A Stitch In Time

Stripping back the loose plaster from the bedroom walls and ceiling revealed no serious structural problems, thank goodness. It looks a lot worse than it is. In places we can even now see the underside of the thatch. A thatcher doesn’t usually take off all the old straw when he re-thatches so this bottom layer could be quite old. Mice often nest in thatch, burrowing tunnels through the straw. No peeping furry faces thus far but we’re not taking chances. The bedroom door is staying firmly shut!


Bedroom 020 Wm


The next stage will be to replace the missing laths. Any that had deteriorated have already been removed. Nailed to the roof timbers, the laths cover the straw and provide a key for the plaster used to construct the ceiling.


Bedroom 016 Wm


The cottage walls are constructed from rubble and cob (clay soil, sand, water and straw). Cob is a porous material and tends to change its consistency across the seasons. In summer it dries out, in winter it absorbs more moisture. This is why it is so important to ensure that the plasters and paints used to cover it enable the wall to ‘breathe’ by allowing for evaporation. Otherwise the moisture is trapped and the cob starts to rot.

It’s perfectly normal for the structure of this type of building to move a bit over the years. Above you can see where the cob has shrunk away from the stone used around the doorway.


Bedroom 021 Wm


For extra reinforcement the builders have ‘stitched’ the gap before filling it with lime mortar.

At intervals up the wall they’ve inserted a HeliBar, a helical shaped steel rod, bonded to the stone with resin. The other end is inserted deep into the cob, driven into place with a specialised drill. We watched as the first one went in. Only the one mind because the noise and the dust were truly something. There were occasional furtive glances out of the window to make sure the rod hadn’t emerged right through the other side but, no, job’s a good-un.

Good to go for another 400 years?


2017-10-26T10:48:18+00:00July 21st, 2016|Tags: |


  1. Christina July 21, 2016 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    You’re almost there!!!!!!!!!

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 9:28 pm - Reply

      I am taking the number of exclamation marks as evidence of tongue in cheek! 🙂

  2. Amy at love made my home July 21, 2016 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    My goodness, it has turned into quite an adventure for those of us looking on from the sidelines, but I expect that you knew what you were taking on as you are obviously very knowledgeable about your wonderful home. I hope that it is soon done and that you can move on to the nicer parts of decorating and getting it just how you want it to be. Not that these bits aren’t nice, but they are more the practical side of things than the pretty side aren’t they!

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 9:48 pm - Reply

      I’m looking forward to the pretty bits I have to say. It is going to be a long process though. Even when the re-plastering is finished we then have to wait at least a month before it dries out sufficiently to paint 🙁

  3. Caro July 21, 2016 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    Ah yes, what lies beneath…. It must be massively reassuring to find materials that have stood the test of time (mostly) rather than the perfectly awful and inefficient stud walls that are used in modern houses. It’s certainly an education reading your blog, Jessica! Keep it coming, it’s a jolly good read! C x

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 9:50 pm - Reply

      Thanks Caro. We are certainly seeing the house laid bare!

  4. Dorothy Borders July 21, 2016 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    The construction process for your cottage is just fascinating to me. And, yes, when finished, I think it probably will be good for another 400 years!

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 9:54 pm - Reply

      It is a simple construction, but efficient. Cool in summer and warm in winter. Well, warmish.

  5. Linda July 21, 2016 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    We love being voyeurs in all these decisions and projects. I am always having my husband read something you’ve posted because they are so fascinating and instructive.

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 9:56 pm - Reply

      Thanks Linda. I am learning as we go along and I find it fascinating too. Never knew you could stitch a building before last week.

  6. Kris P July 21, 2016 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    It was interesting to read about the make-up of cob. I like the idea of sustainable construction materials. It sounded to me that cob must be similar to adobe, which was used to construct many of the missions and early buildings in California and other areas of the US Southwest. After many trips to such places as school child I should know how adobe is constructed but I had to look it up. Cob and adobe are indeed very similar but, as on-line sources advised me, not particularly earthquake-proof, which I suppose is why you don’t see it used anymore here where the specter of earthquakes is ever-present.

    Best wishes with the ongoing repairs!

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 10:05 pm - Reply

      I hadn’t thought about earthquakes. There are no foundations here, which I did read somewhere provides more resilience because the house can then slide with the earth movement rather than be held in one place and fracture. How true that is I know not.

  7. pollymacleod July 21, 2016 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    Yes I think it will be good for another 400 years. It’s fascinating how the top of the door is at an angle, old houses often have doors, ceilings, windows at odd angles, do you know if there is a reason for this or just quirky builders?

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 10:11 pm - Reply

      Maybe there was more significant movement in the past. Builders quirks shouldn’t be ruled out though. In our last house we stripped back a wall to find that the ‘lintel’ above a window was an old table leg!

  8. Sol July 21, 2016 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    OMG the dust must be horrendous… It must equal going out a lot… How about a nice soothing garden centre trip? Many plants need good homes.

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 10:15 pm - Reply

      Don’t tempt me! I have had enough of the dust though. It gets everywhere doesn’t it? The kitchen is at the diametrically opposite end of the house. And yet still I have to wipe the dust off the hob every time I use it.

  9. CJ July 21, 2016 at 8:52 pm - Reply

    I love to see how an old building is put together and hear about the natural materials used, it’s brilliant. And great that there are people around with the skills to make it all happen. Hope you have a good weekend and that everything moves on apace. CJ xx

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 10:23 pm - Reply

      There aren’t enough people left with the skills, that’s the problem. Those that are don’t seem short of work either.

  10. Brian Skeys July 21, 2016 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    Enjoy the next 400 years!

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 10:24 pm - Reply


  11. Pam July 21, 2016 at 10:49 pm - Reply

    Definitely good to go! Fascinating watching it happen and finding out the processes involved. Xx

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 10:25 pm - Reply

      Thanks Pam.

  12. Mark and Gaz July 22, 2016 at 7:39 am - Reply

    With the great job you guys are doing, definitely!

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 10:28 pm - Reply

      An old house deserves to be treated right. Apart from that it preserves it for the future.

  13. Sue Garrett July 22, 2016 at 10:00 am - Reply

    Living history – really interesting. This would make a good reality TV show.

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 10:31 pm - Reply

      I used to love watching Grand Designs and the like. But they almost inevitably go over time and over budget, so I was banned from ever considering it!

  14. Vera July 22, 2016 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    Our walls are made up of river stone…..larger ones on either side of the wall and the wide space in between filled with smaller stones. All is supposed to be sandwiched together with lime mortar. However, over the decades the mortar seems to have crumbled, leaving holes in the walls where stones have loosened and fallen out, which is very handy if you are a rat because you can then make loads of tunnels through the walls, up and down, and here and there. So, unfortunately we had to take the decision not to let the stones stay exposed, but to have them covered over with a better quality lime mortar mix. The rats have not given up. We noticed yesterday that there are new rat holes going into the exterior walls from out in the courtyard……..!

    • Jessica July 22, 2016 at 10:36 pm - Reply

      It is disconcerting isn’t it, hearing scratching sounds coming from inside the walls. Here I believe it is the mice. They prefer to occupy the roof spaces but presumably have to scale the walls to get there. I’m glad you used lime mortar, a proper job!

  15. Cathy July 23, 2016 at 8:05 am - Reply

    Great to see these photos, Jessica – most interesting

    • Jessica July 23, 2016 at 9:50 pm - Reply

      Thanks Cathy.

  16. ontheedgegardening July 23, 2016 at 3:07 pm - Reply

    This really is fascinating, like being in a structural operating theatre, getting to see the insides of the building. Wonderful! 🙂

    • Jessica July 23, 2016 at 9:58 pm - Reply

      Thanks Gill. I can only hope the anaesthetist is a good one because the operation could go on some while. 🙁

  17. Angie July 23, 2016 at 5:25 pm - Reply

    I’ve said it before but I truly admire what you and Mike have taken on here. The time and effort taken now will save you so many issues in the future. I am a great believer in the saying – if a job’s worth doing, do it right.

    • Jessica July 23, 2016 at 10:00 pm - Reply

      Absolutely Angie. It gives me a great sense of security for the future, knowing that the building is being properly maintained.

  18. Jo July 23, 2016 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    Eeek, I’m glad you’re not having to sleep in there whilst the renovations are ongoing, I can just imagine a little furry face staring down at you.

    • Jessica July 23, 2016 at 10:04 pm - Reply

      I can imagine it too and I daresay not much sleep would be had.

  19. justjilluk July 23, 2016 at 8:55 pm - Reply

    Just well done. WELL DONE.

    • Jessica July 23, 2016 at 10:04 pm - Reply

      Thanks Jill.

  20. biggardenblog July 24, 2016 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    [J] The bar and resin used for the stitching repair is a top quality UK-made product sold world-wide, and I’ve specified and/or used it myself. The bars are autinistic stainless steel and will last at least until your bit of England is dragged down into a subduction zone by tectonic forces. ;~) Until then, and assuming that sufficient of the bars have been used and they’re correctly installed, you can sleep soundly in the knowledge that you won’t need to repair that crack again! That said, a new crack might appear just to one side! No just kidding! Could do, but unlikely. Most cracks in stonework/brickwork of houses of that age are related to settlement when newly built or an extraordinary drought at later date (the importance of robust foundations not being properly understood back then), or resulting from a chimney fire (cracks within about a metre of the chimney), or possibly due to earthquake. All of these tend to be one-offs. There’s a possible risk of new cracks if the house is on deep clay and modern drainage has been installed around the house – this has the same effect as an historically exceptional drought. … Sorry, seemed to have slipped back into engineering mode. I thought I’d switched that off permanently when I retired last year!

    • Jessica July 24, 2016 at 2:07 pm - Reply

      Don’t apologise, fascinating stuff Jonathan! It also gives me even greater confidence that the builders know what they are doing.

  21. smallsunnygarden July 24, 2016 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    What an adventure, from one hair-raising incident to another… 😉 It’s fascinating to see all the layers of materials underneath, though I’m sure you are very much looking forward to getting them covered up again!

    • Jessica July 25, 2016 at 10:30 pm - Reply

      Very much! This is turning into a much longer project than expected. But, better to do it right.

  22. Jacqueline July 26, 2016 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    Oh WOW Jessica …… I love seeing how they used to build ….. our house before this one was 400 years old so I know what it’s like !!!!!! You have to be prepared to spend money on the boring things before the pretty things don’t you ? ……. it’s going to be wonderful …. I look forward to ‘ after ‘ photographs !! XXXX

    • Jessica July 26, 2016 at 2:09 pm - Reply

      That is one of the drawbacks of owning an ancient building, all the boring things that have to be done and seem to cost the most money. They aren’t usually the things that add value either, because they’re largely unseen. It’s a true labour of love.

  23. CherryPie July 31, 2016 at 9:33 pm - Reply

    It is fascinating to the inside structure bared back like this. I would be quite daunted by the task!

    • Jessica August 1, 2016 at 7:11 am - Reply

      We made the right decision to get in some help, it rapidly became clear that it was beyond a little DIY!

  24. Diana Studer August 11, 2016 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    I’d be tempted to make a little glass window – to see a small part of those handcrafted layers.

    • Jessica August 12, 2016 at 10:27 pm - Reply

      I did take lots of photos, we’ll have those to look back on when they’ve finished covering it all up again.

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