The Welsh Slate roofs of the Sheils Houses



Roofing slates by Welsh Slate used on a Co Antrim almshouses refurbishment.

Roofing slates by leading UK manufacturer Welsh Slate have helped a set of Victorian almshouses enjoy a new lease of life … and a shortlisting in some national awards.

Welsh Slate’s new Penrhyn Heather Blue slates feature on the front elevations of 31 almshouses in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, run by the Charles Sheils Charity, the largest almshouses charity in Ireland, and one of the largest in the UK.

On the front elevation, the 500mm x 300mm new Welsh slates, which are guaranteed for 100 years, are complemented by hand-cut green ornamental slates from Vermont, America, but on the rear elevations, the Welsh slates that had been on the roofs since the complex was built in 1868 and were still reusable more than 150 years later, were reused in diminishing courses.

They were specified by principal contractor Penrose Roofing to replicate as near as possible the original roof of the mostly horseshoe-shaped complex and were installed, without any form of temporary roof covering, over 18 months. Roof features included dormers, valleys, hips, different rafter lengths and different pitches.

The project won Penrose Roofing a shortlisting in the “Best use of a heritage roof” category in the Pitched Roofing Awards 2022.

Winning the shortlisting, marks the culmination of an extremely challenging, but ultimately satisfying, contract for Penrose Roofing, who completed it on time despite six weeks of Covid closures, and so under budget that the money saved was used to completely repaint the homes, a factor that had not been in the original contract.

Managing director Gordon Penrose MBE said: “There was no architect appointed so we dealt with Chris McConnell, a chartered building surveyor from McConnell Conservation. The original schedule called for reusing 50% of existing and 50% new. The decision was left to me to make the building aesthetically pleasing and in keeping with the original roof. The slates used on the rear elevation were circa 150 years old and were still as good as the day they were quarried.”

He added: “The contract was a challenging one, primarily due to the buildings being occupied during the reroofing programme. Due to the severe constrictions of the site, we decided to use our yard, which was a kilometre away, as a base for storing the majority of materials and also for the disposal of waste, which involved transporting to and from the site to our yard on a daily basis.

“Parking was also a problem for the residents, many of whom were of an older age and were receiving frequent calls from health professionals, some daily, so careful planning was necessary to avoid disruption. We were in daily contact with the warden, who lived in the clocktower unit, regarding the whole logistics of running the contract with the difficulty of being an occupied site.

“Scaffolding also presented a challenge. This was kept to a minimum by scaffolding only around 20% of the houses at a time, to enable more parking space for the residents. As soon as one area was reroofed, the scaffold was dismantled and moved up to the next area. This method continued until the end of the contract which lasted around 18 months.”

The Sheils Houses in Carrickfergus, one of Ireland’s oldest settlements, on the shores of Belfast Lough, were designed along with their sister houses at Killough, Co Down; Armagh, Co Armagh; Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and Stillorgan, Co Dublin, by the leading architect of the period, Sir Charles Lanyon. All of the almshouses in Northern Ireland are listed.

The Charles Sheils Charity is entirely self-governing under special legislation which set it up in the 19th Century.