Project: Commodores House
Client: Mr & Mrs J Terry
Architect: Peter Winter
Contractor: GJBanks (IW) Ltd
One of Cowes’ most famous residents of recent years was Uffa Fox, the renowned sailor and designer and builder of small craft. When he moved to Cowes in 1970, he required a waterside property with sufficient space to accommodate his boat-building activities. He chose The Commodores House. Sadly, nearly thirty years after Uffa died, the house was in a poor state of repair and our client needed to take urgent action to prevent the house from literally falling into the River Medina.
The foundations of the house had been built direct off the ancient foreshore and constant battering of the waves had shifted the rock boulders and clay beneath the foundations, so that it was suffering from severe subsidence. Our challenge was therefore to restore the integrity of the structure. Piled foundations were chosen because of the tidal levels precluding open excavations, but difficulties were encountered during driving operations and jack-down piles were eventually deployed, which utilised the weight of the house as a reaction to the force needed for driving. These piles supported the building loads via a reinforced concrete grillage and transfer slab.
Repairs were required at every level of the building and whilst the upper levels were strengthened with timber trusses and beams, the original timber beams of the ground floor workshop area were strengthened by utilising externally tensioned stainless steel rigging wires. These echoed the building’s maritime history and provided a repair which was effective, yet visually unobtrusive.
When I inherited the Commodore’s House from my mother, it was found to be unstable and in a dangerous condition. Occupying a fantastic position on Cowes waterfront, it would have been all too easy to rebuild it as yet another ugly block of flats. But I felt that I couldn’t do that to Cowes. Instead, we have preserved the character of Uffa Fox’s original conversion. We have made improvements too, transforming his boat shed into a party venue, and stabilising the roof terrace. Living here is a great pleasure, and we often reflect on the ingenuity of the engineer’s scheme and how successful it has been in restoring the integrity of the structure.”