This wasn’t exactly part of the plan


A minor disaster that was thankfully not a major tragedy.

I made a promise to myself that this blog would document the good and the bad parts of renovation so, reluctantly, here goes.

Yesterday, first proper day of work and about 3 hours in…. a …..I think we’ll call it “slight mishap” occurred.
The JCB guy had previously been scraping the ground near to the barn to prepare a temporary hardcore driveway. The builder was doing the bit immediately next to the south gable wall by hand (well, spade) when this happened.
A bit of mortar fell, he looked up, and noticed that the wall next to him was “closer than it had been a minute ago”. He saw the mortar joints opening up, ran for it and just made it to safety as 30 tons of bricks succumbed to time, the ravages of one too many Storm Dorises, and gravity. The whole gable wall fell -in slow motion – which was just as well as it turns out. Let’s just say if he hadn’t reacted so quickly, the decision whether or not to wear a hard hat that morning would have become a moot point.

Thankfully nobody was hurt, or worse. Judging by the whiteness of Said Builder’s previously brown face when we saw him half an hour later, things were pretty close to being “worse”. I haven’t dared to ask if his underpants underwent a colour change in the reverse direction.

Strangely, he doesn’t now seem all that keen on anything which involves a. climbing onto the roof (to take down the slate tiles) or b. getting into large holes dug under what’s left of our walls (to underpin them). He may be thinking of his wife and 4 kids.



Today the Structural Engineer has been to assess the damage. He says it was probably caused by vibrations from the digger, the waterlogged ground, and further deterioration since his report last year.
The unsupported roof and the adjacent east wall are still at risk of collapse, and the building immediately had to be stabilised with specialised scaffolding before anybody was allowed near. Luckily a company who have experience in this very problem stepped in at very short notice.

This was the gable wall that was meant to be staying. It had a slight* bowing, but it was safe* as long as it was strengthened. The plan was to tie it in to the first floor steel beam.
The north gable wall is the one in poor condition that needs its top half rebuilding. The SE has now recommended ways of supporting it to prevent a similar thing happening once demolition of the cowshed starts.

All this extra work wasn’t exactly part of the plan. We bought an old building to restore, we didn’t realise we might have to reassemble it from its component parts.

I’m not sure if this is a bad omen, but the barn has been standing for 240 years, we’ve owned it for a whole week and a quarter of it has already collapsed.

On the bright side(s)

1. nobody died**
2. the building is insured
3. the bricks came down magically devoid of mortar which makes them easy to reclaim. We’d heard that lime mortar is flexible and “moves with the building”. In fact ours seems to have moved to a slightly different place than the rest of the building.
4. the walls are triple thickness, so if we do have to rebuild by modern methods (in block work with a single layer brick skin), technically we have 3 times as many bricks as we need
5. reclaimed bricks cost up to £3 each to buy. We now own a huge pile of 18th century bricks worth up to £3 each.
6. we won’t need to pay our budgeted £1000 to eradicate the pigeons. They mysteriously evacuated the building (and probably simultaneously their bowels) when they saw 30 tons of bricks coming towards them.
7. we definitely won’t need to repoint the south gable wall
8. bats are no longer an issue.

Joking aside we’re both pretty gutted, not unlike our barn.
Nothing to do but carry on and hope that one day we might be in a position to laugh*** about all of this.


* a theory not validated by recently available data
** admittedly I haven’t checked on all the pigeons
*** most likely hysterically, whilst rocking, in straight jackets.


2 thoughts on “This wasn’t exactly part of the plan

  1. my god Annette, poor Tony. that was a close call. real bummer in terms of hold ups though 😦
    I think UK planning laws are designed to test peoples patience. Our house is old enough to be listed – in fact we’re lucky no-one official has come along with a clip board and slap on signs – as its from late 1600s to early 1700s. when there a storm I say ” ah well, its stood fine so far” and cross my fingers…..I don’t want it listed, more people saying what you can’t do it my take on that. What happened to an Englishman’s home is his castle? Not when the man in the hard hat with a clipboard is round. One of my freinds bought a derelict house to renovate few years back, lovely old sandstone cottage from 1800s. It had a tree growing through part of it. Initially council were fine about its removal, then one dept slapped a Tree Pres order on it. Took her ages, lots of blood sweat and tears – and cash and bad language – to persuade them the cottage was the better thing to save.
    Just keep thinking of how wonderful it will be when its done. I’ve seen a gorgeous one for sale near where I want to be, ten miles further in and it would be perfect, but its just that bit too far out for me. Fabulous rooms though, tall ceilings. big windows and underfloor heating – essential with rooms that high.


    • Mike and I have just been having the “do you regret it?” conversation. I’m not one for looking backwards anyway, but we decided there was never a point we’d have pulled out. The structural survey was better than expected, the bat thing worked out, the costing came within affordable limits. We looked all around the area at old houses before committing to buy and there was nothing else anywhere near it for potential. It’s the high ceilings, and the great living and bedroom space and the bit of land and the view that (hopefully, one day) make it our dream house. If the wall had fallen the week before we bought it not the week after it would obviously have changed our decision, but not much else that I can think of, so nothing to regret…so far. Fingers crossed!


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