Purcell creates Kresen Kernow archive and local studies centre, Cornwall

A new archive for Cornwall has been constructed within a derelict former brewery

Project Info

Client: Cornwall Council 
Architect: Purcell 
Heritage consultant: Purcell 
CDM principal designer: Purcell 
Project manager: Mace
Cost consultant: Mace 
Structural engineer: Arup 
Civil engineer: Arup 
M+E engineer: Arup 
Landscape architect: Arup 
BREEAM consultant: Arup 
Fire Engineer: Buro Happold 
Main contractor: Midas 
M+E subcontractor: Totus 
Timeline: Start September 2014, Onsite October 2016, Completed April 2019

Project Leads

Design phase
Neil Farquhar and Richard Woods

Construction phase
David Burne and Richard Woods 

Words by Sophie Tolhurst
Images by Phil Boorman


This landmark archive for Cornwall is aptly built on a site with plenty of history. Located in the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site, the assemblage of buildings of different ages previously made up the Redruth Brewery, founded in 1742. This legacy caught the eye of heritage specialist Purcell, which was selected for the project from a shortlist of five practices.

Granite slabs were saved from the old building and used to provide some of the flooringGranite slabs were saved from the old building and used to provide some of the flooring

Situated on the edge of the town of Redruth, the overall site of the brewery was huge, having gone through various ownerships and expansions since its founding. Cornwall Council acquired a quarter of it to develop the archive facility, and public realm works have included hard and soft landscaping and a new public art installation. For the rest of the site, the council hopes the work carried out will inspire further development by private investors, with further plans including housing, a hotel and a microbrewery.

Kresen Kernow (Cornish for ‘Cornish Centre’) brings together materials from three key sites – Cornwall Record Office, Cornish Studies Library, and Cornwall and Scilly Historic Environment Record – resulting in the largest collection of information, dating from 1150 to the present day, regarding the people, places, history and culture of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, as well as room for 30 years more of accrual.

Oak formed one of the main interior materialsOak formed one of the main interior materials

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Cornwall Council, the £18m project also provides educational resources, including two dedicated rooms for visiting groups; reading rooms, set up like a public library with tables and chairs, computers, and select books and information on display; and exhibition spaces, including one that is both prominent and permanent about the people and places of Cornwall, as well as a secondary area upstairs for temporary exhibits. To provide one cohesive location the stone brewery buildings were linked together, so where there was previously an open courtyard there is now an area with a glazed rooflight.

Through the arched window: as well as the archive facility, public realm works have included hard and soft landscapingThrough the arched window: as well as the archive facility, public realm works have included hard and soft landscaping

The site was in a poor condition following a series of arson attacks after the brewery’s closure in 2001. Purcell’s David Burne, senior architect and joint lead for the on-site stage of the project, explains that usually heritage buildings are well looked after, but this one, with all the roofs collapsed and only perimeter walls standing, was in such a state that even with temporary propping some parts of the site were unsafe to enter. In spite of these challenges, Purcell was keen to preserve the surviving elements of the building, which included reusing materials and reconstructing the brewery’s 30m-high tower.

Kresen Kernow has the largest collection of information regarding the people, places, history and culture of Cornwall and the Isles of ScillyKresen Kernow has the largest collection of information regarding the people, places, history and culture of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

The state of the unstable structure meant it was  a surprise to find a number of granite slabs in decent condition. After milling the undersides, the slabs were used as a key material for the interiors. There were enough to cover approximately two-thirds of the floor of the main brewhouse space – the slabs were re-laid in a regular pattern, arranged in clusters, and surrounded by contrasting oak floorboards from Juncker. The oak formed one of the main interior materials, being used as a perimeter detail to the granite and as boarding around the open atrium, as well as for the main staircase, acoustic slatting on the ceilings, and the balustrades throughout.

The archive is protected by added flood defensesThe archive is protected by added flood defenses

For the external facade damaged parts were rebuilt to the original design, with sandstone walls and granite window surrounds and lintels using locally sourced Killas sandstone and granite from Truro. Some new additions are clad in copper – one of the materials historically mined in the area. The copper sections include the projecting window bay of the first floor exhibition space, and a staff area, which in contrast to the heavy walls elsewhere was constructed in glass to bring in more light. A third area is a joining segment in the roofscape, which coincides with a supply route historically used in the brewing process; outside, the copper stands out among the slate roofing, while inside the route is marked by a flat strip among the opened pitched roofs.

For the new extensions Purcell decided to employ modern materials. In place of stonework, concrete was used to build the two-storey archive, which was clad outside in concrete panels, with an elegant profile of projecting ribs meant to signify documents stacked on archive shelves. The high thermal mass of concrete was well suited to creating the stable conditions of temperature and humidity necessary for preserving archival materials, as well as being fireproof, working well for the four-hour fire protection that was required to meet PD5454 conservation standards. Flood defences were also necessary, while other precautions against possible water damage were taken across the site as a whole, such as the diversion of historic waterways linked to mining.

There has been a good reception for the archive centre since it opened, and there is even a waiting list for volunteers to work there, while site tours proved very popular during construction. Well-appointed with facilities and located within a historic building with eyecatching copper additions, Kresen Kernow should provide positive proof of the potential for further public amenities in Redruth. 

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