Alexandra Park, Manchester

New and restored castings for Alexandra Park, Manchester

Hargreaves Foundry were involved in Manchester Council's project to reproduce 18 impressive cast iron urns and help restore an original drinking fountain. This was just part of a £5.5 million restoration of the Alexandra Park in south Manchester. This magnificent park was originally laid out in the mid 19th century to provide respite from the smoke and pollution of Victorian Manchester for local people, but had fallen on hard times in recent years.

Manchester Council employed restoration consultants who provided us with an accurate drawing based on early photographs for the urn and photographs plus samples of broken castings for the fountain. From this information we were able to make new patterns.

The pattern for the urn commenced with creating and actual size profile on plywood from the drawings. This showed the internal and external shapes of the urn and, therefore, the metal thickness. A wooden model for the core was made that reproduced precisely the internal size and shape of the urn. This is known as a 'slug'. Once the shape had been created in wood it was covered in resin to make a core box. The next step was to create some metal thickness. Strips of wood were added to the 'slug'. Each strip of wood, measured and fitted precisely, added what would become the metal width to the core. When the wooden original was completely covered this made up the pattern or external shape.

Outline from drawings Wooden 'slug'

Making resins Resin core box

Adding strips for metal thickness

So, the process then moved onto moulding. A mould was made using the pattern (with wooden strips added) and ramming sand around this. The sand has resin added that allows it to slowly set hard. When the pattern was lifted out of the sand it left a cavity representing the outside shape of the urn. Next a sand core was made by ramming sand into the core box (based on the model before the wooden strips were added for metal thickness). The sand core follows the internal shape of the casting and fits inside the mould. The difference in size was created by the wooden strips that were added, the gap that then remains between the internal and external shapes in the sand is where the metal flows, creating a finished urn.

Ramming up around the pattern Bottom half of mould

Ramming up the core box Finished core

Bottom half of mould with core in place, awaiting top half of mould (Note the gap between mould and core) Bottom half of mould with core in place, awaiting top half of mould (Note the gap between mould and core)

The surface of the mould is coated with a refractory paint to protect it when the iron is poured in at 1,400 c. The mould is then left to cool for about 24 hours after which it is broken out to reveal the casting. All the sand can then go to be recycled and re-used for new moulds, and the casting is ready for fettling. Fettling is a foundry process that involves shot blasting any sand residue left from the mould off the casting and grinding off any extraneous metal, joint lines etc. Any waste or excess iron is then recycled and re-used for future castings.

As part of the same project we also had to restore a Victorian drinking fountain, parts of which were badly damaged and other parts which had completely disappeared. This kind of restoration work provides a different kind of challenge from making castings from drawings, as with the urns. We worked in close partnership with the restoration consultants employed by Manchester Council. We needed to take photographs, measurements and damaged sections of the original, and then set about manufacturing the missing or damaged components. Fortunately for us there is an identical fountain at St Pancras Old Church in London which helped us enormously with the detective work.

The restoration work fell into two parts; components for which we had originals, albeit damaged or broken, and components for which we only had photographs and nothing else. Where there were originals we could use them as reference to make new patterns. Where the originals no longer existed, we had to study the photographs, take measurements from the fountains in Manchester and St Pancras, scale the images and have new 'originals' made. From the new originals we were then able to make patterns ready for casting.

The original drinking bowl from the base of the fountain still existed, although badly damaged. It had a base with a separate bowl fitted on top. We were able to take resins from the undamaged sections and then build up a complete pattern in wood and resin.

Damaged orinals

Damaged orinals

The clients were also able to provide us with a resin copy of the star decoration from the top of the fountain and a broken original of the Ionian scroll from the capital head. However, the cherub and its mounting piece, and the Neptune's heads around the top were entirely missing. There was absolutely nothing to go on other than photographs. So we had to create new originals before we could make patterns and cast them. Fortunately we have built up a network of talented craftsmen and artists over the years and were able to draw on their skills, and those of our own pattern makers, to help us.

Our pattern makers created resin impressions of the decorative star and scroll, from which completed resin patterns were then made. We provided a local woodcarver with photo details and dimensions for the cherub and the top half of its mount. Both were decorative pieces and were reproduced precisely in wood. Our pattern makers made the bottom half of the mounting, a sort of upside down jelly mould shape, in wood. A different artist made a copy of the Neptune's head in clay, after we had supplied photos, measurements and a profile to ensure it could be fitted properly. This same artist then made latex 'negatives' of all these components - the cherub, mountings and Neptune's head - from which wax originals were made. The wax originals had layers of slip (liquid clay) applied and were then fired. The wax was 'lost' in the firing process leaving a ceramic shell. The ceramic shell was packed in sand and molten iron poured in to provide a finished casting.

Original star and scroll and wood carved cherub Original star and scroll and wood carved cherub

Patterns for base of cherub carved in wood Patterns for base of cherub carved in wood

Latex mould and wax original Latex mould and wax original

So, as a result of the combined skills of artists, woodcarvers and pattern makers working in wood, resin, and clay we had usable patterns for all the component parts required to restore the drinking fountain to its former glory.

The next step was to make the moulds. This was done following normal foundry processes, you can find out more about these here.

Molten iron was then poured into the moulds to make castings of all the component parts required to restore the drinking fountain. When the molten iron had cooled the castings were broken out of the moulds and fettled.

Completed castings awaiting delivery Completed castings awaiting delivery

Manchester Council and the restoration consultants now had the task of completing the installation work. The urns were painted and installed in the park ready for planting. The drinking fountain was painted and re-assembled incorporating all the new cast components. The results speak for themselves.

Fully restored urns and drinking fountain Fully restored urns and drinking fountain

Detail of stars, scrolls, Neptune's head and the missing cherub restored to its ornate plinth Detail of stars, scrolls, Neptune's head and the missing cherub restored to its ornate plinth

Find out More In use in construction and art for centuries, modern Cast Iron can be a sustainable, cost effective, locally sourced product for structural and aesthetic applications. To talk about your project, contact Andy Knight, Foundry Manager at aknight@hargreavesfoundry.co.uk Tel: 01422 399111 Contact us via Linkedin or Twitter or speak to Andy on Twitter.