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.
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.
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.
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.
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.