University Arms Hotel

The Challenge

A well-known local landmark in Cambridge, the University Arms has dominated a special corner of Parker’s Piece for more than a century. Respecting the tradition and heritage of this historic hotel, which first opened its doors in 1834, was the foremost consideration for such an iconic refurbishment project.

Reshaping the University Arms was a design collaboration between Martin Brudnizki, one of Europe’s leading commercial interior architects, and John Simpson Architects, whose equally impressive CV includes Buckingham and Kensington Palaces.

Project Details

After spending the first 130 years of its existence as a solid, Regency-style hotel, moving it gently in the modern era was never going to be easy (particularly when tendencies towards modernism in the 1960s gave it anachronistically challenging features).

Getting the right stone was, therefore, a key consideration. The original architects’ specification called for Bath stone, but supply issues and budget constraints meant that an alternative stone was sought. This led the architects to us.

Our local Clipsham limestone met all the stringent structural requirements for this prestigious project, offering a rich and varied tone with a greater depth of colour.

As our Medwells quarry has an exceptionally tall bed height, stone of a sufficient depth could be extracted to provide 1100mm long components for the load bearing carved decorative columns on the façade of the hotel. These four limestone columns are a commanding centrepiece, each 3.5m high x 800mm in diameter, built up in vertical segments and fabricated as tightly as possible. This resulted in fewer joints, giving a more pleasing architectural look. The porte cochère was then completed by installing structural arches, tied together by a poured concrete ring beam.

In total, we supplied 500 tonnes of beautiful Clipsham limestone to this project, in blocks of between 5 and 10 tonnes.

“One of our strengths is that we have a 900-year supply of Clipsham limestone to draw upon. We are proud to continually invest in the latest equipment and technology with which to extract and cut stone. On a refurbishment project we have the luxury of selecting the exact stone we require from our vast stock, for the item we are carving or dressing. This ensures quality is of the highest standard, the structural integrity of the stone is maintained, and importantly the stone will last a lifetime.”

Daniel Wilson, Director, Stamford Stone

The Difference

There’s no doubt that this is a stunningly successful transformation. The University Arms has been restored to its former Regency style glory. Gone are the hotel’s muted 1960s and 1970s extensions: in their place sits a beautiful neoclassical exterior, complete with creamy stone pillars and soaring copper-clad turrets.

Our Clipsham limestone was ideal for this type of fabrication. Because our Medwells quarry has a very tall bed height, the stone is of a sufficient depth to provide column lengths which reduced the number of segments required. When columns are cut in this fashion, the bed depth of the stone is crucial – it must be dressed and then installed in the same plane as it comes out of the ground. It’s this kind of expertise and knowledge that equips our team to contribute to projects of this scope and nature.

As with all ambitious projects, the restoration of the University Arms Hotel was a team effort. We have great working relationships with specialist stone contractor, Szerelmey and Meister Masonry, with whom we have collaborated on many projects.

So after a two-year, £80m refurbishment, the stunning University Arms Hotel opened its doors in August 2018 to rapturous reviews. We are thrilled to have been involved.

“The aim was to create something with timeless appeal; architecture that honours the traditions and creates an aura that is present in so much of the historic architecture in the city. Best use has been made of the existing architecture, retaining features that give the hotel its historic character. The new Porte Cochère, in particular, provides architectural ornament within the streetscape that contributes to the richness of the public realm whilst marking out the new entrance.”

John Simpson Architects