Living In A Mud House


This is my Barbour (waxed) jacket. Or should I say ‘was’?

A lot of old cottages in the West Country were constructed using cob. It’s such a common thing around here that I’d not really given it a second thought. Until last night. I’ve made the mistake of storing the jacket in a built in cupboard and one side of it has been touching the wall.

English cob was traditionally made by mixing clay soil with sand, water and straw and using oxon to trample it all down. The oxon, presumably, adding a little more binding agent of their own. The resultant mix was then built up, layer by layer, on a deep stone foundation to form the walls of a house.

Our walls are about 24 inches thick and solid. That makes for lovely deep windowsills which Mike would leave clear and I have groaning with numerous houseplants. Some day soon, a compromise will need to be found. Cob will always have some moisture in it, the percentage varying according to the seasons. But, as we know, this year’s summer has been exceptionally wet.

I’ll leave my jacket to dry out for a while, to see if the mould will brush off.


2017-11-06T22:08:18+00:00October 30th, 2012|Tags: |


  1. Sue October 30, 2012 at 11:51 am - Reply

    I guess really then that built in cupboards are not such a good idea in cob houses, as the walls will need to ‘breathe’ all the time.

    I hope the mould will brush off for you.

    Sue xx

    • Jessica October 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm - Reply

      The walls do need to breathe, you’re right. As we redecorate we’ll use more natural materials e.g. distemper. But we still have to remove all the woodchip paper that’s been put on the walls (and even some ceilings!) everywhere. And then no doubt replace some plaster too.

  2. Natalie October 30, 2012 at 11:57 am - Reply

    Oh no! Your poor jacket! I didn’t realize that cob construction would absorb moisture like that.

    • Jessica October 30, 2012 at 12:19 pm - Reply

      If the proper ‘paint’ and render has been applied, so the wall can ‘breathe’, the moisture should evaporate away. It’s when concrete render or modern paint is used that problems start. As we go through the house, we’ll now do what we can to correct these problems.

  3. CherryPie October 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    Oh dear I hope your coat sorts itself out when it dries out

    • Jessica October 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm - Reply

      Thank you. The problem is where to put everything that’s now come out of the damp cupboard. The trials and tribulations of living in an old house.

  4. simone October 30, 2012 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    I have damp clothes in the fitted wardrobe and we don’t have cob walls!!! I am waiting for the ‘summer’ and will hopefully get rid of the fitted wardrobes that were here when we moved in 15 years ago!!!

    • Jessica October 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm - Reply

      It’s really NOT nice is it? I sympathise. It might be worth trying to get more ventilation into the wardrobe, if you can.

  5. elaine October 30, 2012 at 10:03 pm - Reply

    I should wait till it dries off a bit then re-wax it that should do the trick.

    • Jessica October 30, 2012 at 10:26 pm - Reply

      Thanks Elaine. If brushing doesn’t work, that’s what I’ll try next.

  6. BadPenny October 31, 2012 at 7:58 am - Reply

    I hope you can clean up your waxed coat. Interesting facts about cob walls… we don’t have cob but do have damp creeping up the lounge walls …groan !

    • Jessica October 31, 2012 at 9:16 am - Reply

      This year it’s been so very wet, I suspect a lot of us have the same problem.

  7. BadPenny October 31, 2012 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Love your comment about the hidden door.
    I saw a programme once about a ghost who seemed to have very short legs… when the time team or history team ( can’t remember ) looked into the history of the house – the floor levels had indeed been raised…..

    • Jessica October 31, 2012 at 2:03 pm - Reply

      Oh my goodness… your ghost story is pretty spooky too. Even with a very friendly ghost! (The Hen House)

  8. Rosie October 31, 2012 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    I knew of cob walls and mud and stud ones but hadn’t thought about the dampness they would cause. What a shame about your coat – a long drying out session and a good brush may sort it, I do hope so:)

    • Jessica October 31, 2012 at 2:16 pm - Reply

      In future we just won’t have fitted cupboards against external walls. The walls need to have proper air circulation around them. That, with breathable paint etc, should remove any damp problems. Given ‘normal’ weather conditions anyway!

      This morning I had a test brush at a small area of the Barbour and I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ll let it dry out some more, and I think it may brush clean. Thanks Rosie.

  9. Vera November 1, 2012 at 10:09 am - Reply

    Our house is build of river stones glued together with lime and mortar, and have lovely think walls as well, and also some lovely big cracks most of which have been filled in although some still remain to be done! Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on the mood of the moment, we are full of drafts so the house stays dry, but the Half Barn is draft free and we did experience a sweating of the walls which left the stones gleaming with moisture. Funnily enough this was not in winter but in spring, after it became very warm outside. for a few days. This left all our clothes feeling damp. Yuk! Still do not quite understand why it was so damp inside during warm weather and not damp at all during the colder weather!
    Hope your jacket gets sorted. I used to have a wax jacket, now I have a crochet shawl. Seems warmer. But I do have a long mack for those rainy days.
    It is nice to know that someone else is living in an old house with living walls!

    • Jessica November 1, 2012 at 11:37 am - Reply

      That does seem odd, you’re right. Perhaps it was the sudden change of temperature on previously cool stones. Or humidity?
      I hope all your animals are behaving themselves now 🙂

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