Firbank, Withleigh, Devon, Tiverton, EX16 8JJ     01884 252768      39 East Avenue, Exeter, EX1 2DX    01392 952899

History of Lead roofing

January 10, 2017

The history of lead roofing

As Exeter roofers who specialise in leadwork, we are fascinated by the history of lead roofing - as well as leadwork in general. Historic leadwork can be found all across the UK, incorporated into parish churches, cathedrals, chapels and other ecclesiastical buildings. These buildings feature lead rainwater heads, downpipes, and large areas of plain lead sheet that cover church spires and flèches.

The history of lead stretches all the way back to the Roman Empire. The Romans used lead casting techniques to make water pipes in several lengths and diameters. To learn more about the importance and variety of lead’s uses throughout the city of Rome we recommend H M Colvin’s The History of the King’s Works. The Georgians also used leadwork in their churches, but they were much less experimental. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that decorative architectural leadwork made a comeback. A wonderful example of decorative leadwork is Exeter Cathedral. Exeter roofers and architects have worked hard to conserve this leadwork, the principle being to preserve as much of the historic material(s) as possible by only performing work that is essential to the building’s maintenance.

Unfortunately much of the UK’s historic leadwork has been lost through theft, poor maintenance and poor quality repair work. It is crucial that we preserve what is left of our historic leadwork, particularly medieval lead fronts that can be found in some UK parish churches. Fortunately, new state of the art technology is making it easier to protect leadwork. And in cities such as Exeter, roofers are experienced in leadwork, making lead maintenance and repairs more accessible. An effective technique used during historic repair work is the dying art of solder wiping. The method involves melting solder (tin and lead) in a crucible and then ladling the hot metal around the prepared joint, whilst using a moleskin cloth in the other hand to shape the hot solder.

Indeed, leadwork is not purely a thing of the past. At SS Roofing, we Exeter roofers perform leadwork on various church roofs, dormer windows, Domes, large Lead Gully's, lead gutters, Lead roofs, chimneys, flashings, bay windows as well as decorative pieces. Lead is a durable, malleable and versatile resource that can be used for a variety of architectural purposes, as well as roofing. Although leadwork is traditional, it is not outdated. In fact, lead is one of the most eco-friendly resources on the market because it is made from recycled lead.

If you would like to find out more about our lead services, please feel free to contact us.

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