Meet the old buildings getting a sustainable face lift

England's old buildings have seen some sights.

Windsor Castle’s weathered William Conqueror, the Tudors, the Civil War, the Luftwaffe and hoards of tourists. When Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire, was built in the 1500s, Henry VIII was busy jousting, and when King’s College London was founded in the early 19th century, less than 10% of men in Britain could vote.

Things have changed certainly changed - not least the threat of climate change, and our oldest buildings have had to adapt.

They’re rising to the challenge though. Here are five of our favourites.

1. Gloucester Cathedral

Photo: Gary Ullah,  creative commons

Photo: Gary Ullah, creative commons

Building work on Gloucester cathedral started in 1089 - nearly 1000 years ago. It’s picked up some impressive titles down the years - it’s the final resting place of Edward II and the spot Henry III was crowned king. But surely it’s proudest moment is being the oldest building of it’s kind to get solar panels! 150 panels were installed in 2016. They will generate 27,500kW every year (enough electricity every year to make 250,000 cups of tea) and cut the cathedral’s energy bills by 25%.

The roof is 30m up, so the solar panels can’t be seen from the ground. To celebrate their installation they lit the cathedral tower a planet-saving shade of green.

2. Cragside

Photos: Rosser1954,  creative commons

Photos: Rosser1954, creative commons


Cragside, Northumberland, is a house of firsts. It’s the first domestic house to get incandescent lightbulbs, the first house to have a dishwasher, the first to have a washing machine. And in 1878 Cragside became the first house in the world to install a hydro turbine. The turbine was installed on the surrounding lakes and produced enough electricity to light the house’s cutting edge incandescent light bulbs.

Fast forward 140 years to 2014, and Cragside is hydro powered once again. The National Trust installed a 17m Archimedes screw that powers all 350 light bulbs in the house.

3. Windsor Castle

Home to the kings and queens of England, Windsor castle was built in 1070 by William the Conqueror. Among all the traditional pomp and ceremony that still goes on there, you might spot some very modern touches. The posh dinners and state rooms are lit by LEDs now, which use 86% less electricity than their old bulbs. On a nearby weir they’ve installed two hydroelectric turbines which power 40% of the castle on a normal day. When the river is flowing fast and demand is lower, they can power it completely.

They’ve also partnered with a computer refurbishment charity so that they don’t send their old tech straight to landfill. Instead, the charity refurbish and upgrade it and then pass it on. Local schools, charities and overseas organisations all benefit - but which is the lucky local kid learning to type on the Queen’s old computer?!

4. King’s College, London

King’s college built its first campus in 1831. These old, complicated buildings are really hard to heat and cool in an efficient and planet-friendly way. So in 2013 they installed a tracking system across 100 of their buildings (including those first ones). It helped them pinpoint heating, cooling and ventilation problems and then sort them out. And it really did help - during the first year it saved them 2500 tonnes of CO2 and almost £400,000.

5. Dyrham Park

Photo: Synwell,  creative commons

Photo: Synwell, creative commons

Heritage house Dyrham Park was built in the Tudor times, so the heating system was archaic to say the least. The tapestries and paintings were at real risk of mould and fading. Worse, the boilers they had were getting through 8000 litres of oil every fortnight, and only heated half the house!

So in 2016 the National Trust switched to biomass boilers. They heat the entire house using wood chip - a byproduct of local woodland management. It’s heaps warmer now, and that means the art can be conserved for many generations to come.

Bonus: The National Trust are pretty into biomass boilers, and have installed them at a few of their other sites. Perhaps most cheekily, they switched oil boilers to biomass at Upton Park - former home of Lord Bearsted whose father founded Shell.

This blog post is funded by our pals at Ben & Jerry’s