Sunday, 12 July 2015

Investigating the main fireplace

In advance of the planned full-scale assault on the Living Room, and to coincide with the roofing and chimney work that should be finished by now will start happening some time before the end of the decade, one of the things we were genuinely excited about doing was ripping out the Living Room fireplace to find out what was behind it.

When we first saw The Lodge last year the fire breast wall in that room was wallpapered-over and showing signs of actually being wet (not just damp), but the survey suggested that there was a larger potential opening there and possibly a lintel a foot or two above the existing mantelpiece. So that went to the top of our 'Things To Destroy' list, although the 'Sensible Things To Get Done First' list that the grown-ups around us insisted on had to come first. Stupid adults.

As part of the interim measures to get rid of the dampness in the room that I've written about in the above-linked post, we stripped the wallpaper off right back in April to reveal the whole wall was, unsurprisingly, coated in gypsum plaster.
That's where it ended until about six weeks ago when I accidentally started hacking the plaster off during an I've got 20 minutes to kill so what should I do? moment.

Uncovering the original brickwork revealed a few things.
First of all there was indeed a lintel further up the wall, but it wasn't the forgotten length of beautiful aged oak that we had imagined - it was just a scabby length of iron holding up the bricks, much like the one servicing the smaller fireplace below. The layout of the two brick courses above this showed signs that a proper lintel had been gracing the room at some point when everything was still black and white, but that was long gone.
As we had expected in such a situation, the wall between the top of the existing fire and the iron lintel comprised just regular cemented-in bricks, so there were no surprises there either.
So I pulled out the tasteful sandstone block columns that were cemented in on either side of the fireplace, only to find that the bottom block of each stack was cemented in to the poured concrete hearth, suggesting that there was a bigger job ahead of me before I could get those out and continue. So I stopped.

Now, one bit of advice we were given a while ago was to, quite literally, stand back and look at your work for some time in order to see past the obvious. Just let it sink in. Let your brain process what you're looking at. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done if that's your thing, but cogitate. Ponder. Mull. Consider. Do other things that suggests, but just stare and don't get distracted by concerned family members who think you might have had a nervous breakdown. Don't forget to breathe and blink now and then though.

That's what we did when the plaster was eventually off the chimney breast and, although it seems blindingly obvious now that we can study a photograph, we realised that in the dim and distant past when the fireplace was at its full height, the bricks around it had been painted black.
Some time later a huge chunky fire surround had been installed over the top, and the bricks that remained exposed to the sides had been painted creamy white.
That's not a massive revelation, I grant you, but it's still like taking a peek in to the annals of history and discovering something long-forgotten. So it's nice and satisfying for simple folk like us.

Anyway, that's how the fireplace stayed for a little while, until the start of this week when I decided to get stuck in properly and move on to Phase Two.

The first job was to get part of the concrete hearth up so I could get at the remaining two stone blocks, which was pretty straightforward. The fireplace itself was more of a struggle because it had also been set in to the hearth, but after some gentle persuasion - and with only two cracked ceramic tiles - out it came.
We'll see if we can flog it to a reclamation yard later on but although it looks like a 30s design it could be 70s reproduction for all we know. It's certainly not original to The Lodge because of the size of the potential fireplace it was in and its dark red tiles clash awfully with the fragments of broken green ceramic hearth that we've found outside at the back of the house.
Besides, we don't like it. It's horrible.

An old hearth tile chucked among
rubble at the back of the house
Behind the fireplace was a mess of compacted builders' sand, rubble and cobwebs which took forever to dig out, revealing that there's no actual base to the overall fire chamber. It's just a seemingly bottomless pit of sand which will need to be sorted out before we start reinstating the whole thing.
Other than sand and wotnot, the chamber had been narrowed to maybe two thirds of its original width with columns of very soot-blackened bricks which, much like the upstairs fireplaces, weren't tied in and were reasonably simple to get out - but it's a large feature and there were lots to remove. Judging by the pile outside the back gate we could easily fill a skip as soon as it arrives.

Once everything was out of the fire chamber and cleared from the room, what was left was a huge imposing fireplace that had quite clearly - as predicted by the chimney sweep a while back - been ablaze. And not in a controlled, intentional way either. The back and sides of the chamber were thick with black soot and the smell was almost overpowering.
Chucking the removed bricks outside seemed to help quite a bit, but as I write this the passage of time has also done wonders. All it needed was a good air out and the next step will be to give the whole thing a damn good clean which should also brighten the entire room up a little bit too.

The eventual plan is, of course, to install a log burner here (which is why the chimneys are going to be flued properly) and with the burner we've chosen having a huge viewing window it should create an excellent focal point.
Much like a 52" flatscreen TV would do. But we can have both, right?
Dawn? Dawn? Hello?

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