Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Blog 11

By the end of February the weather came warm enough to paint the outside of the building. As we have used a lime render, it was important to use a breatheable paint. Normally one would use limewash, but this requires re-doing every two or three years – an inconvenient job right on the roadside. Instead we have chosen a mineral paint from Germany call Beeckosil which has a lime and silicate base. The paint actually bonds to the lime substrate through silicification. The process involves removing the alkaline "sinter" skin on the lime render with dilute acid followed by a coat of fixative, then two coats of the paint mixed with fixative.

In February the floor tiling was completed and the screen which encloses the front entrance lobby was installed. It was made by Grandfields of Nether Stowey from ash with full height glass panels. The display/storage unit under the front window was made and installed by Acorn Woodwork of Wellington. The electrical second fix was completed by Alan Manchip Electrical, including all the emergency lights, the fire alarms and the security systems. We have disguised the undersides of the steel beams that were put in to hold up the floors and walls above, by installing concealed lighting.

On 24 February we invited interested local artists to view the unfinished building. It proved to be a very pleasant and worthwhile occasion.

The fireplaces required repointing, so we raked out the joints and pointed with a lime-based mortar using red sand to attempt to replicate the colour of the original.

We cleaned up the wooden beams, lintels and bressummers and oiled them. The main beams and bressummers are of elm, but two sets of lintels are of oak, which is unusual for West Somerset. On the main bressummer we found rushlight marks. Rushlights were used in rural houses over many centuries and were made by soaking dried rushes in wax. They were held in holders at an angle, but didn’t last very long – probably not even an hour – so often burned right down to the holder when left unsupervised.

We also found a row of tally marks cut in the chamfer and two types of stamp. One constitutes the letters ES about half an inch across and the other the letter S made up of two double semi-circles about two inches in diameter put together.

These seem to indicate the possibility of some sort of manufacturing or trade which may have taken place. As mentioned in earlier blogs when we took the fireplaces out, we found evidence of hearths which may have indicated non-domestic use – possibly so0me sort of smelting. If anyone can shed light on this, please let me know.
So many passers-by and local people had expressed an interest in the building work that we decide to invite anyone interested to visit on March 16. We had a very positive response with about 60 visitors, some of who were able to talk about their knowledge of the building in past decades.

We have now thoroughly cleaned the gallery areas ready for opening, but there is still work to do in the WC and tea-room. The outside walls are painted, but the windows are yet to be done!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Blog 10

The long awaited road closure took place on 12 January and all went according to plan. Gas, electricity and water were all connected within two days and the back-filling and making good was complete by midday on 14th. It had taken a great deal of time and effort to get the three services to work in one hole! We now have supplies to the gallery, the flat, the barns and the future cottage.

The internal plastering was completed and we cleared the gallery rooms of all contents ready for the floor to be laid. For the first time we could get the feel of the new open spaces.

At the rear, we continued with the insulation and boarding of the walls and roof. We are using "Femacell" board which is much harder than plasterboard and will take screw fixings.

The floor tilers prepared the floor with a levelling compound.

They then started laying the tiles. I have chosen a hard-wearing low maintenance, non-slip porcelain tile which looks like slate, to be laid in a herringbone pattern.

Once laid, materials and equipment could be moved back to prepare for laying tiles at the rear. We could also set up the stereo equipment to listen to loud opera music in the resonant acoustic!

Ben started on painting the walls using a breathable mineral paint (Aglaia) which is harder wearing than limewash and does not dust off.

The electricians are now back doing the second fix and power is on in the sockets.
Planning permission to develop the two-storey building at the rear into a cottage has now been granted.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Blog 9

December saw the internal lime plastering of the gallery areas. After Ben had done the "dubbing out" to fill in holes and depressions, Ian and Daryl arrived to plaster. They first put on a "scratch coat" of 1:3 Chardstock sand to Hydraulic lime.

When this coat had hardened sufficiently, they put on a "float coat" of the same mix.

When that had hardened, they put on the “finish coat” – a mixture of silver sand with lime putty. This was then trowelled up to a fine finish. The lime plaster has been applied to follow the undulations of the old walls, and finished around features such as beams and fireplaces.

The use of lime not only replicates the original internal finish, but allows the walls to “breath”. This not only allows any moisture in the walls to evaporate, but also, helps control humidity levels in the building, taking moisture in when humid, and giving it back when dry. Accoustically, lime plaster, being less hard than modern gypsum plasters, gives less "echo" to the room.
I have started on the rubble wall to separate the new piece of land from the neighbour. I am building it with reclaimed stone from the site in the traditional manner with facing stones on each side and rubble in the middle. I am building it with a weak mix of Chardstock sand and cement as the weather is not suitable for lime. I shall, however, point up with a lime mix when the weather improves in the spring.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Blog 8

As winter approaches, the sun sometimes shines down Swain Street in the morning in a way that it doesn’t in the summer. The lime render is still its natural colour as I am still waiting for it to dry out sufficiently to lime-wash it. Unfortunately one problem is continual dog urination to the right of the front door which I fear will never dry out!

The trenches for water, gas, electricity and telephone have all been dug, the necessary ducting and pipework installed and then the trenches back-filled. The supplies go to the main building and to the outbuildings at the rear as I hope to develop these next year. We now await the connection in the road which will require the closure of Swain Street for several days. This is scheduled for 9 January 2012. I hope it does not cause too much disruption.

Gas piping (yellow) and telephone manhole

Inside, we have constructed the interior block and stud walls to form the office, wc and multi-purpose room for the gallery.

Interior studwork

Most of the joists in the main (front) room are seventeenth century and of elm. They are badly warped, so in order to achieve a reasonably level ceiling and provide for all the electrical cables and pipework, I have had to batten out below them.

Main room with ceiling battened out

The electricians have completed the first fix. There are festoons of wiring providing for the many electrical items in the building such as emergency lighting, fire alarms, security alarm as well as lighting and power.

Festoons of cabling

The new doors have been delivered. The frames for these are copies of the originals with large sections by today's standards (3”X4”) with pencil-moulded stops:

Pencil moulding on door frame

We have been preparing for the lime-plasterers to return to do the inside which requires getting ceilings up and dubbing out the walls with lime plaster to fill holes and get a reasonably flat wall for them to plaster.

Ben, dubbing out

While doing this Ben noticed "Nick Cotton 1973" scratched into the brickwork above the fireplace in the small gallery room. Nick says that this was when he worked with Alf to reconstruct the fireplace.

I have now purchased a small part of the adjacent garden so that I can more easily work on the end of the two-storey building at the end of the plot. I hope soon to submit a planning application to convert this into a cottage. In the end of this building we found the remains of a very old window. It is of oak and is probably seventeenth century. It has no rebates, so was probably unglazed. As this was probably a building non-domestic use, it may have had shutters so that light and/or ventilation could be provided when required.

Old window in east wall of outbuilding

Pegged joint in old oak window

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Blog 7

I have just noticed that some pictures intended to go in the May Blog somehow got left out so here they are:

We found the well which once served the house. It is sited in what had until recently been the kitchen, but which at one time was outside. It is 4.5 metres (15 feet) deep and has 0.9 metres (3 feet) of clear water in the bottom. It is well lined with red sandstone and has a lead pipe which once served a pump. Unfortunately we cannot incorporate it into the new plan for the building, so we have made a reinforced concrete cap and floored over it. It is still there for future generations to find.

In Jackie Binding's fascinating account she mentions the office that her grandmother used. Here is a picture of it taken before I carefully removed it to store it in one of the outbuildings.

Jackie also mentioned the pantry. The rooflight that she mentioned can be seen in this picture. The pantry has now been removed.

The pantry

Jackie told me that her Grandmother sold the property to someone called Bright, who I believe did bed and breakfast. Perhaps someone can fill in this bit of the history? At some stage it became called the "The Old Coffee House".
Back to more recent developments:
We have now re-laid all the internal floors with damp-proof membrane, then insulation, then under-floor heating pipes, then five inches of concrete.

Concrete being laid over the underfloor heating pipes

Outside, we have had a digger in, moving many tons of rubble and the mound of earth at the end of the garden. It has also excavated the trenches to take the water and gas pipes, and the electricity and telephone cables. These will all have to be connected in the road in December.

Service trenches

We have removed the stair to the flat, and built the wall which will separate the flat entrance from the gallery.

We have removed the front upstairs sash windows to refurbish them They are in very good condition for their age. Ben is stripping off all the paint and sanding them for repainting. Most of the old 1/16 inch glass needed replacing.

Sanding the sashes

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Blog 6

Much has changed since the last entry. The new roof is on and the lime render is finished. The scaffold is down.

We finally removed all the old render. We took a long time to do this as we tried to do it in the early morning while the street was still reasonably quiet. We repaired the stonework as we went. We also discovered evidence that the bottom half of the house is almost certainly mediaeval. A horizontal line was apparent roughly in line with the sills of the upper windows. This was probably the original eaves line of the mediaeval house. It would have been a single storey “hall” house consisting of one large room, open to the roof, perhaps with one or more “service” rooms at the north end. The fire would have been in the middle of the beaten earth floor; the smoke finding its own way out through the thatched roof. It would have been a “cross-passage” house with the front door just to the right of the present left-hand window. It is not clear where the original windows were, but they would probably have been quite small, with shutters and no glass.

Sometime in the early part of the seventeenth century, the house was considerably altered. The beams (discussed earlier) would have been introduced to support an upper floor and the walls were raised by about three feet. For this the builders used larger, squarer blocks of lias. The new eaves line could be seen in the stonework as well as the new gable end with a steeper pitch than the present roof, thatch requiring a greater pitch than slate. If there were upper floor windows, they would have been very low, or in the typical thatch “eyebrows”. The large inglenook fireplace and newel stair beside it would have been introduced at the same time.

The house was considerably altered again about a hundred years ago (discussed earlier) and the eave and gable line raised again, this time with much poorer rubble stonework. At that stage, the roof was rebuilt and covered in welsh slate.

The three eaves levels can be seen in the following picture:
Yellow – the original mediaeval eaves line
Green – the seventeenth century eaves line
Red – the original front door

We have also ascertained that the building was once adjoined to the house that was once on the site of the Co-op. That house was clearly slightly taller than No 41, but projected into Swain Street by the same amount. This must have made the street very narrow in front of the West Somerset Hotel. The wall between the properties was clearly a party wall, and when the Co-op building was built, they left this wall in place, building a new brick wall about three inches away. The original gable can still be seen at the front, although I have recently fitted new coping stones on it. Below this, where the bonding stonework was ripped out, the builders filled in very roughly with brick, requiring quite a lot of repair.

Brickwork where next-door once joined

At the rear, we have removed what remained of the gable, to allow the new roof to be lead-flashed into the brickwork making for better weather-proofing. Much water had found its way into the cavity between the two properties, but the walls are now drying out well.

The scaffold went up as soon as the Carnival was over, and the roofers started the following day. They quickly removed the slates with their “Turnerising” and felted and battened the front. The re-slated the front of the roof within a week and the lime-renderers were able to follow on. We only had a 28-day pavement licence for the scaffold, so they had to move fast. The slates used are natural riven slates from Brazil. I could not afford Welsh ones but they look a very good alternative.

Stripping the roof

The roofers then moved to the back and stripped that and felt and battened. Some repairs were needed to the timbers and the barge-boards and fascia boards needed replacing. I tried to copy the mouldings that remained on the front elevation which were still in good condition.

Felt and battening at the rear

The renderers started by putting on a “scratch” coat of hydraulic lime mixed with sand and horsehair. This was then left to cure for several days before putting on the finish coat. The chosen finish was achieved by brushing the render to expose the larger particles of sand. The mix was one part of French (St Astier) hydraulic lime (NHL3.5) to three parts of coarse Chardstock sand. Whilst hydraulic lime has an initial weak “set” somewhat like cement, the main hardening process is in reaction to the carbon-dioxide in the air and takes time. It will be some weeks before the final finish can be applied.

The "scratch" coat goes on

Unfortunately the roofing and the rendering made use of the pavement difficult – apologies to anyone who was inconvenienced!

Whilst all this was going on I was preparing the new fascia and bargeboards, whilst Ben stripped the old ones, then primed, undercoated and topcoated.

Eventually, within the 28 days, the scaffold came down on the front.

The front scaffold down!

The roofers had a great deal of leadwork to do, with the valleys and the flashing around the chimneys. I chose black clay ridge tiles to match the old ones, with a roll-top. The roof-scape looks quite beautiful. Unfortunately much of the work cannot be seen from ground level.

Lead valley, chimney flashing

The ridge and the West Somerset Hotel

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Blog 5

Having gained planning consent to re-roof the property and alter the chimneys, we had scaffold put up in June around the four chimneys. One, at the north gable had been removed some years ago and blanked off with slates. The other three were in poor condition, especially where they had been re-pointed with hard cement mortar and the bricks were deteriorating around it. We took them down to a firm base and rebuilt three of them with the same corbelling as before.

The two rear chimneys before demolition and the S & N chimneys demolished.

We used good bricks reclaimed from the demolished chimneys or other parts of the site, and laid them with a lime-based mortar. Unfortunately the weather was very hot and dry, so the lime mortar and the flaunching required continual wetting down to prevent it drying out too quickly. None of the old pots were re-usable, so we have replaced them with new ones. The four flues at the ends (N & S) of the building will not be used, but will be vented to prevent internal condensation. The pots for these have vented caps to prevent rain ingress. The chimney at the rear which stands tall above the 'catslide' or lean-to may be used in the future gallery. I have 'parged' this with lime render in the traditional manner. This parging was to prevent acid soot settling in the mortar joints and eroding them. Soot would then settle in the eroded joints providing a fire hazard.

Parging in process.

Completed N & E chimneys.

The fourth chimney was clearly quite a late addition. It was visible only with difficulty from the rear and has not been replaced.

During July we slowly removed the render from the front of the building and replaced the ground floor windows. We uncovered considerable deterioration in some areas of stonework and have had to execute some repairs. Some damage had been caused by earlier movement of the building (not recent, or cracks would have shown in the render). Some had been caused by the hard cement render which had been used in repair work. It could not always be removed without damage to the underlying stonework. In the SW corner of the building we have inserted long stainless steel reinforcement rods to 'stitch' the building together. In other places we have done deep pointing with lime mortar. Elsewhere we have filled holes with lime mortar and broken clay tiles, bricks or lias stones.

Render partially removed, new windows, stonework repairs.

The new front windows we designed to be as close a copy of the old ones as could be achieved whilst providing for double glazing. The building is not listed and has to satisfy current building regulations. The depth of external sill, the depth of the external reveals, the size of the glazing bars and the internal mouldings are the same as before.

When fitting the front left-hand window, we found that the external lintel had little or no bearing on the right hand end. What bearing there was, was on the remains of the lintel of the original front door – still a very hard piece of elm. We had to cut this away to build up a new brick bearing. We then inserted a new concrete lintel. The remaining lintels at the front are in reasonable condition.

One feature on the front of the building is not fully explained. The SW corner has been cut away and replaced with a section of concrete across the angle, swept to the corner at head height. The same feature exists on the corners of the West Somerset Hotel and the Chinese Restaurant. One theory is that the council did this when it was intended to bring heavy traffic through Swain Street to provide more pavement space. Any other theories?

At the rear, we have also replaced the windows and repaired stonework and brickwork. The roof of the outshot lean-to was in very poor condition and we have installed new rafters. Half of it was covered in Bridgwater double-roman roof tiles and half in welsh slate like the rest of the building. The slate was covered in 'Turnerising' – a bitumen or tar-based product which was intended to seal a leaking roof.

The rear roofs as they were.

New rafters.

Two items which relate to the buildings twentieth century history have appeared. A board attached to the sill of the front middle upper window had the words 'The Old Coffee Shop' written in capitals on it. This must have been part of the shop’s sign when it had that name back in the 1960s.

Also we have uncovered a mural of a sea scene which Nick Cotton painted when a teenager. It was on the rear wall of what was then the fish and chip shop run by his parents.

Some of the render on the front of the house was very old indeed and under the white masonry paint there we could see the many layers of different coloured limewash that had been used over the years –white, grey, two shades of deep pink and two shades of yellow ochre.