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”

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”

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”


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.”

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”