Small metal studs are a common sight on the tops of walls surrounding many older British properties and public spaces. These often-unnoticed features are all that is left of the original gates and railings. In this blog, we’ll take a look at why these railings were removed, and what you need to do if you’re looking to replace them.
Why were the railings removed?
In the summer of 1941, the United States halted all exports of scrap metal to the UK. To meet the shortfall, the British government decided that all “unnecessary” metal railings and gates would be removed and melted down for use in munitions.
Following a massive campaign, railings were rapidly torn down from homes, churches, schools and all manner of other buildings. By June 1943, the government said that some 532,000 tons of railings and gates had been removed from millions of properties. Only those considered to be “outstanding examples of their period” were saved. Even the railings around St Paul’s Cathedral, which are amongst the earliest cast iron railings in the country, were only retained on appeal.
Sadly, whilst the publicity around this effort captured the imagination, historians now think that only a small percentage of this metalwork was ever used in the war effort. It has been suggested that much of it was instead dumped. In fact, dock workers in London claimed that so much was thrown into the Thames that at one-point pilots were needed to guide ships past all the sacrificed metal!
How to go about reinstating railings
A good starting point is to identify the age of your property. As we discussed in a recent blog, there are notable differences in the design of railings depending on whether they were originally installed in the Georgian, Victorian or Edwardian periods. HM Land Registry have created a helpful page with resources to help you find out your properties age.
In addition to the general trends of each period, many railings were manufactured by local foundries. As such, railings for properties in Cheltenham will be quite different from those made during the same period for homes in Edinburgh. A little detective work may therefore be required.
Start by looking for any surviving evidence of the original railings such as sockets in the plinths or fixing holes in the wall. By measuring these, it is possible to get a relatively clear idea of the thickness of the original spindles and the overall dimensions of the railings. Next, to get a clearer idea of the possible design, take a walk around the surrounding area and photograph any railings around properties that look to be of a similar period.
If you’re unable to find any examples, it is worth searching online for archive photography from your area. Many councils offer digital photo libraries and images may also be available on services such as Flickr. Other archive information may also be available online or in a local library such as example patterns from historic local foundries.
This research can take time, but it makes sense to try and keep the restoration as faithful as possible, particularly if planning permission and/or listed consent is required (always check this before you start any work!).
If you’re struggling, then our experienced team will be happy to help you to find a suitable match.
Making your choice
Once you know what design you require, its time to order the replacements. In our online cast iron store, we offer hundreds of railing components in a variety of historic designs. The products can be easily filtered by size and period, helping you to quickly narrow down the items to the ones you want, then simply add them to your basket and send us a quote request.
Alternatively, for larger properties, we can manufacture bespoke cast and wrought iron railings. Visit the railings section of the website, take a look at the options and then submit a quote request with all the details from your research. Our expert team will then draw up tailored plans and manufacture them using premium materials.
The railings will be delivered to you with clear instructions on fixing methods, allowing yourself or your chosen installer to easily fit them.