The wonders of lime

By Declan Cahill

Since the last blog post the Scholars have spent two weeks in North Wales, a week on the SPAB’s bi-annual repair of old buildings course and a week in Somerset, the last four weeks have seen a focus on lime, both intentionally and unintentionally. Prior to the Scholarship, my involvement with the use of lime was project based, and my understanding of the historic use and characteristics of the material was fairly rudimentary. I thought I had a grasp on the different types of lime, however I still found myself questioning what I was specifying, the worry that seemed to hang over me was whether I was going to cause more damage through specifying a lime mortar that wasn’t cohesive with the existing building. After the last four weeks, I believe my apprehension was totally justified.

Plas Tirion, North Wales

Plas Tirion

Plas Tirion sits in the Conwy valley, and is home to the Natural Building Centre (NBC), we spent the day with Ned Scharer (owner of the NBC), who showed us how his use of lime to repair Plas Tirion underlies their philosophy of specifying the appropriate material for the location and the part of the building it is being used on. Therefore an understanding of the history of the building and its materials as well as an appreciation of the impact the weather has on these materials needs to sit at the beginning of the discussion regarding which is the correct lime to use when carrying out repair works. Knowing of our forthcoming trip to Italy, Ned was also able to introduce us to the art of fresco painting and gave us the opportunity to have a go ourselves.

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Declan and Gethin trying fresco painting

The rest of this week was spent with Elgan Jones, an architect of Purcell and 2014 Scholar, and Elinor Gray Williams of Donald Insall Associates, a Scholar from 2006. Site visits over the three days included both the grandness of castles of North Wales as well as more modest vernacular buildings and churches. We visited St. Cwyfan Church which was repaired in 2005 by Ned Scharer and included the use of broken shells and saltwater in the mortar mix and limewashes respectively. Read more about the limework at St Cwyfan’s Church-in-the-sea.

In the heart of the Brecon Beacons, the historic farm of Ty Mawr is the home of Nigel and Joyce Gervis, and Ty Mawr Lime Ltd. The visit to Ty Mawr helped us understand their involvement in the resurrection of the use of lime in historic buildings since the company was founded in 1995.

Scholars and fellows with Stafford Holmes and the line kiln at CAT

Scholars and Fellows with Stafford Holmes and the lime kiln CAT

We then met up with the Fellows and Stafford Holmes to spend five days at the Centre of Alternative Technology (CAT) at Machlynlleth. The aim of our time at CAT was to carry out some maintenance works to the lime kiln, further our knowledge of lime and its uses, and to finally fire up the lime kiln to burn and slake lime. Our time with Stafford gave an insight into the wide range of uses of lime, and started to decipher how to approach the use of lime in conjunction with historic buildings. Stafford was able to teach us about the different types of lime and their appropriateness in different contexts, and by getting first hand experience of what is required in order to burn and slake lime has really helped me to understand the extensive and traditional use of lime in historic buildings. We also made a site visit to Portmeirion, which sparked interesting debate regarding pastiche and the relocation of historic buildings.

Scholars and fellows at Portmeirion

Scholars and Fellows in Portmeirion

The five day repair of old buildings course consists of three days of lectures and two days of site visits. I cannot start to communicate the amount of information that is gained through attending the course, but I can say that it is an extremely useful starting point for those involved in conservation of historic buildings. The lectures on the various aspects of historic building fabric are given by experts in their individual field, and the two days of site visits allow you to see how this is put into practice. The spring course this year included site visits to the Queens House at Greenwich, the longest medieval barn at Frindsbury, Knole House in Kent and St. Mary’s Church and Hadlow Tower at Hadlow.

During National Mills Weekend I volunteered at Bradwell Mill just north of Milton Keynes. National Mills weekend is arranged every year to open up the windmills and watermills of the country to the general public. This year the William Morris Craft Fellowship Trust led a weekend of demonstrations and fundraising at Charlecote Mill. This helped raise £930 for the Trust.

We then headed down to Somerset where we spent time with Jo Hibbert, Scholar from 2002, who showed us a variety of projects she has been working on, including defence posts in Plymouth. We were also lucky enough to visit Carpentry Oak in Totnes and try our hand at stone carving with Westcountry Stonemasons in Ivybridge. Following our time with Jo we then spent a great day with Shaun from Somerset Stone Conservation, this allowed us to get some more hands on experience through helping to consolidate and re-point a railing plinth. An information-packed day was then spent with Philip Hughes, who was the first building surveyor scholar and is the current chairman of the SPAB technical panel. We visited projects at St. Lukes Pastoral Church in Wincanton, as well as the ongoing works at Wimborne St. Giles, which has been praised for its various approaches to conservation.

We finished the week and the last four weeks of the Scholarship at Woburn Abbey, where we were given a tour of the abbey by the curator, Matthew Hirst, and were able to have a look at the works being administered by Nick Cox Associates. The visit was also used to discuss our ideas for the Plunkett part of the Scholarship where we will spend the last three months of the programme visiting country houses to study a research topic of our choice.

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One thought on “The wonders of lime

  1. Pingback: Building Limes Forum | Scholars & Fellows

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