Hair Of The Horse


Work on the study is progressing…. slo-oooow-ly.

Don’t even get me started on the mess.



Peeling back the layers of an old house reveals so much.

It’s clear what’s happened here. A fresh lot of wood chip paper has just been slapped up over the top of the last. Getting the paper off was far less challenging than we’d been fearing, I can but hope the same is true all over the house. The study is only the start of it. Downstairs there’s even wood chip on the ceilings, in between the beams.



Underneath the paper it gets even more interesting: the different colour schemes of times gone by.

If this were the National Trust no doubt we’d be sending samples off for analysis and reproducing one of the colours to use again. I do quite like the green. But the room nestles under the overhang of the roof and as a consequence tends to be dark. I’ll stick with off-white.



Sometimes it isn’t just the paper that comes off….. eeek.

I’ve good reason to think that the top layer of wood chip was added way back in 1984, of which more in a future post. The biggest problem is not usually with the paper itself, but in what it conceals. In this area the plaster had loosened, crumbled and separated from the main structure of the wall. It came down with minimal prompting, revealing the rough stone beneath.


Study 015 Wm[1]


In other places the structure is much softer. This is cob, found widely in the south west of England, constructed from earth bound together with straw. You can clearly see the straw fragments, most likely several hundreds of years old.

And this is where the horse hair comes in. To repair old stone walls and cob traditional builders use lime mortar, with hair now mixed in to bind it in place of straw. Restoring our previous house, about ten years ago, goat hair was the flavour of the day. In the intervening period it seemed to get replaced with yak. I wonder how many yaks roam free around Devon. Perhaps that’s why we’re now back to horse.



Preparing a new batch of lime mortar.

Large holes are filled first with the haired mortar, then a coat of mortar without the hair, followed by lime plaster. A top skim provides a surface that is smooth enough to paint. Each layer has to properly cure before the next can be applied. Which of course happens more slowly in winter. None of this being the most cheering of news given my Christmas deadline.


Fun though, eh?


2018-04-24T18:18:23+00:00December 9th, 2014|Tags: |


  1. freda December 9, 2014 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    I have to say it’s not my own idea of fun!!

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 6:10 pm - Reply

      There was more than a smidgen of tongue in cheek 🙂

  2. Vintage Jane December 9, 2014 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    Kind of interesting peeling back all the layers though …. and it WILL be worth it in the end!

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 6:16 pm - Reply

      It’s the bit I quite enjoy.. after that I just want to fast forward to the end! In the previous house we found a medieval window hidden in a wall, original wooden mullions pre-dating glass. Nothing as exciting since, but I still look forward to the ‘discovery’ phase just as much.

  3. Em December 9, 2014 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    Looks so much nicer in the photographs! X

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 6:24 pm - Reply

      It just got a whole lot worse. Mike has started channelling into the walls for those hanging wires. We put it off until after you’d been!

  4. Jenny December 9, 2014 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    From an outsiders perspective its really interesting to see the layers peeling away and what needs to be done to repair it all – I’m sure there are times when you’d much rather it was a modern house without all these problems though.

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 6:32 pm - Reply

      At the moment I’m mostly wishing we had modern levels of insulation, a heating system that could cope and no gap under the kitchen door! But yes, everything does take much longer. It’s a privilege to live in an old building but it certainly isn’t easy.

  5. Sol December 9, 2014 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    its good you are repairing it. others would have had dot and dab then plaster boards put over it then a skim. I cant wait to see the end product.

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 6:40 pm - Reply

      One of the walls we found to be exactly that. Luckily it’s the wall we need to cut into for electrics. It means the remaining walls can be repaired as needed and then left unscathed.

  6. Christina December 9, 2014 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    It is very interesting to see your progress but as the owner of an older house myself I know the horror of the unknown when you begin work. It will be worth it when its done Jessica, patience!

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 6:44 pm - Reply

      There is always more than you’d planned for isn’t there. I am in receipt of mucho grief having wanted to remove a built in cupboard which has apparently added a further week of work..

  7. Mark and Gaz December 9, 2014 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    The joys of restoring an old property! It’ll all be worth it 🙂

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 6:46 pm - Reply

      I hope so. These projects always seem easier when you’ve got to the end!

  8. Anne Wheaton December 9, 2014 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    It looks as though you have your work cut out there – woodchip paper was so good at hiding a multitude of sins. We discovered a similar shade of green under layers of paint on the windows.

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 6:52 pm - Reply

      It must have been a very fashionable shade at one time. Original green paint sometimes contained arsenic though… beware!

  9. Donna@GardensEyeView December 9, 2014 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Well when i first saw the holes and rough stone I thought how beautiful…then of course I was thinking oh my how to repair this….it is amazing it is hundreds of years old, but oh the work. An interesting solution though!

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 7:04 pm - Reply

      I was tempted, but only for a second, to think about exposing the whole stone wall. Then I remembered what Mike’s reaction would be..

  10. Amy at love made my home December 9, 2014 at 2:00 pm - Reply

    Always something! It amazes me how sometimes you find layer on layer of wallpaper though, I guess no one thinks that there is anything below the layer that they are papering over, it wouldn’t occur to me I have to say. Not that I wallpaper! xx

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 7:07 pm - Reply

      From the Trust’s point of view it must be fascinating, tracking back the fashions over the years. In this case I think it was probably papering over the paper that hadn’t quite covered the cracks!

  11. justjilluk December 9, 2014 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    Well done for doing it properly. Its an insurance for the future. I can well remember woodchip and using it as a cover up to my shame…

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 7:09 pm - Reply

      I wanted to do it to get some of the character back into the old house, it’s been well and truly bastardised over the years. It’ll be a long old job though.

  12. Sue@GLAllotments December 9, 2014 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    We’ve just been decorating my sister’s kitchen which we thought was a job and a half but easy compared to what you arefaced with.

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 7:36 pm - Reply

      Kitchens are a difficult job, all those nooks and crannies!

  13. Denise December 9, 2014 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    It’s a nice feeling when it’s all done! Aim for that!

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 7:39 pm - Reply

      Aiming, but not on the bullseye yet..
      It looks like for the first time in years I won’t be able to use F&B. Disaster!

  14. CJ December 9, 2014 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    It’s fascinating, and always worth taking the time and having something done properly. How lovely it will be when it’s all done. CJ xx

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 7:47 pm - Reply

      It is worth doing it properly, not least because I don’t think I could face doing it all again anytime soon!

  15. Denise December 9, 2014 at 5:56 pm - Reply

    I don’t know why, but the word ‘yak’ just made me laugh out loud! Cob is amazing stuff, isn’t it? Did you happen to see the episode of ‘George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces’ where the mad-cap crazy lady built a little cob-house in her back garden? I thought, I quite fancy having a go at that myself. I hope you get your decorating done by Christmas…keeping all crossed for you. X

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 7:55 pm - Reply

      Oooh, you should.. Primrose and Camilla could have a cob chicken house! As long as they didn’t peck at it.
      The Christmas deadline is looking more iffy by the day. But better that it is done right and takes longer. I will regret it if we rush it. I’ll just need to clear the dining room of assorted study contents before we can get in it to have Christmas lunch!

      • Denise December 9, 2014 at 8:00 pm - Reply

        Are you kidding? A cob house for those two?? Camilla has already taken to marching into the conservatory as it is. She’s proving a proper cheeky chicken, that one! I was thinking of something bijou pour moi!

        • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 8:44 pm - Reply

          It seems that Primrose’s position as head honcho may be short-lived. I do like a bird with a bit of character though.
          And quite fancy a cob-and-glass writing room myself. With fireplace.

  16. Jayne Hill December 9, 2014 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Some of that looks a little too familiar for comfort – not the horse hair but the ease and rapidity with which plaster throws itself off the walls when wallpaper is removed.

    I’m also totally in sympathy with you re: the mess and disruption of dealing with it. Which might be why a large section of wall in our bedroom is bare bricks … and it’s covered by a huge quilt hanging on the wall. I felt better about doing that after my cousin commented “ah, just like they did in castles”. I can recommend this approach, I’ve lived with it for the last four years!

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 7:59 pm - Reply

      Very, very envious of your exposed wall and what a great way of covering it. In castles it was the only form of insulation they had, might need to resort to it here if it gets much colder…

  17. Brian Skeys December 9, 2014 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Woodchip paper was popular many years ago because it successfully hid what was underneath. To my shame I have used it in the past.

    Good luck restoring the walls, it must be satisfying to do it in the traditional way. When you have finished!

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 8:00 pm - Reply

      Exactly Brian!

  18. Crafty Gardener December 9, 2014 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    That sounds like quite the challenge, and I’m sure you are both up to it.

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 8:04 pm - Reply

      We are contemplating signing up for a Lime Plastering course, as there’s likely to be a lot more of it to come. Because it takes so much longer than modern plastering it’s very expensive to have done by contractors.

  19. islandthreads December 9, 2014 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    you are progressing Jessica even though at times it may feel like 1 step forward 2 back and by doing the job properly it will last, apparently one of the reasons old house can feel cold is modern heating, the houses were built for solid fuel in fire places with chimneys which would then warm the stone, brick, cob etc. when my solid fuel rayburn went and I decided I’d had enough of cleaning fires and went for central heating I did notice it took longer to heat up especially in the morning, now I have insulation in the form of insulation and plasterboard over, plasterboard is the way it is done here, earlier homes had tongue and grove panels, I hope filling all the holes will help stop the drafts and keep you warmer, Frances

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 8:30 pm - Reply

      One of the things on my list is to restore the open fires in the house. One chimney is blocked up to take the central heating boiler flue, the other currently has a wood burner which is a no-no for thatch and I daren’t use it. I do remember from having an open fire previously that the chimney really did hold heat well.

      • islandthreads December 10, 2014 at 11:18 am - Reply

        I just had the chimneys here closed at the bottom and only removed the fire surround and a enough fire bricks to make it flush with the wall, in case a future owner may want to re-open them, I have kept one fire open in the front north facing bedroom, I know silver backed plasterboard with insulation behind isn’t authentic in such an old house as yours but it has made a very significant difference to both how much warmer my house is and my fuel bill, my house was built in the mid fifties so is younger than me but it is traditional stone with thick walls and as with many houses here built by the family that lived here before me with help from their family and friends (a self build), Frances

        • Jessica December 10, 2014 at 6:26 pm - Reply

          I’m sure the history of this place (self build) is very similar. One day when we’ve got some time I’d love to trace back our predecessors and see how much I can uncover. It would be an interesting exercise I think.

  20. Sarah December 9, 2014 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    Woodchip is so good at hiding a multiple of sins and so difficult to get off too! At least it is the study and hopefully can just shut the door if it is not finished by Christmas. It’s nice to see old methods still being used. Sarah x

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 8:37 pm - Reply

      I feel quite good about being able to restore the house back to its original structure and finishes, to the extent that we will be able to do so. There’s no shortage of suppliers of the materials, that’s something.

  21. Vera December 9, 2014 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    Oh I remember having woodchip paper when in the UK. I actually quite liked it, which is a good thing because it was stuck onto plasterboard and would have been a **** to get off! I don’t put deadlines on the house renovation now. I just work very hard at being pleased with what we have managed to achieve, and deliberately block my mind to how much more we have to do, which seems to divert me away from being depressed about how long it is taking to get the house sorted out!

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 8:51 pm - Reply

      It’s a healthy attitude to have Vera, as house renovation and depression seem to go hand in glove. You have put up with a lot more hardship than me. It’s imagining how it will look at the end that keeps me going. Every little bit of progress gets us closer to that point.

  22. CherryPie December 9, 2014 at 9:27 pm - Reply

    You have a lot of work ahead of you there but I am sure it will look great when you have finished 🙂

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 9:46 pm - Reply

      Thanks Cherie. It was taken on as a project, so only ourselves to blame.

  23. snowbird December 9, 2014 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    What a wonderful labour of love. How fascinating too, I simply love old houses and would cheerfully swop places, especially with all your land.
    It’s so interesting seeing what’s beneath the surface, who knows what you might find.I can’t wait to see it

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 9:53 pm - Reply

      Thanks snowbird. We had some of the floorboards up yesterday, and what did we find? Woodworm (inactive, I hope) and mouse droppings!!! Grrrr.

  24. Julie December 9, 2014 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    Your photos are so lovely I am actually envying the steady patience of repair and then the satisfying reward when its finished. The previous owners in our house went berserk with artex, walls and ceilings.

    • Jessica December 9, 2014 at 10:06 pm - Reply

      The only way to change that is to plaster over the top, isn’t it?

  25. LInda from Each Little World December 10, 2014 at 1:54 am - Reply

    We once lived in a hundred year old house, so I am sympathetic. As an outsider it is fascinating to learn about this technique and how to do repairs. But I admit I would rather read about it than hav e to repair it myself!

    • Jessica December 10, 2014 at 6:15 pm - Reply

      The deep filling isn’t so bad, it’s getting the very top surface smooth enough to paint. The walls certainly aren’t square and undulations add character, but visible patching is not a good look!

  26. Linda December 10, 2014 at 2:56 am - Reply

    Hi there Jessica….
    Yikes! Eeeeeek! Really?
    You are a brave woman….
    Got your tree up? Tee hee hee….
    Enjoy your week…
    Linda :o)

    • Jessica December 10, 2014 at 6:15 pm - Reply

      Tree up?
      Ho Ho Ho.

  27. Kris P December 10, 2014 at 5:00 am - Reply

    And here I was thinking that making improvements to a 65 year old house was challenging…

    • Jessica December 10, 2014 at 6:22 pm - Reply

      Any older house is challenging. The materials are different and the way we want to live is different. Not to mention getting all today’s technology in. It’s taken a week’s work to hide all the wiring in the study alone.

  28. Joanne December 10, 2014 at 10:37 am - Reply

    It’s interesting what you find when you peel back the layers. Nothing as exciting as your finds but Ii found a few patches of 50’s wallpaper when attacking the kitchen walls.

    • Jessica December 10, 2014 at 6:23 pm - Reply

      It is fascinating isn’t it. And how fashions change!

  29. Mise December 10, 2014 at 11:57 am - Reply

    I send you support and sympathy from the walls of my own house, the original walls of the old part of which are made of sand and seaweed.

    • Jessica December 10, 2014 at 6:31 pm - Reply

      That’s interesting. I guess houses were built with whatever could be found, or dug up, locally. I hope you are OK under the weather bomb Mise..

  30. Natalie December 10, 2014 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    That looks like a hell of a lot of work but it will be wonderful when it’s all done! We have horsehair plaster walls in a lot of our house but the work on them is pretty much finished now. Hang in there!

    • Jessica December 10, 2014 at 6:34 pm - Reply

      Hanging in there is pretty much how it feels. Patience is not one of my virtues. I think I have gone greyer this last couple of weeks. Although it could be the dust..

  31. Chloris December 10, 2014 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    You are very brave peeling back the layers and restoring your house. It is a wondeful project though. I do hope you get straight for Xmas.

    • Jessica December 10, 2014 at 6:46 pm - Reply

      I’m resigned to not having it for Christmas now. Hey Ho. We’ve lived through a lot worse. The important thing is getting it right for the longer term. And if I get bored on Christmas Day I can always get the paintbrush out!

  32. woolythymes December 10, 2014 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    this is really fascinating (from the coziness of my own armchair, of course—although we live in an old-for-us house that has a few quirks, too); it’s sort of like a domestic archeological dig!

    • Jessica December 10, 2014 at 6:51 pm - Reply

      It is just like an archeological dig, it’s the bit I enjoy the most. So often things were just covered up and forgotten about because that was the easiest way.. there are often bits of original features waiting to be uncovered.

  33. AnnetteM December 10, 2014 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    I am sure you love it really!!! Sounds too much work for my liking, but what else are you going to do in the winter? It will be finished, though and will look wonderful.

    • Jessica December 10, 2014 at 6:53 pm - Reply

      One day in my dotage I hope I will just be able to sit by the fire and knit!

  34. angiesgardendiaries December 10, 2014 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    It’s easy for us to say it will be worth it in the end but we are not the ones living with it. When I moved here, I cancelled out first Christmas in the house and celebrated when the builders left at the end of January. That too is a whole lot easier if you are not expecting visitors.
    You are both doing the right thing though and I certainly don’t envy you the job of taking off all that woodchip. Doing what you are, would be a dream of mine and I suspect without a big stroke of luck, it will remain to be so. If I lived nearer Jessica – I’d come and give you a hand.

    • Jessica December 10, 2014 at 7:10 pm - Reply

      It’s an economic decision to do most of the work ourselves but the downside to that is it does take an awful lot longer. And we are learning as we go along, which also adds time. Having got part way through though, there is no other choice but keep going!

  35. Suzanne December 11, 2014 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Wow! That’s a project. Are their rules that have you repair the ” old” way or are you trying to preserve the building as close to the original as you can? It still amazes me the ages of things over your way. Your house is older than my country.

    • Jessica December 11, 2014 at 4:04 pm - Reply

      Hi Suzanne! There are no rules as such, it’s not an officially ‘heritage’ building, but it makes sense as well as giving a more traditional finish. Modern renders and paints tend to be less breathable. They can trap moisture in these old walls. If it got sufficiently bad the cob could just disintegrate!

  36. sustainablemum December 11, 2014 at 2:40 pm - Reply

    Decorating is always a long job…….but even longer in an old house. I hope it is fun rather than tiresome. I am intrigued as to why wood burners are a no no in a thatched house whereas a open fire is ok?

    • Jessica December 11, 2014 at 4:11 pm - Reply

      A wood burner creates a more intense and concentrated heat, not just in the room but up the chimney as well. The problem occurs at the point the chimney passes through the roof. The heat could potentially become intense enough to cause the straw to spontaneously combust. There are special liners, and heat resistant pellets to put around the liner, that reduce the risk. But where fire is concerned any risk is too high for me. Even having the liner & pellets in situ we still have to pay an increased insurance premium for the wood burner, even though we don’t use it!

  37. charles December 11, 2014 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    It might be worth investing in a de-humidifier, they work wonders with damp. Obviously they are not very friendly towards wooden furniture but for something like this they would be perfect. Having slept on horse hair mattresses at school as a child I am relieved to know that someone has dicovered a practical use for horsehair…

    I read your blog from all over the place, tonight in Joburg, and its very calming to know that real life on Dartmoor continues. The complex multi-dimensional algorythm balancing future income/life expectancy/likelyhood of attacking the boss/escape to the ccpountry/retirement is swinging slowly towards the R word but don’t panic we are looking at places outside of Bath. I have been banned from Dartmoor as there are too many family associations…fair enough as I have banned the idea of Liverpool for the same reason!

    • Jessica December 11, 2014 at 6:41 pm - Reply

      Hello Charles, delighted to know that you are contributing to my flag count but seriously envious on hearing that you are basking in southern hemisphere temperatures and therefore missing out on snow/rain/wind/sleet/hail aka ‘weather bomb’.
      The area around Bath would be a great place to live, good luck with your search.
      P.S. I wouldn’t want to sleep on horsehair either!

  38. Simone December 11, 2014 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    I would rather have wood chip paper than the swirly plaster ceilings that I have in my home. Saying that, I wouldn’t like to have what your woodchip is concealing! Good luck with the restoration. I am sure you will do a grand job!

    • Jessica December 12, 2014 at 7:55 am - Reply

      Thanks Simone, it is rapidly becoming one of those jobs you just wish you’d never started. It’s become far bigger than we thought it would be at the start. Half the floorboards up and replaced and walls that now have more holes than a Swiss cheese.

  39. Cathy December 12, 2014 at 10:20 am - Reply

    I am so enjoying reading about your renovations, Jessica, even if you are not enjoying doing them – brings back so many memories… Did I tell you that when we got the deeds to our house when the mortgage was paid off and had a name from the 1870s we were able to link the property to the census and find the owners back to 1841 and up to 1911? We now have a gap between the then and the 50s that we are not sure of but I would love to find pre 1840 info too although it may prove impossible. Good luck with your research when you have time to do it – and the renovations of course!

    • Jessica December 12, 2014 at 10:31 pm - Reply

      It’s fascinating to trace back the history like that. I’d love to know who lived here, but I guess the records are patchy and only go back so far. Our neighbours seem to know more about this place than we do!

  40. Peter/Outlaw December 13, 2014 at 12:01 am - Reply

    Tremendous fun indeed! You sure know how to party – and with a deadline as well. Yikes. You’re a better person than I!

    • Jessica December 13, 2014 at 7:40 am - Reply

      It is similar to a party in one respect: I need another drink!

  41. Annie December 13, 2014 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    My youngest narrowly missed out on a place on a very over applied for heritage building skills apprenticeship … lime plastering was the bit he was most looking forward to. If we were closer I could have lent him to you as a willing navvy!

    • Jessica December 13, 2014 at 10:05 pm - Reply

      And that would have been much appreciated, especially as I’m sure he could teach us a thing or two! The plan is to go on a course ourselves, just a one day on lime. But as it’s held outside they don’t resume until Spring.

  42. Countrysidetales December 15, 2014 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    I’ve just cleared out an old blue tit nest from Sparrow Terrace which had Poppy’s hair lining it- aren’t birds clever? I wonder if that’s where builders got the idea? (not from Poppy obviously, I mean the birds :o) ). Hope it all gets sorted out for you.

    • Jessica December 15, 2014 at 1:55 pm - Reply

      That must have made for a very cosy blue tit nest, nature’s recycling!

  43. Jeneane Hobby December 31, 2014 at 9:11 pm - Reply

    Oh this makes me drool even though the house I need to repair is made of 1880s concrete, all that peeling back and discovery of layers of time,,, great stuff.

    • Jessica January 1, 2015 at 6:52 pm - Reply

      That’s the fun bit… that and the final finishing touches. It’s all the bits in between that are a drag!

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