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”

Techniques

Looking around a typical Suffolk village, houses repaired with lime are still quite rare. It is clear that many homeowners and builders have yet to be persuaded of the vital importance of breathability and the use of traditional materials on an ancient structure. There is clearly a huge backlog of work to be done and, judging by the stories we hear from time to time about the terrible problems found in buildings that were repaired thoughtlessly in the 20th century, the damage is mounting right across East Anglia’s huge stock of historic houses.

There is a problem, however, when you start digging into the detail. Even among the experts in these old techniques, there is plenty of disagreement, and sometimes it gets quite heated.  As experience grows again, after decades in which some skills were in danger of being lost, ideas are bound to evolve further.

So rather than try to pass on definitive advice, these posts have been setting out some of the techniques we used – or hired experts to use – and we also note where our own ideas and the advice from experts have changed over time, for example our decision to switch from the sand and lime render we used in the first year of the project to chalk and lime plaster for later phases. 

More generally, it is important to read and discuss, to take advice from more than one source and to think through the jobs yourself with an open mind, focusing on the particular characteristics of the building concerned. The key points are:

  • always protect old material, and never do anything to it that isn’t reversible
  • in the case of infills and coatings, never put in anything that isn’t breathable.
  • and of course, put some effort into learning about the techniques you decide to use (or hire contractors to use for you).