide such a source of culture and social help and at the same time is engendering such interest in the story of the Hospital and the Master’s House.”

Robert Waddington,  Chair of the Friends of the Master’s House


The Master’s House was formerly on English Heritage’s register of “Buildings at Risk”. It was in semi use as a doctors’ surgery until 2002, after which it faced an uncertain future and increasing dereliction. Local people campaigned to save the building, and the community was involved in every aspect of this project, from inception to completion. Since opening, the Master’s House has enthusiastically been adopted as a hub of social and cultural life in Ledbury.

From the outset, issues of access, experience and movement around the building have been in the foreground. The vision for the project was to integrate inclusive design into the historic fabric of the Master’s House, and to fluidly connect the building to its context. This required a balance between limiting alterations to the significant historic fabric of the building and finding physical and managed solutions to problems of access.


The Master’s House is one of the remaining fragments of the medieval St. Katherine’s hospital site. St. Katherine’s was founded in 1232 to provide for the spiritual and material well being of the poor, aged, sick, distressed, travellers and pilgrims. The precinct of the medieval hospital sits within the 18th century walled enclosure of the current day car park. The Master, as he was known, lived apart from the rest of the hospital, in his own house. The Master’s House at Ledbury, is one of very few examples in the country of such a purpose built accommodation and the only one with a single phase built timber frame structure.

The Master’s House has three phases of development: the first phase dated 1487; and subsequent phases in the 16th century, 18th century, and 19th century. The 18th century fabric contributes to the building’s composition as a whole. The later 19th century west wing, while less significant than the early phases of building, is very typical of its date, and is relatively complete.


The principle was adopted that the extraordinary medieval fabric was the most significant element of the building, which is a rare surviving example of a ‘Master’s House’ and a coherent example of a late medieval halled house. The roof structure was completely intact, hidden for over 200 years above the 18th century ceiling. 52 panels of medieval daub have survived forming the interior walls.

A difficult conservation issue was deciding how much value to attribute to later, post medieval fabric.  Due to severe structural problems, it was not an option to leave the building as found. Once making interventions, the conservation dilemma became one of prioritizing which parts of the fabric to repair and reveal.  Throughout, a balance was sought between retaining the story of the building development while still revealing its original fabric as one entity. Spatially, the opened up main hall, its cross passage and complete roof structure were seen as a major conservation gain to be achieved as a consequence of the repair of the building.


Earlier investigations confirmed and revealed the full extent and completeness of the medieval timber frame that forms the Central Hall, Solar and Service Wings, and a dendrochronological survey established that they had been constructed as a single build. Repairs to the timber frame were carried out using traditional carpentry techniques, with each repair and intervention designed to ensure maximum visual coherence.

The timber used in the repairs was selected to match the extraordinary large scale, (the scantling) of the timber frame. Semi seasoned (minimum 5 years) European Oak was used for the repairs, to ensure that size and section was available, and in order to avoid shakes and drying issues. Salvaged oak was used for small patch repairs, matching in grain and texture, and where new oak was used it was selected to match for grain, texture and growth. A decision was made to reconvert imported timber used for missing elements or repair, so as to leave saw marks that approximate to the distinctive swivel sawn conversion of the original material.


The Central Hall originally had an eighteenth century ceiling, which, when removed, revealed the medieval roof for the first time in 250 years. In order to stabilize this medieval roof structure, and accommodate new thermal performance requirements, a new “second over-roof” structure was formed using 350mm deep ‘I’ sections with Woodwool board to make 600 mm wide timber cassettes.  These cassette were filled with Hempcrete and hemp fibre as insultation, to form a simple independent protective ‘tent’ over the original roof, allowing the magnificent medieval roof structure to be exposed, and also to house roosting bats.

The thermal mass of the “over roof” helps stabilise both winter and summer temperatures of the large volume main hall and is moisture permeable to help ensure timbers are kept in conditions as stable as possible.

The ridge of this new roof follows the form of the original, and its increase in height was accommodated by the higher Service and Solar Wings ridge line. The new over-roof of the hall and the roofs to the Solar and Service Wings, (which were hipped in the 18th remodelling of the building), were covered with new hand made clay tiles swept in the valleys.


At the Master’s House, the aim was to create a building with a long life cycle, and low embodied energy, created by highly skilled craftspeople working with traditional materials. We were innovative in our use of natural, local materials and products wherever possible, compatible with the historic character of the building.

The objective at the Master’s House was to create a bespoke approach to energy conservation, by both conserving the building’s extant 500 year old fabric and employing passive energy systems and techniques embodied in the envelope of the building. The results have modified the environment in a sustainable way, resulting in a building fabric that positively affects heating and cooling in a natural cyclical way to reduces energy demands, while also maintaining the building’s capacity to “breathe”.


Generally, at The Master’s House, the repaired existing solid brick walls have new lime plaster internally, as originally constructed, and clay paint finishes.  Externally, the timber frame wall panels are made of “Hempcrete” combined with lime plaster, to improve the thermal performance of the building. Internally, the timber frame walls are either retained original, and reconstituted, wattle and daub panels (including reused 500 year old daub), or ‘Hempcrete’ and clay plaster panels.

The floors are ‘Limecrete’ with local Forest of Dean stone laid in random coursed lengths with an under floor heating system to create a stable thermal environment.

The building is generally naturally ventilated. A mechanical ventilation system operates within the Main Hall, Library and Panelled Room areas. A Heat Recovery Unit is used to pre-warm or cool the incoming air (depending on the season), thereby increasing energy efficiency.

52 wattle and daub panels in the main timber frame were repaired using recycled and new daub and locally sourced riven hazel whittles and oak staves. A team from Butler Hegarty Architects trained in wattle and daub repairs and proceeded to carry out the repairs on site.





Herefordshire Council


Ledbury, Herefordshire


£3.25 million


RIBA Awards West Midlands Region 2016

Building of the Year
Conservation Project of the Year
Regional Award

Civic Trust Awards 2016

National Winner

Civic Voice Awards 2016

Winner Restoration category

RICS Awards 2016

West Midlands Conservation Award

LABC Building Excellence Awards 2016

West of England Best Public Service Building

Wood Awards 2015

Highly Commended