for People with a Passion for Period Property

Restored to Glory

The house as it was when we bought it. The walls are rubblestone, made from a rather soft and poor quality local slate which had once been limewashed but which had clearly been left for decades exposed to the elements. The corrugated iron cladding was nailed on to 2x4 battens on the south-western side of the house, which catches the worst of the winter weather. The wife of the farmer from who we bought the place said the cladding had been there for at least 50 years and she couldn't remember what the place looking like before it went on. Needless to say, we wanted to find out.

Underneath the corrugated iron we found that some attempt had been made to repoint and partially render the wall using a very hard OPC mortar. This had failed in many placed and this failure had clearly prompted the cheap and cheerful tin cladding.

With all the tin off the side a start could be made on replacing the 1970s aluminium doube-glazed windows. Box sashes were made by a local joiner - sadly Building Regs wouldn't permit us to have the windows exactly as we wanted them as double glazing had to be incorporated, which made the glazing bars look a little out of proportion. Infinitely better than the aluminium windows, however.

One window overlooking the farmyard had clearly been put in as an afterthought. All the other windows in the house had cut slate lintels and quoin stones of Preseli bluestone, but this on had clearly been hacked through the wall at a later date and given a crude lintel of late-Victorian engineering bricks arched with mortar and small slate fillets. The crudely-made 'arch' had failed - probably when the double-glazed windows were put in - cracks had run up the outer skin of the rubble-stone wall and some of the stonework was 'sagging' alarmingly. It was clear that if we tried to take the old window out, we'd end up with a large chunk of the wall coming away with it.

Steel box-section 'pins' were fabricated to relieve the pressure on the old window and the stonework over the crack lintel was then numbered and removed. A steel lintel was inserted in the core of the rubble-stone wall and a slate keystone cut to form a more stable arch with the still-sound engineering bricks.

The original stones were then put back as far as possible and the wall repointed

The south side of the house was suffering badly from penetrating damp because earth was banked up to a height of four or five feet against the outside and ivy and other invasive plants had been allowed to grow unchecked. We decided to dig a French ditch around the two 'damp' sides of the house to direct groundwater away from the walls, and this meant digging out a massive amount of soil...

...to get down to just below floor level. At the bottom we found the remains of an original French ditch filled with crockery and potsherds. As a temporary measure the ditch was shored up with the battening and tin taken from the west side of the house and nicknamed the Western Front! Once the drainage was sorted the house soon began to dry out, and meanwhile we carried on working on the outside. Removing the tin had revealed a false window in the middle of the ground floor which had been filled with slate rubble.

We removed the rubble and cleaned up the reveal while hacking out the cement and repointing the wall.

The roof had been patched with asbestos tiles, and the were replaced with reclaimed slates, while all the leadwork around the dormers on the west side and around the chimneys was replaced. Some rot was found in the timbers, so treated new wood was scarfed into the purlins and rafters when the manky stuff was cut away.

Repointing proved to be a seemingly never-ending chore, but by the autumn the first coats of limewash could be applied and the house - from the outside at least - began to look as it should. The outside needs at least another three coats of white limewash and two coats of ochre, but that will have to wait until the spring now that the weather has turned. The woodwork be painted with linseed oil paint; again that will have to wait until the seasons turn and for now the windows have just been liberally soaked with linseed oil to last the winter.

Nearly all the rooms in the house had been rendered with cement and plastered with gypsum, while the ceilings were a mixture of sodden fibreboard and plasterboard thanks to the leaks in the roof. All the render was removed and the ceilings taken down - giving us plenty of access for the complete replumbing and rewiring of the house.

New ceilings were put in using reed matting - a fraction the price of riven lath and, on our budget, the only sensible solution.

All the plastering was then done with hair lime plaster

One feature of farmhouses in West Wales is the 'simne fawr', a massive hearth and stone hood. Ours had the best part of a century and a half of tar and soot soaked into the stone, and simply replastering over the top wasn't an option. Instead we painted the contaminated stonework with a slurry of cow dung before parging it with a dung and lime mortar mix, which seems to have kept the tar and soot from leaching through.

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