Beautiful boulder clay

This unprepossessing grey mess I collected in a bucket is boulder clay. If you’ve got a house with clay walls, it’s like finding a seam of valuable minerals. There’s no clay to beat it.

Our part of Suffolk mostly sits on thick layers of the pale grey, white-flecked natural building material, laid down by glaciers grinding their way over chalk. But it’s usually deep down and hard to find.

It comes near the surface here, because that’s why our pond exists, sitting on an impermeable bed of clay. But it’s not so easy to dig out without draining the pond, which we think was once a clay pit.

Digging a trench to plant a hedge yesterday I kept finding lumps of it, deposited there after earlier work on the pond. It has got muddy, but that doesn’t matter – a bit of earth won’t spoil its performance.

Not only does it make a good, plastic clay for wall repairs when mixed with straw, it is also less prone to shrinkage cracks than ordinary yellow clay, and dries as hard as a lump of chalk.

If you have clay daub walls and come across any, store it till you need it. Wonderful stuff.

Flashback – the orchids that nearly stopped our project

We’ve at last got round to building the garage – which reminds me about the great orchid crisis of 2008. What triggered the flashback was that we’ve just spent a week digging up all the turf on the site of the garage and ferrying it in wheelbarrows to the other side of the garden. The turf is packed with orchids.

It was this issue, looking after the orchids, that brought our original project to a halt for nearly half a year in 2008 because our planning permission required us to pay for a survey to check whether rare orchids were present on the site.

Continue reading “Flashback – the orchids that nearly stopped our project”

Updating an old door without replacing it

This nice door was made for The Old Brewhouse when it was a farm service building where nobody lived.

It has thin planks with cracks between, and is a heat sink in the house during winter, no matter how much draft proofing is stuffed in and around it.

As a listed building, we’re supposed to make a formal application to the council heritage department and pay a fee if we wish to replace it. Our solution was to leave the old door untouched, apart from a few new screw holes, and build an identical door on the inside of it to double the thickness, cover the cracks and improve its thermal performance. It should make a noticeable difference to the warmth of the room in midwinter.

Continue reading “Updating an old door without replacing it”

Consult planners before you apply

Other preoccupations, not least the virus, have distracted us from working on the building, though the list of jobs remains long.

In the meantime, we have moved forward on a plan suspended 10 years ago, the construction of a proper outbuilding. You can’t accuse us of rushing things and, as often happens, delay improves an idea.

We had planning permission for a garage and cart lodge, which is valid indefinitely rather than expiring after three years, because we started the work by building a concrete slab for a new entrance from the road plus hard standing with a turning area inside the garden.

Continue reading “Consult planners before you apply”

Ancient drains

I’ve just laid 35 feet of new drain from the house down to the pond, and discovered a layer of what seem to be 18th or early 19th century drains, of a type that a little internet research discovers were named horseshoe drains. I have often noticed, whether at Greek ruins or at Norman Castles, that the remains of old drain and sewage systems fascinate visitors, myself included, so the annoying fact that one of our key drains was totally clogged with tree roots at least produced something nerdishly interesting. Continue reading “Ancient drains”

Repairing the floor – 3

I go into a great deal of detail in these floor posts, on the grounds that if you’re interested in repairing a very old floor you’ll need it; for the rest, read no further! Over the years it’s the blog posts like this that seem to be read most, I assume by people doing similar jobs.

Rotten sections, weakened sections, blackened, stained and crack and holed sections – the whole messy old floor came together into one attractive, if battered, whole, once beeswax polish was applied.

It’s great what a coat of beeswax can do for a damaged floor.

Continue reading “Repairing the floor – 3”

Repairing the floor – 2

The first thing to do was to protect the room underneath from debris falling through the many cracks as we worked on the floor above. The solution was a plastic tarpaulin tied to the joists:

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The second thing to do was to make sure the boards were firmly on their joists so not springy when walked on. There were two bad patches, where the boards had to be screwed down hard onto the joists to stop movement. Since the undersides were exposed, we were also able to push in wood spacers from below. Continue reading “Repairing the floor – 2”

Repairing the floor – 1

The floor we want to repair is of unknown age but must be pretty old, not just because of its battered state but because the boards are of uneven widths of up to a foot or so, presumably because they were cut from the same tree. Continue reading “Repairing the floor – 1”

Old floorboards

And now for the next challenge, but I need to get fit first: does everyone get quite as stiff as I do when trying to work for long hours on a floor? It is the most uncomfortable position to work in, apart perhaps from plastering a ceiling, but we are about to start on repairing a lovely old floor that until now has been covered to protect it, so the pain will be worthwhile (I hope). Not entirely sure what it is, but think that it is oak or elm. More later, as we get going on the job next week.

Cracks

The hot, dry weather has produced many more cracks than usual in our front wall.

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Much of it is plain clay daub with thick layers of limewash and here and there a smear of recent cement where previous owners had tried to stop the clay falling out. There is no evidence of it ever having been rendered or plastered on laths. Continue reading “Cracks”

Lesser spotted housepeckers

Preparing a room for decorating today, I was filling holes in the lime plaster in a first floor room when I heard a loud knocking on the other side of the wall. I knocked back hard with a trowel handle on the wall but it didn’t stop so I dashed outside to shout at the woodpecker – yet again, they’ve found a way into the clay and they are digging holes for insects, this time too high for anything but scaffolding for repairs.

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It had gone before I got outside so I am not sure which variety it was – we’ve been attacked by green, greater spotted and lesser spotted (illustrated: one day I’ll be fast enough to get my own photo of a housepecker in the act!) Continue reading “Lesser spotted housepeckers”

Brewhouses, dairies and servants’ quarters

I recently came across an 1874 description of a brewhouse which could almost be about ours. It is by Richard Jefferies*, a Victorian novelist and writer about nature and the countyside. The brewhouse he describes is part of a multi-function farm service building that is also used as a dairy, for cheesemaking and for servants’ accommodation. Evidence we and the previous owners found in the building fits that pattern rather closely. Continue reading “Brewhouses, dairies and servants’ quarters”