Wednesday 18 November 2015

Taking a stand against fox hunting

I remember a conversation with Dawn at the beginning of the year in which we pondered our reaction in the hypothetical situation of a fox hunt storming past our house.

The conclusion was along the lines of 'there's nowt we can do so let them get on with it' but I discovered today that the reality is a little bit different.

When faced with 50+ baying, bloodthirsty hounds and about 20 hip-flask wearing lah-de-dahs on horseback in full regalia (and a bugler), it turns out that I get a bit shouty.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all for pest control and the protection of livestock and what have you, but I'm not a fan of ripping foxes to pieces with hounds. I think it's cruel, barbaric and totally abhorrent. Call me a townie all you want, but it's my blog so sod off.
Presumably hunting with hounds is still illegal (the last I heard it was, anyway, but politicians can be fickle and morally bankrupt so-and-sos) but I'm not naive enough to think it doesn't still go on out here in't country, even though they'll call it something deliberately ambiguous like 'running the trails'.
A pack of dogs accustomed to scoffing warm, twitching fox for lunch doesn't switch to dining on tofu overnight and the horse-straddling harbingers of doom, who feast on the still-beating hearts of their dogs' victims, won't just make do with an apple.

I'm exaggerating, of course.
They're quite partial to a Granny Smith from time to time.

"I say, Gertrude, can you smell commoners? Most unpleasant.
Tell that stupid dog to turn around."

I spotted one such horse rider hanging around by the gates for a few minutes this afternoon while I was working in the Living Room, which I thought was curious. Another joined her and about 10 minutes later I saw a whole flock of them heading down the public road in the direction of the house. I don't know how these things work, but they seemed to be accompanied by a smattering of people in 4x4s, so I nipped out to speak to the one who looked like he was in charge of the ground crew - presumably the Master of Foxhounds.

I made it very clear that the hunt wasn't welcome through our gates and I even closed them in front of him so he could get the point. In retrospect I wish I'd put both ground bolts in on my side, but I had forgotten about them.
Not fancying a confrontation I went back in the house only to see the gates swing open and a yowling tsunami of four-legged death sweep through, followed by at least a dozen Horsemen of the Apocalypse tally-ho-ing past the skip.

Yes, Your Honour. His left foot was definitely on our property for a considerable amount of time, so I shot him
Fast forward 30 seconds and I'm having somewhat spirited words with the fella I'd spoken to at the gates, who was telling me which areas of the property I owned and which ones I didn't. Me! A considerable amount of furious indignant gesticulation was taking place, it must be said.
Some of the whippers-in (I've been Googling my terminology) had gathered around and some were heading off down the track towards our neighbours' house alongside the Hunt Master - which is definitely private property, regardless of what Mr Gobshite was telling me. The dogs were off and howling in the woods somewhere, probably decapitating a squirrel and parading its head on a stick.

Things were beginning to get a little too loud (and eyes were at risk from angry finger-pointing) when the scarlet-clad Hunt Master towered over me astride his noble steed and apologised for the inconvenience. He said they were just "running the trails".


£6.75 from Sainsbury's
Yes, of course I checked!
It all calmed down after that and to cut what could end up being a long story short, they went back out through the gates and an old chap with very few teeth knocked at the door a couple of minutes later to offer me a bottle of port by way of an apology. One of the four-wheeled entourage must carry a case or two to appease the downtrodden underclass.
No Stilton, though. Disappointing.

A bit later they came yelping and bugling around the side of the front garden and disappeared in to the woods from there. Nothing I can do about that, I suppose.
Oh, and just as it was beginning to get dark someone came by in a 4x4, parked smack-bang in the middle of the track at the side of The Lodge and disappeared in to the gloomy trees blowing his bugle and, so it sounded, yodeling. That's not a euphemism - he'd lost a dog.

The thing is, I think the hunt was within its rights to come through, assuming those in charge had Crown permission.
They're correct in that they weren't on moy laaaand (although they were technically in our back garden at one point... despite the fact that it looks like the rest of the track), and they were right in that the access track itself - and the gates - is Crown Estate, at least until they get to the totally privately-owned part of our neighbours' property. They said they had permission to go through the land although nobody could provide any written proof and we'd had no forewarning (which isn't a requirement, I know, I'm just saying).

Nevertheless, we have one third of a three-way responsibility for maintaining that part of the track which surely means that we also have a say in who comes and goes?
I don't know. I'm thinking out loud. Maybe. Maybe not.

We've emailed the Crown to clarify the situation but I've got a feeling I know the answer already...

Introducing Stretch. Stretch is a fox who lives near our front garden and on our NatureWatch CCTV camera

EDIT (Wednesday 18th)

I spoke to someone today who regularly walks his dog past The Lodge and we got talking about the hunt, which he'd spotted heading towards the house (he saw me 'having words', too). Apparently shortly after they were here the hounds managed to get hold of a fox towards the bottom of the estate... and there was only one winner.
Well, 50-odd winners, technically.

Monday 16 November 2015

WoodWool and woolwool walls (internal insulation done proppa)

Taking the walls back-to-brick in some areas has revealed a catalogue of catastrophic cock-ups at The Lodge.

In particular the building, it seems, has been beset by damp problems over the years, not least in the Living Room, the dog-leg of which is now known globally as The Pantry.

In stripping off The Pantry's wall coverings we managed to find almost another foot width-ways and 6" on the north wall, such were the layers of failed remedies and ignorance. Behind a gypsum skim was plasterboard, behind which was battening, underneath which was a thick plastic sheet, behind which were a few more layers of gypsum in one form or another. Those surfaces were individually 'decorated' with an eclectic mix of hideous wallpapers and insipid paint layers to boot. Beneath the layers on one wall we found a gloss-painted 10" wide, floor-to-ceiling upright from the door frame back when it was a bona fide pantry. And on one of the walls in the main room we discovered, underneath another plasterboard layer, floor-to-ceiling corrugated bitumen sheets hammered into the brick with dozens upon dozens of nails.

Given the amount of mould and wrinkly wallpaper in the Living Room when we first set eyes on the place, none of the supposed remedies had worked so a new way of thinking was required.
As with the rest of the building, we decided that if we can't keep the moisture out then we'll have to find a way of working with it - by our rules.

And this meant harking back to Ye Olden Days when the house was first built and learning about how it managed it's environment. There were no waterproof building materials like gypsum plaster and cement in the late 1700s and early 1800s, so it was constructed in a way that worked with the moisture rather than against it. 
That means from the ground up, so attempting to encase the house in an unnatural waterproof protective bubble is always going to fail because it's impossible unless you plan to knock the whole thing down and start again. And shame on you if you're that person. Get out of our blog.

As I've said many times before here, the main player in working with moisture in an old house is lime. Lime plaster. Lime mortar. Lime pointing. Lime cheesecake.

Lime allows moisture in through beyond its surface, then allows it out again over time. It breathes, whereas modern materials like plastic sheeting or gypsum plaster don't - they trap water.
If you have lime pointing already (if you have cement, that's bad news because it cracks) then moisture comes in from the outside gradually, as it should, but stops when it meets the plastic barrier... it's got nowhere to go so it'll stagnate and maybe seep through a staple hole or two, keeping the corner behind the TV a bit squishy.

Wrinkly wallpaper in the Living Room caused by
moisture sitting on the gypsum wall and bad air flow
Likewise moisture inside the building from the likes of cooking, bathing and even breathing hits the first layer in your gypsum-clad living room and if it's cold enough it'll just sit there being all damp and causing mould on the wall behind the settee or peeling wallpaper behind your bookcase. This is made even worse if you don't open the windows regularly, causing poor airflow.

Incidentally, if this is happening to you and the "expert" that Facebook strangers tell you to call round to look at it pokes the wall with a two-pronged moisture meter and says you've got rising damp then thank him for his time, slam his hand in the door and sic your chihuahua on him. You probably haven't - those probes are for use on timber only because they're meant to poke in to the surface and they can't do that with plaster so they only measure the moisture that has settled on the very top, rather than test inside the actual wall itself. I've been reliably informed that many so-called 'professionals' have this habit. They make their living installing damp-proof courses.

So anyway, where was I? Yes, it was time to go back to basics.
We bought a load of 2.4m 3x2 CLS timber at something like £2.50 a length from our local builder's merchant and Terminator Trevor and I set about installing new battens on the two external walls that form part of The Pantry.
Terminator Trevor's version of a tea break
(the Kingspan is for the shed, not the house!)
The problem here is that I'm rubbish when it comes to fitting Rawl plugs and screws in to freshly-drilled holes in masonry.
I know the principle, of course, but when it comes to my brain putting everything in to motion I usually end up covered in brick dust and despair. That's why Trevor was on-hand to give me a lesson in what should be a Basic Man Skill for most other people.

We got to sawin' and a-drillin' and a-screwdriverin' and over the course of a couple of days and many hot beverages we got the basic batten framework all measured-up, cut and secured firmly to the wall. In the process we discovered that the walls are pretty much square which made things much quicker and easier.

That done and with Trevor off rescuing old ladies from trees and catching bullets with his teeth it was then up to me to start on the insulation. We're using all natural and breathable sheeps wool, although I haven't yet found out definitively if it's sheeps wool, sheeps' wool or sheep's wool with an apostrophe thrown in somewhere.

The clocks going back has made for some nice moody
photos lately. I approve of this.
I'm digressing.
Despite the walls having been very cooperative so far there were still lots of gaps behind the woodwork and in various holes here and there.
So using a short thin length of sawn-off lath from the ceiling job (I haven't tidied up from that yet) I tore small pieces off the roll of wool and jammed it in to the gaps for all I was worth.
Several hours, three small blisters on the palm of my hand (I somehow forgot about gloves) and what felt like a mile of wool later, that was done. Sadly I had to fill in the four square half-brick holes in the west external wall that seem to have had a purpose in The Pantry. I had wanted to keep them visible as a curiosity but there was no way to lime plaster around them without leaving a pretty large uninsulated area that would've acted as a heat sink and they were too small to actually be useful. So we decided to cover them up. Shame. I popped a wee note in one for someone wearing hoverpants to discover in 100 years though.

The purpose of filling these holes, by the way, is to eliminate as many small air gaps as possible. Although not a major player in the damp thing, there's still a chance that moisture breathing through the rest of the natural materials will hit an air pocket and, if it's cold enough, condense. So better safe than sorry. And it'll be a tiny bit warmer too, which can only be a bonus.

The room really does smell a bit like sheep
now and I'm told it gets stronger when it rains.
Next came the insulation proper.
After SausageTheCat bribed us in to donating a significant length of wool to him for his bed by constantly lying on top of the roll as we were using it, Dawn and I hung great lengths of 50mm natural lagging down the walls between the precision-spaced battens, down to the floor. These were tied with string to nails in the wood in three or four places on either side of each length to stop them sagging both while we were working and for when they're beyond reach behind the final layers.

Finally (this is over the space of a good few days, by the way - I'm not a ruddy machine), it was time for the final layer, ready for the plasterer.
We had sourced something called WoodWool from an excellent company called Lime Green in Much Wenlock, and because we needed advice about a few things we headed over there and loaded up the car with 20 big boards after having a good old chat for half an hour.

Another natural insulator, WoodWool is basically a load of grated wood thrown in a pot along with some lime, brought to the boil and formed in to pre-cast sheets before drying. Maybe I'm oversimplifying it a bit, but the boards are thick, dense (albeit crumbly at the edges and corners), insulating and breathable. And you can cut them with a jigsaw set up for wood.

From left: wall, woolwool, WoodWool
Another skill I'm sadly lacking in is visualising angles when cutting things, as demonstrated in the shed where I've been sawing and fitting 120mm Kingspan insulation around awkward braces. It's like a game of drunken Jenga with almost as much vomiting afterwards.

So it may have taken three times as long as it should have, and I might have stood stock-still and unblinkingly staring at the walls while I waited for my brain to say something too many times, but I finally got the wool and battens clad with nice and tidy edges around the windows and surprisingly few chasms between the boards. Unlike the wool, which will breathe faster, I haven't dropped the boards to the floor to stop them wicking any damp from the quarry tiles because that would eventually make them fall apart, but it means slightly easier cable access and the voids will be packed out with more wool before new skirting is fitted (note to self: start thinking about skirting boards).

The window reveals will be plastered straight on to brick because insulating them would narrow the openings although
at some point we'll be getting insulated oak sills to cover the two original sandstone ones which are too short
and have been damaged by someone screwing straight in to the stone and cracking both for the sake of cheap ply sills.
The 'orrible uPVC windows, of course, will be changed one day.

After a quick tidy-up I turned my attention to the oriel window (which sounds poncey - it's a bay window) at the front of the Living Room on the south-facing wall.
Last month I pulled down the suspended ceiling in there to reveal four mouse skellingtons and some nice timbers directly underneath the tiled roof, which we then had blasted. We quickly decided that we should keep that area open as another feature, but that meant insulating it because it was pretty cold and drafty when the winds were up a day or two ago.

It's an awkward space to photograph...
imagine this finished: that's how it looks
But being a pitched roof featuring angled rafters forming six different-sized triangles and awkward shapes - and us wanting to keep the rafters on show - if I thought doing the walls was a Krypton Factor test I was ready for a different level altogether. I even caught myself uttering the word 'hypotenuse' at one stage. I had to sit down.

So I cut a couple of dozen 2.5" lengths of 1x1 wood that had been donated by my dad on my folks' last visit and screwed them to the sides of the joists to act as both spacers from the underside of the tiles and support for the WoodWool segments I had still to measure-up and cut.
For the most-part this was much simpler than I expected (measure; measure again; stare at it for a bit; sharpen pencil; draw straight lines; drink coffee; go back and check measurements; scribble everything out and draw it again; cut with jigsaw; count fingers) and it was pretty straightforward if a little time-consuming. And the gaps aren't too big.

The underside of the tiles was packed out extra deep with s'hee'ps wool then the boards were screwed firmly to the little battens. Because of the roof pitch the boards don't reach down to the top of the window frame, which concerns me slightly, but that will somehow be tidied up before the boards - and the walls - are lime plastered then had some breathable paint thrown in their general direction (note to self: no girly colours - let Dawn choose).

Thursday 12 November 2015

Piecing together the historical jigsaw

A few theories about the origins of The Lodge and its development over the years have been hanging around for a little while now and the recent olivine blasting has prompted one or two more, so I'm going to pour my undeveloped thoughts out here.

Much of this is going to be guesswork, of course, but you never know - one or two people who read this in the future might be able to shed new light. Also, many of these cogitations aren't fully-formed so if I trail off in the middle of a...

Living Room

Main room

This is the easy one.
Sitting in the Living Room with Terminator Trevor last week, as we munched ham and pickle sarnies, I spotted something.
Dawn says she mentioned this to me way back when but with so many things to think about it must have slipped my mind.

There used to be a floor-to-ceiling cupboard to the left of the chimney breast on the west wall.
I discovered the gyspum line where it met the ceiling when I was removing the Artex, but from my camping chair vantage point I could see where this continued down the wall, with about six shelves branching off from it, filling the alcove.

Excuse my lack of Photoshop skills. And I can't be bothered to draw all of the shelves in either.

A similar cupboard still exists in the storage area Dining Room to the left of the chimney breast, but this has about three shelves behind two large doors with two further cupboard doors below these. It's impossible to know if this slightly-larger Living Room version was enclosed behind doors or left open.


1. On the inside of the fireplace itself, on the right-hand side and previously covered in thick soot and a century of filth, a vertical channel cut in to the brickwork has been filled in with lime. It runs from the top of the firebox straight down towards the hearth, terminating in a further line at right angles to the first, like an inverted T. A second line runs parallel to this just a couple of inches lower.

We're almost certain that what would have been a roaring open fire in Georgian and Victorian times (when The Lodge was still a single-storey building) was used for cooking and that the Living Room was the central hub of the house - possibly the only room to really be occupied during the day.

How do we know this? A suggestion from Trevor backed-up by Mr Google has revealed that the channel in the bricks used to house what was known as a chimney crane, or fireplace crane or pot crane. Why they can't just pick one name and get it over with, I'll never know.

This heavy iron contraption would have been attached to the wall on a pivot, on the end of which would hang a cooking pot. The crane, which in our case was likely to be have been supported laterally by metalwork in at least one of the horizontal lines below, was a development that allowed the apparatus to be swung over the flames or out in to the room where the lady of the house could muck about with the food without scalding herself or, no doubt, being consumed by a giant screaming fireball.

It's possible that this was accompanied by a fireplace hangar, a bit like a giant inverted jigsaw blade, on which more pots were hung from the teeth. This would have allowed the housewife to choose how much heat her pots could get from the fire itself. I'm yet to find evidence of this but I'll keep looking.

Ours probably wasn't as fancy as this
but you get the idea
I'm less certain about the second parallel line, which runs one brick course below the first. It's possible that this was part of the chimney crane ensemble for yet more added strength and support but none of the designs I can find on the web have two such bars. A third horizontal line has been revealed on the opposite side - the left wall of the firebox - but as it is directly opposite the upper horizontal line on the right, this is where the confusion comes in.

One theory I'm working on is that the vertical channel for the crane and the lowest of the two horizontal lines below it are related. The upper horizontal channel, which corresponds to the one on the left, may have been a later addition when a fire basket was installed and the crane was removed to accommodate it. The basket was then chased in to the wall for support. Maybe.

As the open fires of the day began life on bare earth inside the fireplace, and because our work to strip back the whole thing has revealed a deep sandy base, I'm going to dig down before we go much further on the off-chance that I'll find something interesting. I might be more likely to find Australia, but we'll see.

2. When I first stripped back the plaster it was obvious that two courses of bricks directly above the fireplace opening were a later addition, but this came further into focus after they were cleaned up.
The far right-hand edge of the upper course features a short - and very deliberate - angled cut in the end brick, heading in the direction of the upper right-hand corner of the opening. For simplicity I've marked it in red in the below pic.
Given that the fireplaces in Bedroom 1 and Bedroom 3 are topped by 'flat' arches which angle down in the same way, I think it's fair to assume that the Living Room fireplace once sported the same feature. 
Also, because the original single-storey cottage didn't get an upper floor until the early 1850s, it's also fair to assume that the upstairs fireplaces were built to match the design of the Living Room's (irritatingly we still can't get to the fireplace in the Dining Room to strip it back because it's hidden behind piles of junk important belongings). This, in turn, suggests that the flat arch in the Living Room fireplace was still there at the time of the extension.

Now, as I can't see any reason why anyone would remove an arch only to replace it with a couple of flat brick courses, there had to have been something in the interim.
The dimensions of these two stuffed-in courses suggests, pretty obviously, that a deep standalone mantle shelf - probably oak, given that it was the material of the day - was inserted in to the wall above the fire, leaving just the tiniest bit of angled brick on the right as an inadvertent reminder of what it replaced.

Because we already have a couple of uncovered flat arches upstairs, Dawn and I plan to restore this part of the fireplace with a reclaimed oak beam. As most of the west side of the house relies on the strength of this chimney, however, we need to look at the logistics of doing it ourselves. It's pointless having a lovely bit of oak to gaze at when you're surrounded by rubble and floorboards...

3. Immediately obvious after I stripped the fireplace out, there used to be a chunky fire surround around the opening. Again, possibly oak. This came chronologically later than the mantle shelf which replaced the flat arch.
The whole section of the chimney breast had at some point been painted black and when the surround was put in place it went directly over the black and the remaining visible parts of the wall to either side of the jambs were then painted cream. So when it was all removed the black outline was still there like a shadow.

Above this outline and to the left of centre, was a missing horizontal chunk of mortar between the bricks that we figured was just wear and tear. What we hadn't realised until the blasting was that there's a corresponding area on the right - same length and on the same mortar line - that is still holding on to its cement bodge-job where the hole has been filled. As well as that there are more cement-pointed vertical lines further to the right and left, spread over three brick courses and each just one brick deep. There are three on the right and only two on the left because those anomalies are off-centre, given that the brick arrangement didn't allow for the holes to be cut dead-centre.

Again, after speaking to Trevor, we think that this is possibly (probably?) where a large and heavy overmantel (overmantle?) has been installed and fixed to the wall above the fire surround. This was possibly mirrored, given the fashions of the time.

It's impossible to tell how this all looked together but with The Lodge probably starting its utilitarian life as Georgian, when folks were poor and struggling, an extravagance like that is unlikely to have been of the era and, besides, the layers of paint suggest a decent passage of time until we reached the fire surround stage.

More likely, the overmantel became a feature here during Victorian times or even during the Arts and Crafts period of 1860-1910. Both movements relied heavily on floral designs, though, so we're going with that although as a working building I doubt there was anything ostentatious about it.

The picture to the left is of a fancy cast iron Victorian fireplace, but again, you get the idea.

The Nook

I've mentioned this in the blog before, but the nook area of the Living Room (which I often refer to as the 'dog-leg') was once separated from the main room by a solid brick wall and a doorway. It was a room in its own right. The puzzler was what it was used for.

A strip of slate three brick courses deep ran along one wall at just below waist height, turning towards the window and terminating just below the first edge of it, and corresponding marks on the floor suggested that something rectangular and heavy sat against that wall, filling that whole side of the room. This is why the pendant light in the nook is off-centre - it was central to the useable floor space rather than the whole room.
Four evenly-spaced square holes in the same wall, above what I assume was the slate-backed work area or slate slab which was later cut back to the brick, quite possibly held shelving or some kind of storage, and there's a cut-back copper pipe in the opposite wall, leading through from Toilet 1, although it's impossible to tell when it was added.

The Pantry. To the left of the pic(s) you can see where the wall used to separate it from the main Living Room

All the signs, for me at least, point towards this area being a former pantry or larder - but the clincher was discovering that the main fireplace was used for cooking.

If the Living Room was effectively the kitchen then it would make sense to have the food store right next to it. The brick wall and slate would have kept the food cool and protected from the heat of the fire and the window would have allowed for ventilation, especially with a flyscreen in the summer months. Trevor's discovery of holes in the ceiling that go in to - but not through - the joists above suggest that there were once meat hooks there too, used for hanging deer, pheasants or whatever else was available at the time.

So I hereby formally announce that the nooky-dog-leg-bit of The Living Room shall henceforth be referred to by all as The Pantry.

Bedroom 1

Here we come to the most difficult bit of guess-work, as there's not a lot to go on. I mean, the evidence is probably all there but I can't make head nor tail of most of it yet.

We now know that The Lodge was originally a single-storey building before being extended upwards in the early 1850s.
Our discoveries directly below the bedroom (in the Living Room) make it clear that the chimney stack on the west side of the property has been there from the beginning, which in turn means that it would have risen above the roof of the cottage. This, therefore, means that the chimney breast wall in Bedroom 1 is at least in part original and would have terminated somewhere in the space now occupied by the bedroom or the loft, above.

Bear with me. I'm thinking as I'm typing...

Part of the cottage's roof line is still visible in Bedroom 1.
There's a clear, but short, diagonal line running through the bricks down from the chimney breast to a concrete square in the brickwork (highlighted in red and brown on the pic). This square is also visible on the outside of the building and there's another further back on the wall of Bedroom 2 (which is also a storage room, meaning we can't strip any of that internal wall yet).

The diagonal line in Bedroom 1 bisects this square, meaning that it can only have housed a purlin from the original roof, terminating outside. The same goes for the one in Bedroom 2.
There's no matching purlin on the opposite wall of Bedroom 1, which makes sense because that wall would only have come in to being during the extension phase and didn't exist for the original timber to run through. Am I making sense so far?

It remains to be seen if there's a similar square on the internal east wall of Bedroom 3 on the opposite side of the house (I haven't removed the lime plaster yet but I'll update this post when I get round to it), but there's no square patch on the outside of that wall, which raises a question: was the single-storey cottage entirely separate from the estate's boundary wall and was later incorporated in to it?
Holes in the east wall of Bedroom 3 point to it being at least two courses thick, so maybe that's why...

Anyway, back to Bedroom 1.

The diagonal roof line, running from the purlin to the chimney breast, heads to roughly where the chimney breast has been built-up to square it all off during the extension work.
You might think that the extra bricks were used to widen what had at first been the narrowing top of the chimney stack, but everything above the final course of bricks that formed the 'original' widest section is a different colour brick to the rest (marked in light blue).

So was the middle section between the extended sides (in dark blue) an add-on to the top of the original cottage's stack?
Are the extended sides evidence of a third round of building work?

Another thing to look at is a line of timber that, at the very least, runs across the front of the house from one side to the other and turns along the east wall in Bedroom 2 (I can see it through a hole in the plaster). This is highlighted in yellow in the pic.
At some stage this timber has been cut through to allow for a window in Bedroom 1, which could coincide with the early 1850s building work and the repeal of the Window Tax in 1851.

But... the timber line doesn't in any way marry-up with the diagonal original roof line or the purlin, suggesting it came later, although it's roughly in line with the lower edge of the existing roof outside and follows across to the chimney breast below the extended sides and different-coloured centre bricks..
Why? Why not just use bricks instead of timber? Could this have been another roof line? Are we looking at more clues suggesting three lots of building work?

The answer is that we simply don't know and probably never will.
There's a theory that because the diagonal line ends before before it reaches the chimney stack in Bedroom 1 that it could point to a thatched roof but, again, we might never know.
I'm sure there are plenty of other guesses in the pipeline and no doubt more clues that we can't solve but I'll be sure to unleash that confusion here when the time comes.

Apologies for this being quite a long and rambling post (more-so than normal) but this is how it looks inside my head. It's a confusing place in which to reside.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

A new old lath and plaster ceiling

I anticipate that this is going to be a short blog post this time, so don't bother putting the kettle on.

I've re-lathed part of the Living Room ceiling.

"Gaffer, there's a big hole in the ceiling"
"Ah, slap a lump of wood over it - nobody'll notice"
This section of the ceiling, between the main room and the nook area, has never actually been plastered before because it used to feature a brick wall separating what were originally two rooms.
When the wall was removed to create the dog-leg the resulting hole in the ceiling was simply covered over with a slab of wood, possibly pine, that was then stained and varnished with a hideous shade of orangebrown.

We wanted to incorporate the nook in to the Living Room properly, which means plastering the ceiling. And because we'll be lime plastering it when the time comes we needed the hole tidying up and re-lathing so the plaster can be 'hooked' on to it, rather than bodge it with plasterboard and a gypsum skim.

Beneath the wood was a gaping hole that
once contained a brick wall. The laths on
either side were attached to thin air.
The first stage was to widen the hole until I could find joists to attach the laths to, but that was a simple case of using a tenon saw and chopping back through the original-but-ragged lath and lime until I found the beams, then trimming the old unattached lath off laterally. With the plaster being soft and the original laths being wafer thin it was like the proverbial knife through butter, leaving nice tidy edges.

Next came a couple of lengths of timber that Trevor just happened to have lying in the boot of his car, which were sawn to size and screwed on to the insides of the joists so, in turn, the laths could be nailed across them.

Fortunately, during one of my more lucid moments, I had decided to save as many of the original laths as possible from when I had uncovered the plastered-over oak beams in the Living Room and Hallway, but because they weren't all in tip-top condition we threw in some new riven oak laths for added strength.
Trimming each lath in turn as I went along I drilled pilot holes in each end to stop them splitting and simply tapped them on to the extended joists with galvanised nails.

Widened, cleaned and ready for
a new lease of life
I had managed to rescue half a dozen of the original hand-made square iron nails from the beams, so I also reused them spread evenly across the row in case one or two fail in the future where they'll still be held up by the stronger laths to either side.

Finally, partly because I'm dead clever and partly because it looks pretty I ended up alternating the row with new lath/old lath/new lath/old lath.

It's a nice feeling when you reclaim and reuse original building materials without them even leaving the property they came from, and much better than dumping everything in a skip just because it's not new.

See? This is what happens when you write a third as much as normal - not enough room for photos. I'm going to have to just stick a few at the end now. I don't like it one bit.

Old vs new

Six hand-made nails from the laths on the beams were saved and reused. The rest had snapped in situ.
All done.
Ignore the battens on the walls - they're the subject of an as-yet unwritten blog post

Monday 2 November 2015

Olivine blasting - it's the future!

Q: Take a man on a mission, 7 bar of pressure, a quarter ton of (Mg+2, Fe+2)2SiO4half a dozen cups of tea, one trip to Pizza Hut and 12 hours of hard graft and what do you get?

A: Complete sensory deprivation, hundreds of dead flies, a huge mess, a very late night, massive changes at The Lodge and two very happy homeowners.

It all started a few weeks ago when I went to visit my parents for a few days.
Rather than sit through another 2006 re-run of Bargain Hunt on telly I turned to Google for my entertainment and started searching for info about sandblasting. That's what renovating a house does to your 'spare' time.

The Living Room fireplace was a mess of soot,
paint and gypsum plaster residue
We had known for a while that we wanted quite a lot of bare brickwork inside The Lodge so we could make features of some of the walls and three of the four chimney breasts (we can't reach the fourth yet because the Dining Room is being used as storage), but removing layers of thick plaster had left the bricks damaged and very messy. As well as that the Living Room fireplace had large patchy layers of lead paint where various decorators had plied their trade over the generations.
I had already made an attempt to clean the walls with brick acid and elbow grease but it was slow, less-than-perfect progress and it quickly became obvious that I was fighting a losing battle on both the plaster residue and paintwork. Drastic action - up to and including napalm - was required.

The term 'sandblasting', as it turns out, doesn't usually refer to the media of sand these days and is instead used as a catch-all for 'abrasive blasting'. In basic terms that means taking your material of choice and shooting it at high velocity at whatever surface you want roughened, smoothed, stripped or, as in our case, cleaned.

Surprisingly there are a lot of unexpected materials that can be used for blasting so for educational purposes here's a short list:

  • Glass
  • Plastic beads
  • Silicon carbide
  • Dry ice
  • Steel shot
  • Ground possum teeth
  • Pumice
  • Walnut shells
  • Olivine
  • Flash-dried unicorn tears
  • Corn cob

Disclaimer - two of those are made-up.

The problem we faced at The Lodge was that our bricks, being made of less-stern stuff than more modern ones, are naturally soft and crumbly which ruled out pretty much everything we could chuck at it. Steel shot, for instance, would easily clear away the paint and plaster, some of which was many millimeters thick, but where it touched the bare brick it would very quickly eat away the surface and make a right mess of the walls that we eventually wanted to show off.

Heston Blumenpillock
So after much searching and many YouTube videos I finally decided that dry ice blasting was worthy of a punt.
Everyone knows about dry ice - it's the misty stuff they used on Stars In Their Eyes when a bloke with a gammy eye and a limp would walk on stage in a wig proclaiming he was Tina Turner. Witches use it in their cauldrons to make themselves look more evil. Heston Blumenthal uses it to draw attention away from the fact that he's a pillock.
But more to the point dry ice, which is actually carbon dioxide at about -80C, isn't abrasive and would therefore be kinder to our walls because it simply 'lifts off' the contaminates in question. It also became apparent that it could well work on our terrible quarry-tiled floor in the Living Room and the painted sandstone windowsill in there!

I started to get excited so I made some phone calls.

A few days later the first quote came in and it made for sobering reading.
At thousands of pounds (more than one but less than five) to hire the stuff for a minimum of seven days, transport it to The Lodge, get trained and buy the dry ice it worked out much cheaper to actually pay a man to come over and do it for us in a fraction of the time.
So much for our 'do everything possible ourselves' ethos. And it meant I wouldn't get to play with new power tools <sad face>.

A week-or-so after that a very friendly chap in a van turned up towing a giant compressor to try test patches before we committed to the process. He set everything up and donned overalls, a full-face mask and ear defenders. In hindsight this is because he knew what was to come.
Me being me and despite advisories to the contrary, I was dressed in my many-pocketed Man Trousers and a T-shirt and was wearing a disposable mask, leaky goggles and ear plugs. Not exactly full PPE but as an enthusiastic DIYer I wanted to watch regardless of my own safety or comfort. This turned out to be something of a judgement error.

When Mr Dry Ice started blasting it soon became apparent that it wasn't doing the job Dawn and I had hoped for. Starting with the concrete-tough filth on the quarry tiles by the Living Room fireplace, he managed to shift some of the unpleasantness but it left behind gray stripes where the rubber underlay had been glued to the surface for decades. One or two tiles came up well, but overall it was disappointing. The thick lead paint on the bricks saw a similar result with some of the paint vanishing in an instant, but not all of it. The same went for the thick ingrained soot in the back of the firebox and the sandstone windowsill. Close, but no Cuban cigar.
Determined not to be outdone, he tried various chemical remedies here and there, none of which helped much. Blasting those same areas afterwards shifted a little more muck and paint but still the results were less than perfect and even if they had worked the price was staring to go up.

Undeterred, out came the trump card.
As I'm sure you already know, (Mg+2, Fe+2)2SiO4 is a natural mineral commonly known as olivine. With individual grains being around three times smaller than sand grains it's much less abrasive than sand and although still classed as an abrasive we were running out of options. It was now or never. It had to be done.

The Living Room in the middle of the day
There are four things in this picture:
A lightbulb, a man, a window and lots of dust
As soon as Mr Olivine started blasting I realised why he had raised an eyebrow about my attire. Whereas dry ice literally vanishes on impact, olivine doesn't. It creates dust - especially when it hits the soft lime mortar between bricks at 20,000 mph.
And when I say 'dust' I don't mean the thin layer of skin cells you wipe off your TV screen every six months so you can see afternoon repeats of Magnum PI better. I mean dust. Thick billowing clouds of eye-scratching, nose-clogging, skin-exfoliating, tooth enamel-removing, cat-burying dust that settles in layers over everything you own and also over surrounding towns and villages. The kind of dust that diverts aircraft.
It was only 10 minutes after he finished that I realised it was still daylight outside and could find the door.

But it worked!

Test patches on the chimney breast, floor and windowsill came up so well that I almost hugged Mr Olivine and told him I wanted him - and the last time I did that I got community service for a month.
The painted bricks were no longer painted but still looked like they belonged to an old house; the soft lime mortar between the bricks had taken a hit but was almost white again rather than a grubby grey; the quarry tiles were reddy/orange with white marbling beneath the glue and the sandstone windowsill was blemish-free. It was perfect.

So he rocked up last Wednesday to do the lot.

An oak beam and a vaulted ceiling
This is the kind of thing you find when you have a couple of hours to kill
Dawn had decided to work from home for the day and during a delay in proceedings (Mr O was having van trouble) we, on a whim, pulled down a suspended ceiling in the hallway by the front door and ripped off a load of lath and Artexed plaster next to it.
In doing so we discovered that above the suspended ceiling was a steep vaulted ceiling all the way up the sloped porch roof, with the limed house-side wall propped up by a beautifully-aged oak beam.
So, flying by the seat of our pants, we pulled off all of the lime down to the brick on that wall (it was badly cracked anyway) and prepared it for blasting. The whole process from "I wonder what's above this ceiling" to the whole thing being ready happened so fast that it left my head spinning. I like to plan things, you see, not act on impulse. But the prospect of Mr O's imminent arrival had us both giddy with excitement so within a couple of hours it was done.

Rather than bore you with more words I'm going to tell the next part of this tale in before/after pictures.
You should know that Mr Olivine didn't leave until gone midnight, and in the 12 hours he was here he barely stopped. Other than cups of tea his only downtime was for a pizza we forced him to eat in case he passed out.
I did take over for 10 minutes in the Living Room while he had a cuppa, but that was only so I could say that I managed to do a bit despite us having to get a pro in...

Although some work still needs to be done, especially on restoring the quarry tiles, the result is outstanding and has marked one of the biggest and most encouraging steps forward in the whole project.

One final thing - the clean-up took us four days and I'm still getting dust out of my nose. Andy and SamTheDog popped over for half an hour during the work and he said he could see the dust cloud before he could even see the house. That's how bad it was.

Having stayed in each room to watch the work with my inadequate goggles and mask, there was a moment in Bedroom 1 when I couldn't hear anything but the blaster and literally couldn't see my hand in front of my face while I was being bombarded by dozens of disoriented flies. It got so bad that I couldn't tell where I was in relation to anything else and I started getting vertigo... that was an interesting moment, it has to be said.
I had the last laugh though because they were all dead in the dust next morning <happy face>.

Anyway, the pics.

Living Room


Bedroom 1

Bedroom 3

Best/worst of the rest

Even the walls needed to be vacuumed