Well, finally, the windows are in and plastering has started…and it feels like a completely different building!
The windows are about twelve feet tall. We managed to keep the design almost exactly the same as the original – but these are sash windows, so they can be opened (unlike the original). They’ve made the space open up and feel pretty light and airy.
The walls have been insulated (we’re using Homatherm, which is a breathable wood-fibre-based board), so it looks and feels a lot warmer. And the pillars are looking brilliant in place under the mezzanine beam.
And finally … plastering has begun! Jason and Danny are doing a brilliant job.
Some more general photos are on the gallery.
This feels like a major change – the base of the floor has now gone in. It’s both surprising and not surprising how much easier it is to visualise the space, and the “rooms”/subdivides within it.
(panorama: human for scale)
(another panorama: human has also rotated)
They’ve also made a good start getting the walls level and ready for the insulation and final plaster. This has to be ‘breathable’ – old buildings (including those built of stone) were designed to let moisture from inside the building (from cooking, showers, etc) make its own way out through the walls (“breathe”). The philosophy with ‘modern’ buildings is to make them as air-tight and moisture-tight as possible and then mechanically extract moisture (vents in bathrooms etc). So concrete plaster and a lot of modern insulation for this building is a no-no; we’re using a product made essentially of wood for the insulation, called Homatherm, and traditional help lime plaster for the finish.
The basement is also basically finished – really nice that having this storage space underneath the chapel was possible. Again, human for scale. The ladder in the corner wil be replaced with something less neck-breaky.
And finally – it was a nice day, so we went for a walk on the coastal path. The Worm’s Head (Gower peninsula) is visible in the distance.
So, work started again in late 2017 – on the inside of the chapel this time. The priority before had been to sort out the outside – the walls, roof, and parking area mostly – but time to move on to the fun bit now!
Many friends seemed to assume that we stayed *in* the chapel when we went down for a visit. Erm, no. It went from a damp wreck to something like this – a naked damp wreck:
The no proper floor and no windows and no facilities thing made staying a bit difficult. The same is true today, but hopefully not for much longer.
First job is to create a basement area in one corner. This should give us loads of storage space and keep the main space clear of clutter (it’s not that big – roughly 8.5 x 10.5m inside). The floor was cleared and levelled and digging commenced.
Breeze-block walls began appearing – to rest the block and beam for the main ground floor on:
Measuring out the main ground floor (which will consist of block and beam, under floor heating screed, and the final floorboards) up to the mezzanine – which will be supported by the 5 original cast iron pillars we salvaged from the chapel. The mezzanine should cut the windows roughly in half. (The guys below are standing “in” the basement area – it’s actually over 2m deep, but they’ve boarded over it for now.)
And finally – on the rest of the dirt floor we’re putting a layer of limecrete to keep damp down and rodents out. Limecrete is a mix of natural hydraulic lime and sharp sand. It behaves more or less like concrete, but without the cement element. Cement is really nasty stuff – it’s apparently responsible for up to 5% of global CO2 emissions. So we’re trying not to use it. And limecrete seems to work fine – the guys have mixed up their own brew:
So, progress! Next question will be getting the mezzanine up and sorting out access down into the basement. IN the meantime, we had a lovely few cold days, and the sun even came out a bit on the beach…
It took about a year but eventually the scaffold came down. The windows will stay boarded until the next phase – when the floor is constructed, the walls insulated and plastered, and the mezzanine floor constructed in the front third. But for now, the building is safe and sealed – against bats and water!!
I really should have taken some pics of the excellent pointing the guys have been doing, but forgot last time we were down. Instead, here are some pics of the a-frames going up.
These we had to get made specially – we were hoping the previous ones would stay, but because the previous owner had let some of the slates on the roof go without patching them, they let the rain (and bats) in and the a-frames were full of rot. So a local joinery made them – these are green oak, obviously much cheaper than reclaimed or dried oak, and should weather/age just as nicely. We also had issues getting oak long enough to span the building – these have had to be joined in the middle, and we’re going to get some nice rusted plates made up to cover the joins and make a quiet feature of them.
So, the jungle has grown again in our absence (to be expected, it’s spring).
However, (a) the brambles hadn’t really got started again (though their evil shoots were going everywhere, above and below ground) and (b) the plant which had mostly taken over was rose bay willow herb, which is really easy to pull up. So we re-made our path to the top of the jungle relatively easily:
Loads of bluebells, as you can see – gorgeous. And then:
Digging commenced! We decided to stick some raspberry canes in and see what happened. They’ll have to fend for themselves since we won’t be there much, but it would be nice to get a few raspberries out of it over the next few years before actual gardening on a large scale commences. If the birds don’t eat them all.
I can’t even name this post ‘bare essentials’. ‘Bare’ is about right – the walls have been stripped of all of their render, inside and out, been cleaned, and had their pointing raked out. And they look beautiful!
But essentials… nope. We’re waiting to engineer a new roof, as the old a-frames and beams were full of worm and dry rot. The problem here is that there simply aren’t any trees long enough out there – for the historians amongst us, Richard explained yesterday that many were cut down for the war effort and what we have now is what’s grown since then. (!) So we’ll probably have to join two shorter beams together, which will be fine – just takes a bit longer to design and engineer. In the meantime, really interesting to go up into the roof space and clamber around:
And the pièce de résistance: upside down, on the central beam, is the name of the original joiner who put it together in 1865!
Obviously we’ll keep this!… perhaps to use it as a lintel or in some other way in the final design.
The inside is currently full of scaffolding, awaiting insulation and plaster for the walls. We went to Ty Mawr on Friday – a fab place where they do building materials made from natural products – and are waiting for quotes and U-value calculations for cork insulation and woodfibre insulation for walls, roof and floor. In the meantime, the light (and presumably rain) is coming down the walls quite nicely!
We’ve got three different colours of lime pointing for Simon to try out on the outside, and once one has been settled on, that’s the next big job. (Spare a thought for poor Simon & co – that is a bl***y big building to re-point and if they don’t end up seeing stones and lime in their dreams I’ll be surprised!!)
Have a look at the gallery for more photos – and I will post some pics of the bluebells and jungle soon. (There is a certain amount of copyediting and exam marking to get on with for the moment!)
So, a progress report: after Christmas, snow, and attacks of gastric bug, the parking bays are largely dug out and we’re waiting for it to dry out before a retaining wall goes up. (The bank is about 4m high so definitely needed!) They’ve finished the new bat accommodation, which goes by the various names of ‘bat block’, ‘bat palace’, and now: giraffe house.
I’ll write a separate post on the bat specifications later – it’ll take a bit of energy! – but suffice it to say, it had to be enlarged both backwards and upwards with the result that they now have somewhere completely disproportionate but warm enough to sleep in and big enough to fly around in (if they’ve even bothered to stay this long). We’ll paint it ourselves later (the elusive warm/dry weather) and it will look a bit less grey at least.
But to the more exciting stuff: finishing that off meant that they could start on the chapel itself, finally. The bat ecologist will be coming out soon to supervise the clearance of the electrics cupboard where the bats were sleeping, and the roof tiles. In the meantime, scaffolding has gone up on the outside and they have started hacking off the horrendous grey pebbledash. And it’s beautiful underneath!
As Nicole (the architect) said, they tended to use the best stone on chapels in this period, so while we hoped it would look nice (er – and be structurally sound), it’s great to have those hopes confirmed! So the plan is to clean and re-point it and leave the stone exposed – much cheaper than re-rendering in a breathable lime-based render. The point about these old walls is that they were made of materials (e.g. stone) which any water/condensation gathering on the inside can pass through – otherwise known as ‘breathable’ walls – so the building is essentially self-regulating. More modern buildings work the opposite way by using non-porous materials (like concrete) and mechanical extraction (e.g. extractor fans in bathrooms/kitchens), with the idea that you achieve a totally sealed building where no water gets in in the first place, and what is created inside is shoved out in short order.
So, slapping concrete pebbledash on a formerly breathable building was not the best of ideas. It traps condensation inside the building, leading to mould and so on (though there are so many holes in the roof I don’t think it matters at the moment, aside from the fact that it’s probably rotted the roof beams where they are set into the walls). The concrete also eventually ‘fails’ when water does get into the cracks, and then freezes and expands in cold weather – much of the pebbledash was shot around the windows and tops of the walls. And finally – as far as I’m concerned, it’s ugly as hell, especially on this building!
We should be going down in the next couple of weeks when the interior is cleared – to finally get a sense of the size and finialise the interior plans.
The guys have started! First jobs: make space for parking bays at the back of the chapel and toilet block, which involves removing a lot of earth. And trees. They’ve also cleared up the pathways – all looks nice and spacious somehow!
I am reliably informed that the tipper lorry pictured holds the title of Best Kept Tipper in the UK. And indeed, take a look at the reflection of the bank on its beautifully shiny side…
Other job – take the roof off the toilet block. This is to become Bat Lodge, to rehouse the 7 little squeakers currently resident in the chapel. (Although whether they want to hang around (ha ha groan) to be rehoused while all this racket is going on is another matter I guess.) More on Bat Lodge later…
Ta to Rich for all these photos…