for People with a Passion for Period Property
Ask an Agony Uncle!
Stephen Boniface - Stephen Boniface specialises in building conservation providing multi-disciplinary consulting services. He is Chairman of the Building Surveying Faculty and member of the Residential faculty. He serves on the RICS Building Conservation Forum Board and is the 'Agony Uncle' on the Period Property UK website (

Ask our Agony Uncles ...

You can write to our panel of experts free of charge on any subject, providing it's got something to do with Period Properties.

Our experts are all specialists in matters directly involved with older properties. So, if you have a problem with an older building - or if you think you might have a problem - ask an Agony Uncle...

o Poor flashing leads to water ingress Mike Foster (Greater London)
o Earthy smells cannot escape from rooms Nigel Pearson (Shrewsbury)
o Professional advice to stop weathering of stone Stephen Cooper (Somerset)
o Traditional limewash provides better solution than PVA Tony Corr (Warwickshire)
o Official advice required before change of use Sandra Evans (Gwynedd County)
o Conservation requirements make roof ventilation difficult David Ramage (Dumfries and Galloway)
o Roof insulation also requires ventilation Andy Haynes (Oxfordshire)
o Asbestos tiles lead to possible concerns Julie Revans (Bristol)
o Don't hide damp deal with it at source John Albury (Gloucestershire)
o Underpinning leads to insurance problems Stuart Bell (Somerset)
o Crazy cracking requires raking & filling Sidney Jevons (Wiltshire)
o Potential purchaser faced with cannibalised stone barn Name Withdrawn Trudgeon (Cornwall)
o Removal of concrete screed reveals brick floor Rob & Katie Blair (Leicestershire)
o Hi-tech imaging equipment can reveal property's structure. Nick Bell (Cambridgeshire)
o Iron stains on lime walls John Galloway (Highlands and Islands)
o Can I insert a dpc in clay lump? Chris Groves (Norfolk)
o Towering Chimneys provide home for giant birds Elisa Smith (Lincolnshire)
o Lime Source Tracy Knight (Hampshire)
o Stripping in front of the fireplace Janet Shaw (London)
o Local conservation officer should have the contacts Hugh Zocher (London)
o Dusty pamments need more appeal Stephen Clabburn (Brundish)
o Sources of salvage in London Lisa Reynolds (London)
o Quarry tile floor needs sparkle Ainsley Williams (Worcestershire)
o Dirty limewash in cellar Bryan Sadler (Lancaster)
o Cob shows signs of wear & tear Louise Farrand (Dorset)
o Listed building planning permission required Chris Walsh (Clwyd)
o High ground levels cause penetrating damp Jeremy Bullock (Berkshire)
o Damp floor may lead to un-doing of previous work Claire Greene (Buckinghamshire)
o Timber floors need sprucing up Anna Erken (Gloucestershire)
o How far should I go in removing internal plaster? Alec Gunner (Cambridgeshire)
o Lime source Alison Burleigh (East Sussex)
o Crumbling Cobble Martyn James (East Sussex)
o Metal framed windows cause dilemma Lee Pearce (Essex)
o Stain barrier Mary Page (Lincolnshire)
o Have we really got rising damp Sonia Fagan (Norfolk)
o Use of mastic in timber frame house causes alarm Philip Degg (Staffordshire)

SUBJECT: Local conservation officer should have the contacts
FROM: Hugh Zocher (London)
I am in the process of buying a Grade II listed barn in Salfords, Surrey. I realise that the soleplate/posts require underpinning. Please can you refer me to a company/s that do this in Surrey.

Hugh Zocher

My first port of call would be your local conservation officer at the district council who will have a better knowledge of builders working in the locality with the necessary skills to undertake the work. But, it is very important you actually view some of their latest work - remember many builders sub-contract out work therefore standards can be variable. Finally, take a look at at the directory section and look under builders.



SUBJECT: Dusty pamments need more appeal
FROM: Stephen Clabburn (Brundish)
Please could you advise me the best way to clean and treat pamment flooring. I have recently moved into a 15th century cottage where the floor despite repeated scrubbing continues to look dull and dirty.

Stephen Clabburn

Traditional small quantities of unpasteurised soured milk, applied with a rag and rubbed into the pamments helped to protect pamments as well as imparting a slight sheen. Alternatively the use of a little beeswax and turpentine polish will help to provide protection and improve their appearance. Both of the above suggestions apply to traditional floors laid on lime or sand/earth where maintaining a breathing floor is very important.



SUBJECT: Sources of salvage in London
FROM: Lisa Reynolds (Finchley, London)
Where can I find the nearest Reclaimation Site?

Lisa Reynolds

Lassco St Michaels has various locations in London supplying a bewildering range of architectural salvage. Visit or telephone them on 020 7749 9944. Alternatively Reclaims of Crews Hill in Enfield have a three acres site full of goodies. They can be contacted on 020 8 367 1666.



SUBJECT: Quarry tile floor needs sparkle
FROM: Ainsley Williams (Leicestershire)
I have just laid a reclaimed Quarry tile floor. I need to seal the tiles and provide some protection for them. They are in a high usage area as well as in the shower room. Please advise. Only help so far is linseed oil, with the proviso that it does attract the dirt. Any other solutions?

Ainsley Williams

As a rule linseed oil should not be used on quarry tiles as it yellows when exposed to light and absorbs dirt which dulls and darkens the tiles. If, your tiles are laid on a traditional bed of lime mortar it is important to apply a breathing surface finish to the tiles. To achieve this The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings recommend the use of turpentine polish followed by a coat of beeswax.


SUBJECT: Dirty limewash in cellar
FROM: Bryan Sadler (Lancaster)
We have Victorian cellar with lime washed walls. They are filthy and I am about to clean them. Any do's and don'ts for cleaning limewashed walls?

Bryan Sadler

Bryan, your first step should be to brush down the walls to remove any loose material, followed by washing, sponging and scrubbing with warm water. This will help to remove the dirt and some of the limewash. Then, simply re-limewash the walls. The use of limewash will allow any moisture in the walls to evaporate. Do not use a modern non-breathing paint as the moisture will simply be retained in the fabric of your property causing damp.


SUBJECT: Cob shows signs of wear & tear
FROM: Louise Farrand (Dorset)
I have a 1730s cottage in Dorset made from cobb. In places cracks and holes have opened up on the surface and the paint is peeling in places. What would be the best method to make good the wear and tear?

Louise Farrand

Louise, before embarking on any repairs to your cob cottage it is essential to ascertain why the so-called cracks and holes are appearing. It may be wear and tear due to age and weathering, or alternatively it may be as a result of other yet to be identified problems. Of course, without seeing the property it is impossible to pinpoint the exact reasons for the development of cracks and holes. But, if they are due to wear and tear then you should seek to repair them with the same material as the walls were constructed. In this case cob, which is a mixture of clayey sub-soil and straw, with the clayey sub-soil most probably derived from the general locality of the cottage. Finally, please ensure the render used on your property is lime which is then covered in limewash. Such a finish ensures any damp within the cob can simply evaporate without causing any damage to the structure of your property.


SUBJECT: Listed building planning permission required
FROM: Chris Walsh (Conwy, Clwyd)
My wife and I are considering buying a second property to let, and have viewed a Grade II listed terraced cottage as a possible purchase. The property is in reasonable decorative order, however we would want to remove a large ground floor picture window (10'x10') which is on the gable end abutting a main road, brick up and render the aperture, and put a new window in the front of the property instead. This would balance up the appearance of the front of the property and provide more privacy to a tenant. Could we alter the property in such a way, and how do we find out?

Chris Walsh

Chris, because the property in question is a listed building it is a criminal offence to undertake any alterations to the property without seeking Listed Building Planning Permission. Therefore, firstly you should consult your local conservation officer concerning your plans to see if planning permission could be achieved.


SUBJECT: High ground levels cause penetrating damp
FROM: Jeremy Bullock (Newbury, Berkshire)
I have just bought a Victorian Farmhouse, C1820, made of brick and flint. There is evidence of penetrating damp inside - but I am heartened to find that the soil levels outside the farmhouse have been raised above the level of the internal floors. I am in the process of removing this soil and taking off the affected plaster. What other action should I take and is it OK to use a dehumidifier to speed the process up?

Jeremy Bullock

Jeremy, you are on the right track. Attempt to reduce the ground levels outside the property to below the internal floor levels of the property. Please ensure you are not undermining the foundations of the property because the internal floor levels may have been lowered sometime in the past rather than the external ground levels increasing. Also ensure any new plastering is undertaken is in lime to allow the walls to breathe as well as check all guttering for leaks.



SUBJECT: Damp floor may lead to un-doing of previous work
FROM: Claire Greene (Olney, Buckinghamshire)
My partner and I have recently purchased a Grade II Listed Cottage and in the midst of re -decorating. We knew about a damp patch under the stairs and are able to treat this under guarantee. However, the damp company who previously treated this section has advised us to treat the actual problem - damp rising under the floor and hollow areas forming. This, can only be treated with the existing floor dug up, a latex sealer installed and then a new floor. We have recently re decorated the whole of the lounge/ dining room, so other than the cost (approx. 2000) it could spoil our new interior. However, is this treatment imperative to the cottage?

Claire Greene

Claire, you do not make it clear what the construction of your property is and the damp treatment it has recently undergone. But, any move to install a new dpc in your floor may lead to moisture simply being concentrated around the bases of the internal and external walls of the property. This is a complex issue which has been covered in may questions before, but a good source of advice is the Society for the Protection of Ancient Building's leaflet called 'The Control of Damp in Old Buildings'. They can be contacted on 020 7 377 1644.



SUBJECT: Timber floors need sprucing up
FROM: Anna Erken (Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire)
Our house dates from the 1770's and used to be a pub. After living here for 4 years we are now in the process of looking under de carpets and have discovered that the floors of attic rooms and the staircases are made of lovely dark elm. We would like to remove the carpets and expose the wood but the problem is that although they seem to be waxed in a dark colour they appear dull and dirty. When I cleaned them with a damp rag the beautiful colour reappeared but then when the water had dried off they became dull and discoloured again. All the advice I have received so far have been to sand them down and then to stain them. This, to me, seems rather harsh and I was wondering whether there was an alternative?

Anna Erken

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings have published a booklet entitled the 'Care and Repair of Old Floors'. The cleaning and polishing of Hardwood floors such as Oak and Elm are discussed. Please contact them on 020 7 377 1644 for a copy of the booklet which costs a few pounds.