Science and Heritage Programme

Deterioration and conservation of historic concrete structures: the National Museum of Flight military airfield at East Fortune

University of Edinbugh/ National Museums Scotland

Award holder - Professor Christopher Hall
Student - Isobel Griffin


East Fortune is regarded as the best preserved and most complete airfield in the UK dating from the early twentieth century. The project is to study in detail the processes of deterioration in cement-based materials on the site and contribute to the understanding of the conservation of historic concrete structures. The issues of harling, which will be addressed at East Fortune, are also relevant to many other buildings, for example, recent enquiries about CR Mackintosh's Hill House in Helensburgh from the National Trust for Scotland.


to describe and analyse the deterioration of the building fabric at the East Fortune Museum of Flight
to undertake scientific and engineering analysis of materials and construction  
to provide a sound technical basis for conservation practice in the future.


Of particular interest is the relation between the state of the buildings and the immediate micro-environment.


A combination of site analysis, laboratory and modelling work.


An understanding of the mechanisms of long-term deterioration in cement-based materials and structures to inform good conservation practice.


University of Edinburgh: Professor Christopher Hall and Dr Andrea Hamilton; National Museums Scotland: Dr Jim Tate


Isobel Griffin

Following a first degree in Natural Sciences and History of Art, Isobel Griffin obtained a post-graduate diploma and an MA in the Conservation of Wall Paintings from the Courtauld Institute of Art and went on to a career in preventive conservation, specialising particularly in environmental monitoring. She worked for the National Trust, National Museums Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland, where she was Head Conservator from 2004-6. Accredited as a Conservator in 2005, she now serves as an assessor for the PACR scheme (Professional Accreditation of Conservator-Restorers) administered by ICON. Motivated primarily by a deep enthusiasm for the topic, and seeing an opportunity to make at least a partial move into the fields of buildings conservation and conservation research, Isobel left the National Trust for Scotland in 2009 to take up a PhD relating to the deterioration and conservation of historic concrete. 

Isobel’s PhD relates to the buildings at the National Museum of Flight military airfield at East Fortune, about 20 miles east of Edinburgh. The reinforced concrete and cement-rendered buildings were erected hurriedly during the Second World War, primarily to serve as stores and workshops for the airfield. The site is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, incorporating several listed buildings, and the challenge is to conserve buildings which were only ever intended to be temporary.

Isobel’s research to date has involved field work and laboratory work. She has documented and investigated the various types of deterioration observed, including corrosion of the steel reinforcements within the reinforced concrete air raid shelter, leading to fracturing and spalling of the covering concrete; delamination of the cement render on the brick masonry buildings, particularly in the areas most exposed to moisture penetration; and blistering and flaking of the cement render. It would appear that many problems experienced by the buildings are due to their original design and to the use of poor-quality materials.

A smaller component of Isobel’s research is to assess the efficacy of repairs undertaken to date at the Museum of Flight, and to make prioritised recommendations for future conservation and restoration. There are many interesting ethical issues to consider, since the most effective methods of ensuring the long-term conservation of the buildings involve accepting changes to their original appearance.

Image: Isobel Griffin examines the render on one of the buildings at the National Museum of Flight. Image (c) University of Edinburgh and NMS


Concrete deterioration

Deteriorating cement-rendered building at the National Museum of Flight. Image (c) University of Edinburgh and NMS