Repairing the damage 

The first step is to prepare some of our grey boulder clay, which we saved from the excavations for the extension. It is much better than the brown clay we used previously when we bought ready mixed daub from a farm in Essex.

We pounded the clay lumps with the end of a piece of timber until they became like smooth plasticine. Continue reading “Repairing the damage “

Back to daub

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Exposed clay daub

After focusing on  a new timber framed extension for so long, we’re now back to repairing the old building. Weak bits of of a rough cement render have been dropping off  the front wall, as the picture shows. The cement is just a thin layer skimmed a few decades ago onto clay daub.

We’ve been expecting this, but took a decision early on to let it happen by natural weathering, and then patch repair bit by bit.  Looking at the evidence of what’s there, we think patching is the way the walls have been maintained for a very long time – any weakness, then they just slapped on a bit of clay and limewashed it, and owners only recently took to adding cement as well. Continue reading “Back to daub”

How to stop worrying and relax a little

Sometimes it’s quite hard to relax when you live in an old house, because the lazily wandering eye will all too often spot something not quite right: a beam that suddenly seems to have too little support, or a pile of dust that might betray active wood pests. Nine times out of ten the risks spotted in that casual glance prove, on reflection, to be exaggerated, perhaps a function of the pessimistic frame of mind that develops when repairing an old house: the deeper you examine the building, the more problems you have to solve. Here are pictures of three things we did after staring rather a lot at potential problems. Probably only one of them was really necessary, but doing the other two made us feel better.

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Wrought iron bracket

The first picture is of a wrought iron bracket we had made to reinforce the end of the biggest beam in the house, which does not quite meet the wall (a result of the repair of the chimney and fireplace which were leaning into the room but are now straight, which moved the bearing surface in the wall away from the timber). The beam end since then has rested not on a post but on a one inch thick steel slab inserted in the wall whose other end bears the weight of a beam and studs above. Solid and permanent, we were assured, but sitting in an armchair underneath, somehow it didn’t look right. The bracket bought piece of mind, and looks nice, too. Continue reading “How to stop worrying and relax a little”

PS on lime

I gather that there is questioning among some East Anglian lime specialists of the claim reported in the previous post that traditional hair mixes are significantly prone to failure.

As I mentioned, this is not about the well known deterioration of hair if it is left too long in a wet mix before being used, but about intrinsic faults in the hair, especially if it is imported. Continue reading “PS on lime”

Lime developments

I have to admit now that I have been a bit nervous about our new chalk lime plaster since last August, though I haven’t confessed it so far to the blog: we used imported pigs hair for the plaster in 2013, and more than a year after it was done I was speaking to another lime specialist who gave a deep intake of breath, frowned, and asked: has it fallen off yet? He seemed to relish recounting the story of another Suffolk house where the pig hair had disintegrated and the plaster coat had failed in the first year, on his version of the story because it had a foreign bug that had eaten it.

I’m now much more confident that our pig hair plaster is OK. There are no signs of failure, and from time to time over the autumn I pulled out a bit of hair near the surface and checked it for strength. I tried again this morning and the hair was as strong as ever. Continue reading “Lime developments”

Archaeologists find an ancient invoice

A rather large invoice has just arrived for work by Suffolk County Council archaeologists six years ago. It was a condition of planning permission that we paid for an archaeology report.

They established that we owned what had once been a brewhouse, and among other things they painstakingly troweled through layers of soil and took away bricks from the Brewhouse hearth to date them. Interested to learn as much as possible about the building, we chased their report a number of times over the following year, were twice promised it but nothing arrived, and we eventually gave up and forgot about it.

Then out of the blue an invoice for more than £4,500 landed in the postbox, and still no archaeology report. Six years before we would not have grumbled, because we had set aside the cash and would have liked to find out more about the building’s history, but after this length of time it’s a blow. When we pointed out that there was still no report, the council withdrew the invoice, and said the report would be available within the next two months. It wasn’t after two months, four months …. we wrote again, but no response. They must have lost all the paperwork. After six years going on seven, I really don’t think they can legally revive that invoice.

The Old Brewhouse saved

Nearly eight years after buying The Old Brewhouse, and six years after the start of work, we’ve now got the home we imagined when we first came across it in 2007 in a crumbling but idyllic state. There were roses climbing round the doors and windows, ivy smothering the walls and chimney and a lovely but overgrown pond and meadow for a garden.096

The roses will soon be back to their former glory, though not the deadly ivy (the quickest way to destroy an old clay wall), Continue reading “The Old Brewhouse saved”

Back to tradition – lime plaster

We’re using lime plaster to finish the outside walls. Lime is a fairly recent revival as a building material, and people are re-learning the old trades as they go, so there are still a lot of disagreements about the best way to do things. It’s not yet Lime Wars, but there are regular skirmishes.

Lime plastering the outside
Lime plastering a gable

As we’ve noted before, the Essex way (as taught on a course we attended near Braintree) was to use lime and sand as a hard render on the outside of a wattle and daub house. We repaired a wall like that, only to be told off a year later by a local Suffolk expert: the true vernacular coating in Suffolk was a plaster made from chalk, hair and lime, which is tougher and more flexible. Continue reading “Back to tradition – lime plaster”

Moats and beams

An excellent visit to a mediaeval settlement, organised by the Suffolk branch of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, threw new light on a puzzle about The Old Brewhouse and the farmhouse next to it: why are they outside the arms of their moat when you’d expect them to be inside?

As set out in the blog about how we reclaimed our pond (see this link), there are the remains of an obvious U-shaped mediaeval moat next to us. But it encloses a flat, empty space, now part off the next door neighbour’s garden.

Last Saturday, we were taken on a tour of Westhall, a Suffolk village where the original settlement has largely disappeared, leaving many clues to its existence, including pottery, raised platforms, moats, ponds, tracks and surviving buildings. Continue reading “Moats and beams”

Hemp insulation

Early on, we filled panels where the clay had disappeared with new wattle and daub. This year we have switched   to a new plan: these panels, which had been filled in the last 30 years with Thermalite blocks and broken bricks, have been made into a breathable hemp sandwich.

We lined the outside of the building with Savalit woodwool boards (as described before), then plastered them with haired chalk and lime mix bought from Anglia Lime. We used battens to fix Savalit boards on the inside, recessed just enough to take the plaster, and gave them a thinner layer of chalk and lime plaster, also with hair. In fact, internally, Savalit boards can take an extremely thin, almost skim coat of haired lime plaster and still look good.

In the middle we put  two 75mm layers of natural hemp batts, Continue reading “Hemp insulation”

Oak and other problems under the old render

All new plaster, limewash, oak pentice board, soffts and bargeboards.
All new plaster, limewash, oak pentice board, soffits and bargeboards.

When the cement was removed, we found some repairs were needed for the timber frame, including a new stud where an  old one had disappeared (judging by the empty mortice), completing another stud that had rotted away for the first foot above its mortice in the sole plate, a knee to reinforce the joint between a main internal beam and a post, and a  strengthening of one of the corners, where a sound main corner post did not seem very well tied in to the sole plate. It was reinforced with a flexible glass fibre rod through the timbers and a steel plate. All the timber work was carried out by William Clement Smith. Continue reading “Oak and other problems under the old render”

Removing cement render – 2013

…. in preparation for the extension

Repairs on a building this age are never really finished, but there is a list of essential jobs we want to do before starting on the extension, for which we won planning permission in late 2012. The first step is to finish the external repairs to the end of the old building where the extension will be built. This means removing a large amount of cement render. Continue reading “Removing cement render – 2013”

Moving on – chalk and woodwool boards

 Our thinking has moved on from when we started work in 2009 and 2010. One advantage of repairing a house very slowly is that it gives time to learn as you go along.

This applies particularly to the question of which materials to use when repairing walls and infill panels and when plastering and rendering, and to the question of energy efficiency. Continue reading “Moving on – chalk and woodwool boards”

Wonderful clay

The grey, chalky pond clay makes a great building material
Pond cleaning in 2011: the pale grey, chalky pond clay makes a great building material. (The darker areas are pond mud on top of the clay).

Postscript on wattle and daub – 2013

We have a great resource in the pond, which we knew about from when we drained it in 2011, but we had not appreciated until this year its amazing building material potential: pale blue-grey boulder clay, which underlies much of Suffolk. Continue reading “Wonderful clay”