Monday, 4 July 2011

Like pulling teeth...

Location of cellar 4.
...literally! You'll see why below.

There haven't been many blog posts on progress of our own work, but that doesn't mean to say we've been doing nothing. It's just slow, dirty work, and the place is a mess. But then that's part of the fun, so there will follow a few "in progress" posts, despite the piles of plasterboard lying around the place (we need a container soon).

Cellar 4, before work began, June 2011.
The first rounds of estimates are in, and we're finalising details to select contractors. First off will be the Mauerer (equates to a bricklayer, but I think of it more like a general builder) who will demolish the 1970s bathroom, dispose of the asbestos roof, knock through walls, build new walls, sort out drainage and, one of the bigger jobs, re-lay the floor in cellar 4, as this is where the boiler and pellet storage is currently planned.

The floor of this cellar is a patchwork of cobbles, concrete tiles and poured concrete. All of that has to come out to a safe depth (foundations are probably quite shallow) and layers of gravel, membranes and concrete laid to reduce the capillary action that is currently making this quite a damp room. When it's raining, the borders between these patches of different floor look damp, so much so, that we wondered how high the ground water might be, considering the house is built into a slope.

First job was to dig a test pit, about 60cm deep, after which it was ignored for a week to see if water would seep in. I was surprised it didn't, but then, there is quite solid clay, above which was a 12cm loose course of sand and lime followed by fairly deep limestone cobbles. There's definitely lots of moisture, but just not of the running water kind. If a cobble splits, it's shiny and moist inside, so definitely rising water issues to solve.

We want to keep the cobbles for further use, and that's monkey work I can do rather than paying someone to do it (every little helps), so this has been one of my tasks over the past couple of days (and after a week in Edinburgh, just what the Doctor ordered). Mostly, this has involved work with a lump hammer and masonry chisel to loosen the stone, then just lift. Not too heavy until two-thirds across the area where they are sitting, bonded in what looks like limecrete (I assume so if this goes back some time). This really is like pulling teeth, having to bash a gap between stones in order to then prise it out with a crowbar, leaving a socket behind. I had thoughts of lifting and re-laying the floor in cellar 1, which is completely cobbled, but that's now on the very long finger.

The stones are being stored in one of the cellars in the barn, which we now refer to as the Stone Room. All manner of reclaimed bricks, tiles and other stoney material are being stashed here for better times.

Part of the cobbled are remaining in cellar 4.

About a quarter done, with the easy stuff.

Where it starts getting hard. Literally.

There's been decades of cow and horse urine over these stones, but no treasure found under them yet!


  1. It's the sort of work I can do merrily for one day then wake up the next completely crippled, requiring a week of rest before I can lift anything again. Good luck!

  2. It wasn't so bad, actually. But yes, I split it over a few evenings. The cellar is more or less clear now, and the builders can take care of the rest.

  3. Lovely cobbles... Hope you found a way to keep them

    1. They're still stored safely in the barn, and we've got another cellar room, about 26 square metres, that is still completely cobbled. Will definitely reuse them somewhere, probably outside, once we get that far.

      Just had a look at your project. What a fantastic building!

  4. cheers...We (the royal we) have just completed re-laying our cobbles over a french drain..Looks amazing, and we now have a functioning celler, rather than wet room with built in stream!!....a french summer holiday has also kick-started our wine collenctipon :)

    1. I saw the cobbles in your basement recently Did you relay that?

      A stream could be a nice feature though! ;)

      We haven't touched the remaining stalls/stables in the cellar, but will do in a couple of years, perhaps. I took the easy option for one of our small vaulted cellars and reused old brick form a chimney. was easier to lay :)