The Only Way Is Up..


Remember this?



The big day has finally arrived. The bathroom renovation has been a long time coming. Over a year. Months of planning. Weeks of scouring the internet for the fixtures and fittings we would both like. Countless trips across the county and beyond to suss out the various bits of kit. The frustrating, but prerequisite, diversion into a whole new central heating boiler and hot water system.

In a house this old any project is difficult. There are so many complications. And so very many unknowns. But I’ve never experienced a sense of foreboding quite as strong as this one.



Day 1. It felt so good to be rid of the black.


A year ago, when I first sketched out the plans, the measurements revealed something quite exciting. That end wall was far thicker than it ever should have been. Unlikely to be solid, the only alternative explanation was a hidden void. Ever since then I’ve been itching to get the partition down. Would there be skeletons? Treasure? Sadly not. Just a rather large soil pipe and a heap of discarded insulation. The gold mine still awaits discovery. Sigh.

There was one surprise though. See the little window, upper right? At some point in time a previous owner has attempted to deliver borrowed light into the bathroom from the room next door. Textured glass. No sneaky peeking allowed..

But the main concern at the moment is for the ceiling. We knew it was weak. Put a hand lightly on that bulge in the middle and the whole structure could be moved up and down. The original hope had been to re-skim the ceiling to cover up the stippling. But as it turned out the foundation wasn’t strong enough for the builders to be confident it would last that much longer.



Day 2. Taking the plaster off revealed the laths. The problem, however, lies with the beam structure above. The laths, many of them crumbling in any case, would also have to be removed.



Day 3. Oh my.

Having got over the initial shock I couldn’t help noticing how pretty it is. Like a barn. It’s a great shame we can’t keep it like this. What a characterful bathroom it would be! But revealing the ceiling beams means they can now be properly reinforced by adding new struts and anchoring them back to the main roof structure.



Back in the days when the house was built there was no such thing as 4×2 in ready cut lengths of laser straight pre-treated wood. No, the builder of olde would have taken his axe out to the woodland and cut down a tree. This beam, part of the bathroom ceiling support, still has the bark attached.

Mike reminded me this morning of another story from our previous old house, which was in fact far older than this one. Of this we can be certain because an architectural historian visited that house. Climbing back down from the roofspace he declared he had found features suggesting that the core of the building dated back to the 13th century. Imagine that. But it doesn’t stop there. There were beams like the above in that house too. So if an oak tree is big enough to be cut down to make a beam in the 1200s, just when did it germinate and start growing? Maybe, for the largest of the structural roof beams, a hundred years or more prior to that. Humbling no? The first rule of responsible restoration. Repair rather than replace. Wherever it’s feasible. There is real history concealed within the structure.