The Turning Point??


Previously, in the sitting room

It did look quite tidy for a bit. In a cave-channelling sort of way. Assuming your preference is to live in a house with ‘muck’ smeared across the walls. I should point out that ‘muck’ is a technical term in artisan builder speak. It is a mixture of sand, lime putty and hair. Once upon a time the hair came from a horse. For a period roughly coinciding with the renovation of our last house the fashion had shifted to goat. Then yak. Not that there were many yaks wandering the byways of south Oxfordshire. And even if there had been you might anticipate an animal’s consternation on spying an approaching builder armed with a pair of scissors. And the consequences which might then follow.

By the time we tackled the first room here, my study, the wheel had turned again and it was back to horse. Possibly because, generally speaking, horses don’t retaliate with large and pointy horns. So you can imagine my disappointment to find that even in this most sacred of olde English building practices, modern technology has been brought to bear. Fibre. Plastic. It really isn’t the same is it? I can only hope it is recycled.



But I digress. As usual.

The old ceilings in the dining and sitting rooms were comprised of board covered with woodchip paper. Gaping holes in the ceiling created by first fix plumbing and electrical works we had covered with new board, temporarily, to protect the upstairs rooms from the worst of the sand blasting. All of this, old and new, has now come down. Unusually the builders turned up out of the blue to do this task, leaving us scrambling around laying protective sheets on the bedroom floor while dust and the remnants of the blasting sand rose up around our ears.



The traditional method of constructing a ceiling was to use lath and plaster.

The wooden laths are fixed to batons running alongside each beam. It took the builders several days to get them up there and it was seriously tempting just to leave it like this, I rather liked the effect. Given the quality of the wood in the laths it seemed almost criminal to smother them in plaster. But a perforated ceiling does not for easy cleaning make and in the end common sense prevailed.



The plasterer’s wheelbarrow.

Not an everyday adornment in a dining room. Note the overturned beer crate (empty), used as a step.



As it is applied the lime plaster is forced up through the gaps between the laths, the latter providing a ‘key’ to hold the plaster in place. This is the scratch coat. The surface is scored using a large metal comb producing, in its turn, the key for the next coat.

It does now feel as if a corner has been turned. With the sand blasting of the beams and the plastering of the ceiling real progress is being made. The destructive phase should have reached its end and from this point on it is all about rebuilding. The question marks in the post title are staying though. Both of them. Anything approaching certainty seems like tempting fate.



Alongside the fireplace in the sitting room there is an odd alcove which looks for all the world as though it used to be a door. The wall is certainly much thinner at this point prompting the builder to suggest that it needed more insulation. Between us we hatched a plan to turn an awkward space into something of a feature..




The laths will be plastered over and blended into the surrounding walls but the builder has found a lovely piece of cherry wood for the seat.


And finally.

Imagine my surprise yesterday morning to wander into the sitting room and come across this arresting sight..



Weird English country traditions no. 293

A charm to ward off evil spirits? Bird scarer? Wind chimes? The artisan builder’s special celebration of a turning point? The possibilities are endless.



Methinks the tape used to protect the beams has lost its stick!