The Majestic, City Square, Leeds


The building was designed by Pascal J Steinlet of Newcastle upon Tyne and opened on the 5th June 1922. The super cinema seated 3000 people with it’s fan shaped auditorium. The external facades boast white faience by Burmantofts although it is reported that they rapidly became covered in soot. For 50 years it’s film reels ran the greatest pictures of the 20th century. As the swinging sixties, came to a close, so did the curtain on films and for the next 27 years from 1969 the Majestic was a Bingo Hall.

The Magestic

In 1996 the two fat ladies were asked to leave and bingo dumped for a disco. For the next two decades those who hit the dance floor in Leeds were drawn to the building for its raucous nights and bleary mornings. The night fever stopped in 2006. Since then it has stood as an empty shell for those pouring in and out of Leeds station to gaze at on their way home.

In 2012 a restoration programme was undertaken that introduced new windows along the ground floor elevations of Wellington Street and Quebec Street.

In 2014 the building suffered a severe fire that entirely destroyed the roof.


Glazed architectural terra-cotta is a ceramic masonry building material used as a decorative skin. It has been popular in the United States from the late 19th Century until the 1930’s and is still one of the most common building materials found in US urban environments. It is the glazed version of architectural terra-cotta; the material in both its glazed and unglazed versions is sturdy and relatively inexpensive and can be moulded into richly ornamented detail. Glazed terra-cotta played a significant role in architectural styles such as the Chicago School and Beaux-Arts architecture.

The material, also known in Great Britain as ‘Faience’ and sometimes referred to as ‘architectural ceramics’

In the early 1900’s terra-cotta and faience became a commonly used material as it offered a modular, varied and relatively inexpensive approach to wall and floor construction. It was particularly adaptable to vigorous and rich ornamental detailing.

Terra-cotta is an enriched moulded clay block. It is usually hollow cast with an open back with internal stiffeners called webbing. Webbing substantially strengthened the hollow blocks with minimal weight increase. The blocks were finished with a glaze, with a clay wash or an aqueous solution of metal salts, before firing.

Compared to stone, it was easier to handle, quickly set and lower cost. The cost of producing the blocks, when compared to stone, was a considerable saving, especially when casts were used in a modular fashion – that is, used repeatedly.


 The business began in 1859 when fire clay was discovered in a coal mine. By 1879, after a period of expansion, the firm made decorative bricks and tiles in orange or buff coloured architectural, glazed bricks, and glazed terra-cotta (faience)

In 1888 the company was renamed The Burmantofts Company but in 1889 merged with other Yorkshire companies to found The Leeds Fireclay Co. Ltd, the largest in the country. The firm closed in 1957, at which time it comprised 90 kilns on 16 acres of land.

These kilns were brick bottle kilns where the terra-cotta was fired. Temperature control in these kilns was not uniform and the degree of firing varied on the position of individual blocks within the kiln giving rise to the characteristic of numerous colour shades. This is noticeable on both terra-cotta and faience buildings built in the early 1900’s.

Faience cleaning.

During the 70’s and early 80’s many of our landmark buildings were cleaned to remove heavy soiling and improve their appearance more akin to their original. Unfortunately, at this point in time, there was limited knowledge about the effects of building cleaning on building fabrics. Very aggressive cleaning systems were employed without proper appreciation of potential damage and the operative skills and experience required to use the techniques available. Consequently, significant damage was caused to a vast number of buildings over this period. The faience on The Majestic has been cleaned by use of a high concentration hydrofluoric acid-based cleaning process.

Chemical cleaning formulations were often in excess of 20% concentration and quite crudely applied by use of a watering can. This is often evidenced by run marks ‘etching’ on the faience and on terracotta buildings, the lower levels being lighter than the higher levels due to over clean as the cleaning agent ran down the building and had far too long a dwell time before being rinsed off. Commonly known as ‘bleaching’

Two factors need precise control when cleaning faience and stonework. Firstly strength / concentration and secondly dwell time.

The result on this particular project is both etching of the glaze and run marks. An understanding of this is critical to the correct manufacture of replacement faience. Hence a need for a very close relationship between the specialist contractor and faience manufacturer. It is also essential that everyone involved within a conservation contract understands these issues as it influences many decisions that follow. Both colour and the level of glaze will be critical on the new faience.


An example of the damage tile in need of repair

Cleaning trials.

As recorded above the faience has been aggressively cleaned with hydroflouric acid in the 70’s causing etching and damage to the glaze.

In 2011/2012 the building underwent a further programme of restoration and re-modelling of the facades. The facades were cleaned with a hydrofluoric acid at less than 3% concentration and rinsed after a minimum dwell time. This was complimented by use of a neutral detergent that removed the film of soiling due to diesel particulates and avoided any further detrimental effect to the faience. A further sample panel of cleaning was carried out on the 2nd May 2018. The soiling predominantly being vehicular particulates or algae.

The surface was initially cleaned by use of a Thermatech Super heated water machine. This was followed by brush application of a 3% hydroflouric acid formulation left for a minimum dwell time and thoroughly rinsed using a high pressure water jet. This sample area has cleaned the faience as far as possible without the potential of any further damage.

Faience tile samples. 

Darwen Terra–cotta Ltd are the leading terra-cotta and faience manufacturer in the UK and the chosen supplier for the replacement faience on the project.

Three main considerations have taken place in the production of sample tiles.

  • Colour and level of glaze
  • Combing
  • Manganese speckling

As covered above the original faience has a variety of shades. Modern gas kilns that are used for the firing of the faience afford much greater control of temperature which restricts the colour variation. Three varying colours of faience have been produced that will be introduced into the replacement works at random. Thus to ensue that replacement areas be as unobtrusive as possible.

When the original clay blocks were being finished they were combed on the face by the craftsmen. The combing varies from block to block as it akin to handwriting and not intended to be precise or completely uniform. The sample tiles have reflected the variety of finish to be expected during the contract.

The original faience has a speckle in the body which has been reproduced in the sample tiles by the introduction of manganese.


An example of the differing colours of the tiles

Tactile survey 

A tactile survey was undertaken to inspect the external facades at close range by use of an aerial boom. A large section of the facades on Quebec Street & Wellington Street was inaccessible due to a retaining scaffold that has been in place since a fire caused considerable damage to the building in 2014. Pictures attached to our report show the damage immediately after the fire. Remarkably the listed facades were not damaged too severely, but displacement of the parapet was occasioned due to the loads imposed upon it by the fire.

These areas will be surveyed once the retaining scaffolding has been reconstructed to facilitate a working scaffold and afford safe access.

Scaffold survey

 The scaffold survey was concluded in March 2019 in conjunction with Darwen terra-cotta the purpose being two fold.

  • Identification of blocks not previously covered by the DLA tender drawings
  • Taking of dimensions templates etc to enable fabrication drawings to be produced by Darwen Terra-cotta. 


In – situ repairs

The facades have been subjected to hundreds of fixing holes, particularly at ground level.

During the previous phases of work in-situ repairs have been carried out on the faience where there were fractures or losses. Historically cementitious repairs were considered as an acceptable technique but were in incompatible with the faience and quite obtrusive. Some historic repairs remain evident.

During the 2011/2012 works, quite extensive in-situ repairs were carried out to losses and fractures and hundreds of former fixing holes. A two-pack colour matched epoxy repair mortar was used and this could be finished flush with face of the faience and comb lines introduced to match that of the surrounding faience. In the main these have proven successful and much less obtrusive. This we consider to be the best way of repairing defects in the faience. However, these type of repairs are cosmetic, and have a limited life expectancy of 5-10 years. Faience is a fired clay product with a surface glaze. The blocks are fired at a temperature in excess of 1000 degrees celsius. It is therefore a particularly difficult fabric to repair.

Colour matching is also problematical for reasons outlined above and in keeping with the replacement faience strategy 3-4 differing shades of repair putty will be used. It would be cost prohibitive and impractical to treat each repair as bespoke as the variance in colour is too wide ranging.

In – Situ repair sample

 Within the area cleaned, a sample of resin repair has been carried out. The repair putty has to be left slightly proud of the faience to avoid marking and damage to the glaze of the surrounding faience. The combing can be cut into the repair during the curing period. The preparation for the repair entails removal of all loose and defective material.

Some of the original repairs need replacement as they have failed. This entails approximately 10% of those carried out.

Because the original faience is a fired and glazed material and the repair putty having totally different characteristics. They will weather differently and this can be seen in some of the original repairs. Whilst they are still sound they are more obtrusive due to the weathering differential. The textured surface of the epoxy putty is much more susceptible to weathering than the glazed faience.

Consideration should be given as to whether or not some or in deed all of the repairs are renewed on aesthetic grounds and to re-establish their life expectancy. It is crucial that it is understood that these are cosmetic repairs.

Re-pointing sample

The original faience, as covered earlier, was fired in brick bottle kilns and due to the temperature variations shows colour variation. The inconsistent temperatures also lead to differentials in shrinkage and twisting of the blocks. It can quite obviously be seen that the joints are of ranging widths and many of the blocks are warped.

It should also be noted that the original material has been affected by varying degrees of shrinkage and twist. Joints vary in size and the faces can be bowed or twisted.

The defective joints have to be carefully cut back to a minimum depth of 15mm, throughly cleaned out, prewet and re-pointed in a 3:1 NHL mortar using Nosterfield sand.

The cleaned sample area has then been re-pointed as above and the joints tamped with a stiff bristle brush after initial set.

Ferrous fixings

Over the years ferrous fixings have corroded and caused fracturing in the faience. Some have been addressed in previous phases and some additional areas now require attention as it is an ongoing issue, unless all ferrous fixings are removed from the facades which is an almost impossible task. 

Cutting out of existing Faience

 The infill terra-cotta to the 14 windows on Wellington Street and Quebec St and the new openings on City Square have to be carefully cut out. Joints need to be diamond sawn and blocks removed to salvage as much material for re-use as possible. The new reveals to be formed by slabs glazed on both front and inner faces. 

Replacement blocks 

There are also faience blocks that have defects requiring that the blocks be replaced as the fractures or losses are considered to be beyond repair. Blocks have to be cut out by diamond sawing joints, core drilling the defective block face then carefully cutting out the defective block and preparing the pocket for the replacement block.

Taking down and rebuilding parapets.

 The fire has caused displacement of the parapet to varying degrees along it’s length and it needs to be taken down and rebuilt using the original material. The areas of parapet within the retention scaffolding are the most badly affected and we anticipate replacement blocks will be required to facilitate the reconstruction.

Fractures in the Faience 

We have identified fractures in the faience that are not significant enough to warrant repair but we recommend they be treated by injection of a thixotropic resin. The fractures to be thoroughly cleaned out and a clear low viscosity resin injected. This will seal the fractures and inhibit water penetration.

Rainwater pipes 

The existing lead rainwater pipes to be removed from site and replaced in polyester powder coated aluminium to match original profiles including hoppers and rose embossed brackets.


Replacement Urns and Statues

We had to provide drawings for approval for the production of cast stone urns and statues. Then samples of the cast stone needed to be submitted for approval. We suggested fixing details and then when all approved, we can deliver and install replacement cast stone urns and statues in accordance with the approved drawings.


The services we provide for you at

aura conservation


Stone, Brick, Cast Stone, Terracotta, Sculpture, Statuary, Bronze Statuary.


Roof Tiling, Steeplejacks and Lightning Protection, Roof Drainage, Lead Protection, Roof Features.


Painting & Decorating, Plasterwork, Tiling, Timber Flooring.

Services & Treatment

Protection and Remedial Treatment, Paint Finishes, Mortars & Renders, Pointing, Paint Removal, Masonry Cleaning, Structural Repairs, Epoxy Resin Repairs.

Metal, Wood & Glass

Fine Joinery, Wood Carving, Windows and Doors, Secondary Glazing, Metalwork.

You can contact us at:

Dunham House, 181 Wellington Road North, Stockport, Cheshire, SK4 2PB.

Tel: 0161 442 9850 / Fax: 0161 432 8478

Email  enquiries@auraltd.co.uk
Web    www.auraltd.co.uk

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