Adding an oak terrace

We needed something to connect the big glass doors with the pond, so we built an oak terrace cum patio.

The finished terrace and step

It was to be an irregular shape because of the pond, so we drew it exactly, levelled the ground and dug nine post holes, into which were inserted short lengths of 100×100 mm fence posts, bedded in concrete. Continue reading “Adding an oak terrace”

Finishing touches

We’ve done a few small jobs to finish off round the extension over the last few months.

The old footings, with Japanese anemones growing from them
The old footings, with Japanese anemones growing from them

To show a bit of the the history of the site, we decided to keep some of the footings of the original building, which fell down decades ago (and whose previous existence played a big part in getting permission to rebuild). Part of the footings had been cut through for the main drain, and other parts had been damaged by machinery, so we ended up repairing them, using lime mortar.

The extension floor was dropped down a foot below the old ground level, so keeping the old footings meant creating a narrow trench along the side of the building, Continue reading “Finishing touches”

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”

Ready for landscaping

The finished extension after limewashing
The finished extension reflected in the pond, after limewashing

We have nearly completed our seven year project to convert and extend an old farm service building. We’ve made the minimum possible changes to the old building so we can preserve the history of its fabric, including the clay in its walls, while turning it into a comfortable home. Continue reading “Ready for landscaping”


Terry Booty’s last day on site, last job – the front step, below – the debris cleared, except for the last skip awaiting collection. A toast is most certainly required this evening.

Plenty of interesting landscaping yet to come, not to mention plastering the other gable end of the old house and…. no, let’s not think about all that till next year!

Pros and cons of a breathable alternative to limewash – Keim

One of the conditions for listed building consent was that the colour of the extension must match the yellow ochre limewash of the old building, so the simplest way to do that would be to use the same limewash mix again. Hollins, the architects, instead specified Keim in the listed building consent application, a mineral paint which has been on the market for well over 100 years, and was developed in Bavaria as a more durable substitute for limewash. I’d never heard of it before, but a web search shows it is widely known.

Brushing on Ingleby's 3-coat tallow limewash
Brushing on Ingleby’s 3-coat tallow limewash

Keim is claimed to last 15-20 years at least, and the company says there are some examples 100 years old. Continue reading “Pros and cons of a breathable alternative to limewash – Keim”

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”

A new roof over our heads

Tim and Andrew laying the Glendyne slates
Tim and Andrew laying the Glendyne slates

After the frame was finished and most of the insulation installed, there was a delay getting our Canadian slates on site, because the UK supplier had run out of stock. (For an explanation of why they had to come so far, see Continental Drift and the Art of Choosing Slates). Once the slates arrived, the shell of the building was quickly made weathertight, which included fitting the conservation rooflights from The Rooflight Company. These are solidly built, nearly flush and much favoured by conservation officers. Continue reading “A new roof over our heads”

New materials, old ideas

The more I look at the way our modern extension is being built, the more I am convinced that it is a fitting companion to the original 16th century oak-framed house. There is not a great deal of difference between the basic structural concepts, and only the materials and methods of fixing are new.

The biggest difference is that an old oak frame is mortised and tenoned rigidly with a few very heavy timbers while a modern softwood frame uses more but lighter timbers fixed with nails and steel hangers, and plywood sheets to increase rigidity. A modern construction can also use some big timbers, eg our glulam roof beam which runs the length of the building.

The timber frame takes shape
The timber frame takes shape
The roof timbers are added, with a Glulam central beam
The roof timbers are added, with a Glulam beam
The panels are infilled with insulation, with plywood panelling behind
The panels are infilled with insulation, with plywood panelling behind

The extension is a conventional modern timber-frame building. First, a wood frame was constructed piece by piece by Terry Booty of Booty Builders and his team, Andrew and Tim, on a low brick base; then they filled the spaces between the timbers with blocks of Celotex insulation, today’s equivalent of the hazel sticks and clay daub that fill in the panels of the old house.

The new timber is treated softwood, Continue reading “New materials, old ideas”


After several redesigns, the engineers settled on a system of 12 piles and a reinforced slab. It was a bit of a saga getting to that point, because although we are next to a pond, there was nevertheless more water in the trial borehole than the experts expected.

Auger drilling an 11 metre test hole.
Auger drilling an 11 metre test hole.

The initial plan by the contractors was to auger the piles, to avoid using a pile driver near an old building. However, this was vulnerable to water inflows, which proved excessive,  which would have made it hard to be sure the concrete would set properly.

So we were advised to switch to steel-cased piles, with the first three metres augered. With hammered piling starting three metres below ground, it was hoped that the vibrations in the old house would be reduced. This proved the case, though we checked the house carefully every hour or so to make sure there was no damage. Continue reading “Foundations”

Continental drift and the art of choosing slate

What’s the connection between Canadian slate mines and Snowdonia National Park in Wales? The answer is that 500 million years ago, before continental drift formed the Atlantic Ocean, they were in much the same place.

What has this got to do with extending a Grade II listed house, you may well ask? Quite a lot, it turned out: by last week we had obtained all the listed building consents required before breaking ground on the extension foundations, bar one; the remaining condition was the source of the roofing slate. The strong preference of our local authority was for Welsh slate, because that was what used to be used in East Anglia. Our request to use Spanish slate did not go down well. Continue reading “Continental drift and the art of choosing slate”

Replacing the part of the house that collapsed.

The cleared site ready for work to start

As described in an earlier post, we are now about to rebuild the end of the house that rotted and fell down 40 or more years ago. The first step, which took up much of the summer and autumn, has been to complete the main repairs to the old building, especially the gable end where the new structure will join. Continue reading “Replacing the part of the house that collapsed.”

We win planning permission to extend

It has taken much of the year, but we have finally got permission to replace the old part of the house that collapsed several decades ago, which will add just over 50 per cent to the floor area of the building.

If you look carefully, you can see the outline of the vanished end of the building marked on this recent Ordnance Survey
The outline of the section of the building which fell down – the part closest to the pond –  is still shown on this recent Ordnance Survey map

One important factor was to demonstrate with photos and archives that there was a complete building on the site only a few decades ago, and certainly post-1948, which seems to be an important date.  I may have misunderstood it, but the gist seemed to be that the old structure legally still had some vague sort of existence, so that we were in a sense rebuilding, and giving back the farm complex (of which our house is a part) its previous layout.

This began as a project to convert into a home a Grade II listed farm service building that had the same legal status as a barn and which did not even have planning permission when we bought it. Continue reading “We win planning permission to extend”