Protecting the UK’s built heritage and natural assets is a tough job, but highly rewarding. Meet Adrian Phillips MRICS, Surveyor of the Fabric at Historic Royal Palaces.


I spend my life in palaces, which is a joy. It’s a wonderful privilege to be in and around these buildings and, now that I’ve been here two decades, to see the impact of the work we’ve done.

Surveying six palaces

My office is a wood-panelled room on one side of the great gatehouse at Hampton Court, but I spend at least one or two days a week at other palaces. We divide the six palaces into two groups to manage them efficiently: Hampton Court, Kensington Palace State Apartments and Kew Palace, and, in the Tower group, the Tower of London, Banqueting House Whitehall and, recently added, Hillsborough Castle, the Royal residence in Northern Ireland.

My role is to lead the team in conserving and enhancing these historic places. Our work is underpinned by a thorough understanding of the buildings, their significance through our conservation plans and their condition and maintenance through our State of the Estate surveys. From these we construct our 10-year plans for each site, covering programmes of work for roofs, elevations, garden walls and railings.

I have a £4.5m annual maintenance budget – which will increase now we have Hillsborough – in addition to the reactive and routine maintenance budgets and major projects. I sit on the programme boards of the six palaces, which are all very different in construction and character.


Conserving the White Tower

One of our greatest achievements in recent years has been the three-year programme to clean and conserve the White Tower at the Tower of London, the largest conservation project ever undertaken by Historic Royal Palaces and for which we won the conservation category at the RICS Awards in 2012.

The Tower was certainly built to last, with massive stone walls up to four metres thick at the base, but suffered from weathering and atmospheric pollution, leaving deeply eroded mortar joints and stones. A huge amount of research and trials went into finding the best way to carry out conservation cleaning, repointing and repairing of the stonework and we’re very proud to have conserved the building for future generations.

I’ve always had a keen interest in historic buildings. After graduating as a building surveyor from the University of Reading, I worked in private practice for a few years, in all aspects of surveying, repairing and refurbishing historic houses, mainly in London. I joined Historic Royal Palaces in 1993 as assistant maintenance manager for Hampton Court, gained a diploma in building conservation in 1997, and became Surveyor of the Fabric in 2003.

Strength in numbers

Apart from helping to conserve some of the finest buildings in the country, I get to work with expert colleagues, consultants and craftspeople who are as passionate about them as I am. I manage 27 people divided into teams, including our surveying team of six building surveyors led by an architect, plus two young surveyors as interns. We also have a quantity surveyor and project support team headed by a senior quantity surveyor, and advisers in property and planning, fire, health, safety and environment and security.

One of our biggest challenges is managing change. The Tower of London is nearly 1,000 years old and Hampton Court will be 500 years old next year. When we refurbish our state apartments we meticulously research every detail to present them as accurately as possible, but also have to deal with how to sensitively incorporate modern infrastructure such as heating, lighting and wifi. Fortunately there are large voids under floors, within walls and in ceiling spaces in which we can conceal pipes and cables, and a lot gets hidden behind cornices.

Historic Royal Palaces is a charitable organisation – our funding comes from ticket sales, shops and cafes and events. I’m delighted to say our visitor numbers are growing year on year and so is the investment we make in the buildings.

This piece originally appeared in the Public issue of RICS Modus magazine.

Great British Buildings: Restoration of the Year

Channel 4 has announced the commission of an exciting new series, 'Great British Buildings: Restoration of the Year', from Chocolate Media.

The series features projects entered into the RICS Awards and the series will be made in collaboration with RICS, who will judge the projects.

Find out more

Comments (1)

  1. Just wondered why your surveying team is led by an architect, (apologies for the rhetoric)!

    Jim Castle FRICS

    James Castle James Castle, 3 April at 16:14PM

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