If You Thought It Was Bad Last Time..




The builders have started. Bright and early last Friday morning a party of four of us walked solemnly around each of the walls, the two of them tapping at various intervals to determine which bits were sound and which were not. The trouble is old lime plaster has a mind of its own. Once you start to remove one piece the chances are high that the rest will follow suit. In spite of appearances, so far, there is nothing too bad. Or so we’re told. The worst bit is to the right of the door in the photo above, where the cob itself is crumbling below the main beam, hence the temporary support from an acrow prop. It has apparently come about because modern cement render was at one time applied on top of the cob, proving the destructive potential of trying to combine new building materials with the old. The proposal is to rebuild this section of the wall with blocks made of cob.



I guess it’s lucky we’ve been here before. I am almost hardened to this sort of scene.

You can imagine the dust though. It has started to settle all over the house in an ever deepening layer, like snow on a winter’s night, enveloping everything in its path no matter what I do. How easily one falls back to the automatic response of passing an arm lightly across the glass hob before putting down the saucepan. Or wiping your shoes on the strategically placed mat upon leaving a room rather than entering it.



There is an odd, angular arrangement of cob and stone which still makes me think there might have been a window or some other opening here.



Next door is no better.

We presume the huge stone on the floor came out of that deep hole in the wall. Fear not, there’s no blood splattering the walls. Yet. At some point in the cottage’s history someone obviously had a decor change in favour of Dining Room Red.



But aside from the bonfire-in-the-making in the middle of the room, what is happening here? Could there still be evidence of dark goings on in the dim and distant past? Let’s take a closer look..



A corner piled high with rubble then bricked and boarded up? Oh-er.

It being Friday afternoon the time was ripe for a little light hearted speculation. Could there be a skeleton holed up in there? Treasure? A priest hole? Or something far more mundane, if no less worrisome, like a makeshift buttress for holding up a wall? The builders left us to ponder this new situation over the weekend and decide what to do. Maybe we should remove the board, and the rubble, and reclaim some extra space? Except then of course the wall to wall bookcase that Mike tailor made for this room would be wall to wall no longer.

It came as a flash of enlightenment in the middle of the night. The boarded up corner must be repaired, replastered and then left exactly as we found it. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before. Or to Mike. Or to the builders for that matter since they must have encountered it many times in the past. Something hidden in plain sight.



Please excuse the cobwebs. It’s been a while since the housekeeper last came this way. Quite possibly a couple of hundred years.

The blocked in corner conceals the structure of a bread oven, or Clome oven as they call it in Devon. Inside the fireplace there is a removable door giving access to this hidden void. Traditionally a fire would have been built inside the dome of the oven, using maybe gorse or blackthorn or something similar that could be obtained close by. As the oven has no chimney of its own the smoke would escape around the sides of the door and up through the main fireplace chimney. Once the oven was white hot the ashes were either raked out or pushed to one side. Bread or whatever other baking would then be placed inside and the door propped back against the opening to retain the heat.



Ovens like these are said to be the forerunners of the modern day pizza oven. Perhaps we should give it a try..