Archived News

    Rare Principio Pig Above Farm Oven

    13 April 2017

    Rare Principio Pig Above Farm Oven

    The unique mystery of an almost 300-year old ‘pig’ spotted in a farmhouse.

    Grade II Listed Steart Farm, Bucks Cross, Bideford, Devon, UK. The farm and land were most recently used for a caravan and camping site. The site will now be home to a new school.
    Cloam oven in farmhouse at Steart Farm. Note the lintel (supporting beam above oven alcove) is actually an ‘iron pig’.
    The ‘iron pig’ in situ as the cloam oven lintel (image rotated).
    An example of a 19th Century red-brick dressing by Mark Rolle on the farm estate. One-time High Sheriff of Devon and a prolific builder, Rolle was the largest landholder in Devon with over 55,0000 acres.
    Natterer’s bat. Image: Keith Cohen, RPS.
    Anguis-fragilis (slow worm). Jean-Claude Berens

    When is a pig not in a sty? RPS’ Historic Environment team from Oxford, UK had an exciting surprise when appointed to advise on the heritage of a Devon farmhouse unusually featuring a built-in Iron Pig!

    The Grade II Listed Steart Farm at Buck’s Cross, near Bideford, retains the traditional cob wall structure and the clay cloam oven inset into an end wall that is a characteristic feature of rural homes in the area, but the lintel of the cloam oven was less typical: it was an upside-down cast iron ingot stamped ‘PRINCIPIO * 1727’. This fitted with the finding of the Level 4 Recordi comprehensive historic analysis of the building that had dated the building to the late 17th/early 18th Centuryii, but was not the stone lintel that would be expected in this area.

    The United Kingdom of Great Britainiii was successfully engaged in several international wars during the first quarter of the 18th Century including the lengthy Great Northern War (1700-21) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14)iv . This was alongside a flurry of skirmishes between Scotland and England on British soil. By 1725 Britain had seen a neat run of victories and a couple of successful international treaties, and iron was in high demand for weapons manufacture.

    Charcoal was a key component in the production of iron at this timev before the 19th Century, but the level of forest cover in Britain by the 18th Century was at its lowest ever point thus farvi . The nation could and had imported iron from Sweden but relations were not always stable during this time, especially with the countries opposing each other during the 20-year long Great Northern War. To resolve the issue, in 1719 a group of British investors established what was to be the first of several furnaces in the American colonies producing iron for UK use (from 1723). Their Principio ironworksvii in Perryville, Maryland, USA is estimated to have produced around half of the 50,000 to ns of pig iron ingots shipped from Maryland to the UK between 1718 and 1755. The ingots earned the name ‘Iron Pigs’ as each batch resembled a litter of suckling piglets and the 1727 purchase price at the furnace was £10.00 per ton. The Principio furnace was later destroyed by British troops in what is known as the War of 1812.

    The answer as to how one precious ingot escaped the progress to London (a few consignments were shipped to Bristol and possibly Barnstable or Bideford) and then avoided manufacture into artillery – cannon barrels in particular – or other iron goods, is yet to be uncovered. Perhaps it was caught by the lull in British warfare at the end of the 1720s and was briefly a less valuable commodity, or found itself a guilty collateral damage in the industrial conflict between the Britain and US-based iron industries. Was it a valued object that proved a handy size and effective material for the oven lintel, or a concealed stowaway – hidden in plain but unremarkable sight? We don’t know, but it is an incredibly rare survivor of New World iron production – one of only very few stamped pigs discovered, and unique in its structural, and UK, location.vii.

    The Project:

    RPS was appointed in 2013 to provide cultural heritage and ecology advice for the proposed construction of the Route 39 Academy school within the former Steart Farm camping and caravanning site on land once forming a part of the late 19th Century Mark Rolle estate. A part of the land previously used as a caravan site is to house the school building which secured planning consent from the Secretary of State in February 2016 following a Public Local Inquiry at which RPS Technical Director Mick Rawlings presented evidence with regard to cultural heritage. Planning consent was dependent upon the satisfactory completion of an Historic Building Level 4 survey of Steart Farm which sits within the site. The ground-breaking ceremony took place on February 23rd 2017.

    The site sits within the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and adjoins/overlooks the Tintagel-Marsland-Clovelly Coast Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The site is enclosed by ancient woodland and incorporates with part of the Bucks Wood County Wildlife Site (CWS).

    Environmental surveys across the site identified 11 bat species during transect surveys, and five more species roosting in small numbers during emergence surveys. Species protection and alternative roost creation is to be carried out in an existing outbuilding to maintain the value of the site for roosting lesser horseshoe, Natterer’s and pipistrelle bats.

    A population of slow worms (protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act) were successfully relocated within the site from the main construction site under a species protection strategy designed and implemented by RPS.

    Completion of the slow worm relocation prior to the start of hibernation was fundamental to the project programme avoiding a six-month delay. Understanding how the slow worms were using habitats and targeting capture effort enabled successfully moving the whole population in autumn 2016. Prior to relocation new reptile habitat was created including hibernacula and log piles positioned in other nearby areas that are ideal habitats for the slow worm. A reptile barrier fence encloses the construction area and prevents reptiles entering the development site during construction.

    The site is one of several that were being considered for the school’s location and is ideally situated to foster the school’s focus on outdoor learning and environmental values with minimal impact and providing a safe space for lessons. The main school itself will be two storey, using natural materials for its external face and set low in the surrounding landscape, on land previously used for caravans. New native tree and shrub planting will provide additional woodland habitat to deliver an acceptable biodiversity balance and strengthen the buffer between the school and the site boundary. This also reinforced the visual screening from natural viewpoints. Natural England advised that the school would be unlikely to have a detrimental effect and the Secretary of State ruled that its impact on visual amenity would be reduced to a minimum by its simple design, use of natural materials, careful setting and the additional planting

    Steart Farm will be retained and incorporated within the school complex.


    End Notes:

    i An Historic Building Level 4 Recording survey requires a comprehensive historical and architectural analysis of a site or structure that researches and draws in a thorough range of evidence resources including visual record, mapping records, and building records. The results are presented with drawn, photographic and written accounts both contemporary and historic.

    ii The main rectangle of the building is original, with the south-west extension dating to the mid-18th Century.

    iii Established under an Act of Union in 1707, this comprised England and Scotland in the 18th Century. Wales was officially considered a part of England within the Act.

    iv See Wikipedia for a quick potted history of Britain’s 18th Century wars.

    v Coke started to be used in the process during the 19th Century – it has a higher crushing strength an helped facilitate the effective use of larger furnaces. Blast furnaces continued to use charcoal until the middle of the century.

    vi By the end of the 19th Century the total woodland area of England was less than 5%. Sustained impacts from agriculture, animal grazing, industry, and landscaping fashions had all contributed to a substantial level of deforestation across Europe and the 18th Century saw heavy timber requirements for naval use and industrial use depleting the volume still further. Forestry Commission figures give the latest value at 10% (2016) – the turnaround largely due to conscious revegetation effort.

    vii The Principio Iron Works offices are still standing. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States of America. Its reference number is 72000575.

    viii : Other early Iron Pigs have been dug up in the USA close to furnace sites.

    RPS Acoustics Returns to the North

    13 April 2017

    RPS Acoustics Returns to the North

    RPS Acoustics team is expanding and returning to the north in order to service major National Grid and other northern centric projects.

    To service these, and to re-establish RPS Acoustics in the north, Giles Hine has joined RPS from RSK as a Principal Consultant in Acoustics, working out of the Manchester Quay office.

    Giles has over 14 years of experience in acoustics including 5 years as a local authority Pollution Control Officer. Giles comments “I am delighted to be representing the RPS Acoustics team in the north and reintroducing Building Acoustics as a service within RPS’ multi-disciplinary offering”.

    Giles specialises in building acoustics, having been the acoustician on many new build and refurbishment projects within education, healthcare, multi-residential, distribution and commercial office sectors. Projects have included many built under the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM). He will assist the building services teams based in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle and any other offices where this specialist input is required. Giles’ experience in Environmental Acoustics covers assessment and monitoring from design to construction of linear infrastructure projects, energy, residential, commercial, mixed use projects and due diligence assessments at large industrial sites.

    In his spare time, Giles is a former rower with a morbid fear of rowing machines, a trivia nerd who has appeared on 15-1 and University Challenge and a long-suffering Norwich City supporter. His grandfather scored the goal that knocked Chelsea out of the FA cup quarter final in 1939, going on to play in the record attendance match at Old Trafford (where he found himself losing 5-0 to Wolves).

    RPS Sustainability Team Wins Top International Award

    23 March 2017

    RPS Sustainability Team Wins Top International Award

    Members of RPS’ sustainability (London and Oxford) team (left to right: Andrew Tasker (O), Rallou Nikolaou (L), Thomas Vazakas (L), Oliver Watts (L), Emily Ashton-Jelley (O))

    RPS’ London sustainability team was recently announced as the winner of the Offices In-Use category at the BREEAM Awards 2017. The award recognises the BREEAM assessment carried out by RPS at Kings Place, an office building in central London.

    The BREEAM Awards is an international event recognising exceptional sustainable places and project teams. Over 40 projects from around the world were shortlisted this year, each one representing an example of high sustainability performance.

    RPS has been working closely with Savills since 2014 to ensure high sustainability standards on new and operational commercial buildings managed by the company. The BREEAM In-Use assessment at Kings Place supported this program, by incorporating a targeted plan of incremental improvements within the property’s operations and activities.

    Kings Place achieved a BREEAM Rating of ‘Outstanding’ with a BREEAM In-Use International score of 95%. This is one of the highest scores ever recorded, on any BREEAM assessment, across the world.

    Kings Place is an iconic prime office building, in close proximity to the international transport hub King’s Cross St Pancras. Kings Place has a total of 31,000m2 of private open plan office space, across eight floors, arranged around a large glass central atrium. Moreover, the ground and lower floors incorporate two world class concert halls, arts, events and restaurant facilities. For more information about Kings Place and the BREEAM assessment please click on

    Ground Investigation Specialists of the Year? RPS has been shortlisted for the 2017 Ground Engineering Awards.

    13 March 2017

    Ground Investigation Specialists of the Year? RPS has been shortlisted for the 2017 Ground Engineering Awards.



    RPS is thrilled to announce that we have been shortlisted for two categories at the 2017 Ground Engineering Awards: Project with a Geotechnical Value of over £500k and Ground Investigation Specialist of the Year, both in recognition of our work on the HS2 Ground Investigation Framework.

    RPS was appointed in 2015 as one of nine companies on the prestigious framework, which at an estimated total value of £40 million, is the largest ground investigation ever undertaken in the UK. The packages of work RPS secured include the utilisation of a broad range of geotechnical and geo-environmental ground investigation techniques. Work began early 2016 and we completed 10 ground investigation work packages on site by December 2016 with a further two work packages due to complete by April 2017.

    Under the Framework, HS2 intend to commission approximately 90 ground investigation work packages of varying degrees of complexity over the Phase 1 route between London Euston and Birmingham Curzon Street.

    Mike Barker (Bristol) HS2 Project Manager: Technical Director said: “RPS are delighted to have been short-listed for this prestigious industry leading award that recognises our ongoing commitment to the provision of top quality ground investigation services in the UK”.

    A record number of companies entered the awards this year, which made even getting on the shortlist very competitive, as Ground Engineering Awards editor Claire Smith commented:

    "The entries to the GE Awards never cease to amaze me in terms of the innovation and challenges successfully overcome by the UK's geotechnical sector - and this year is no exception.

    The number and quality of entries this year means that just getting onto the shortlist is a real achievement in itself. “

    The winners will be announced on 5 July 2017 at a glamorous ceremony at the Hilton Park Lane, London, where over 800 industry specialists will come together to celebrate engineering excellence.

    RPS’ Multidisciplinary Team’s Work Secures Best in Britain Award

    10 March 2017

    RPS’ Multidisciplinary Team’s Work Secures Best in Britain Award

    Beach Cove Coastal Retreat, Ilfracombe

    Throughout the last year RPS has helped Darwin Escapes deliver a number of new, high-quality holiday parks all over England including the Hoseasons 2016 award-winning Beach Cove Coastal Retreat. Our landscape architectural, ecological, arboricultural and flood risk teams have supported a range of schemes through the planning process, construction stages and on to the park opening.

    The holiday parks span England, with sites in Ilfracombe (Devon), near Keswick (Lake District), Isle of Wight, Canterbury (Kent), just outside Lyme Regis and Poole (both Dorset) recently opening to the public. The Beach Coast Coastal Retreat overlooking Hele Bay in Ilfracombe was voted one of the best in Britain by Hoseasons – winning the travel company’s Small Park Award 2016 (see ) and has a stunning location set on a steep cliff above a sandy cove. The park comprises a range of fully equipped nautical timber-clad beach homes and stylish modern apartments near to the Exmoor National Park. Our landscape architects designed a planting scheme which complimented the sites coastal location, with our ecologists addressing the issue of Japanese Knotweed which was found on the site.

    Keswick Reach, Lake District.

    All parks are located within stunning and unique environments therefore requiring careful consideration and design to sit best with the surrounding environment and ecological diversity. The Isle of Wight, Poole and Lyme Regis sites are close to a number of specially protected environmental areas including heathland, mudflats and salt marshes (AONBs, SACs, SSSI and RAMSAR sites) and the Keswick Reach Park sits within the Lake District National Park - a considerable area of breathtaking greenspace, mountainous landscape and freshwater lakes.

    Our consultant teams developed bespoke designs for each park, creating a naturalistic setting to each location. This led to one site being planted with over 75,000 native trees and shrubs, and another being laid out with nearly three hectares of wildflower turf which was specifically grown for the project, that’s the same size as three football pitches!

    Beach Cove Coastal Retreat, Ilfracombe

     St. David’s Day Marks Start of Main UK Nesting Season

    01 March 2017

    St. David’s Day Marks Start of Main UK Nesting Season

    RPS ornithologists advise on watching out for nesting birds.

    Blackbird nest with chicks Blackbirds are abundant in most habitat types, and will build nests in bushes, scrub, trees and on man-made structures in urban, suburban and rural settings. The breeding season for Blackbirds tends to begin at the start of March, and they routinely have up to three breeding attempts per year.
    Image Credit:

    Bird nesting season is upon us. The days are getting longer, which means the bird breeding season will soon be in full swing! It is therefore a good time to remind everyone of the important considerations for projects that may affect habitats used by nesting birds.

    All wild birds, their nests and young are protected throughout England and Wales by the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). It is illegal to kill, injure or take any wild bird, or damage or destroy the nest or eggs of breeding birds. This legislation applies to all bird species – whether rare or vulnerable and listed on Schedule 1 of the 1981 Act such as Barn Owl, or common and sometimes disregarded such as Feral Pigeon.

    There are two key things to be aware of. Firstly, birds can nest just about anywhere! Different species have evolved and adapted to nest in virtually all habitats and situations. Some birds are predominantly scrub or ground-nesting, some prefer trees, while others have adapted to nest in or on buildings (such as Swallows and gulls, respectively). Some species nest in holes, others build open cups. The second thing to remember is that although the main bird breeding season is March to August, some birds (most typically pigeons and doves) will nest through the year.

    If nests (whether completed or in the process of being built) are found, any works in the vicinity with the potential to damage or destroy the nest, eggs or young birds, must stop until the birds have finished breeding. This includes disturbance that could potentially cause an adult bird to desert a nest resulting in death of chicks or egg failure.

    Nesting sites should only be inspected by experienced ornithologists. Breaking the law when it comes to nesting birds can lead to vehicles being compounded, hefty fines and even prison sentences. So please take appropriate precautions.

    Collared Dove nesting in a gutter Feral Pigeons always tend to nest in or on buildings and man-made structures, but Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves frequently do so too as well as in their more natural locations of trees and tall scrub.
    Image Credit: Chas Holt

    RPS’ ornithologists can advise on, and conduct, all aspects of bird work including nest-related clerk of works.

    RPS Successfully Supports Sensitive Development for A9 within the Cairngorm National Park

    22 February 2017

    RPS Successfully Supports Sensitive Development for A9 within the Cairngorm National Park

    Since September 2015, RPS has provided Environmental Clerk of Works (ECoW) services to Wills Bros/John Paul Joint Venture for the 7.5km Kincraig-Dalraddy A9 upgrade. The scheme passes through the Cairngorms National Park, Alvie SSSI and a tributary of the River Spey SAC, and has required the sensitive management of numerous protected habitats and species during the tight construction schedule.

    Ecological highlights of the development have included:

    Translocation of some 45 hairy wood ant nests in collaboration with the Cairngorm National Park Authority. Hairy wood ants, included on the Scottish Biodiversity List as a prior species for conservation and a key stone species of woodland ecosystems, are threatened through habitat loss. The successful translocation of these nests is a key conservation action for the species and was praised by the National Park Authority;

    Sensitive felling of mature Scot’s pine forestry containing red squirrels in consultation with SNH. Red squirrels are protected both under UK and European legislation. The sensitive removal of forestry ensured a negligible impact to the species and the area’s native population, whilst allowing construction of the development to continue on schedule;

    Installation and monitoring of otter fencing surrounding the development to protect this qualifying species of the adjacent River Spey SAC. RPS’ pragmatic advice ensured otters were suitably protected from the development whilst continuing to successfully use their existing territories. Monitoring gave confidence to SNH that the development continued to cause no Likely Significant Effect to this qualifying species of the nearby SAC;

    ECoW monitoring of compliance with all relevant environmental documents. RPS’s ECoW have received high praise resulting in a score of 9/10 (“exceptional”) for Environmental Protection under the Considerate Contractor Scheme.

    As the onsite ECoW is part of the wider Design Site Representative team it has been a great benefit to the scheme to have a full time environmental presence ensuring that stakeholders have confidence that regulations are being followed, the site achieved a very high score for “Protection to the Environment” in the Considerate Contractors audit which rates the site as “Excellent”.

    20th January ICE Webinar: Lunch-and-Learn 3-D Modelling

    16 January 2017

    20th January ICE Webinar: Lunch-and-Learn 3-D Modelling

    RPS’ Dr Grainne McQuaid to host ICE 3-D modelling Photogrammetry webinar with a focus on transport.

    Dr. McQuaid

    On 20th January 2017, Grainne McQuaid will host her own ICE Webinar on 3-D Modelling Using Noncontact Close Range Photogrammetry. You can register your interest by clicking on the 'book now' button from the link below and following the onscreen instructions.

    Methods developed at Ulster University can offer new ways of understanding road surfaces.

    Road surface texture is important at a range of scales. At a mega-scale potholes are a problem to road users and anyone involved in maintenance. Macro-scale relates to the roughness of a road and its ability to disperse water. This is particularly important at higher road speeds and is necessary to ensure safety in wet conditions.

    As a micro-scale, the surface texture of individual aggregate particles is essential to cut through films of water between the tyre blocks and the aggregate to ensure points of contact and reduce the risk of aqua-planning.

    This webinar considers how 3-D models based on non-contact Close Range Photogrammetry methods developed at Ulster University can offer new ways of better understanding these texture related properties. The method offers substantial scope for creating accurate cost effective 3-D models across a variety of texture scales right through to its use even for topographical surveys.