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?