We moved here in November 2001 and it was only in spring 2003, after we had lived here for more than a year, that our house was more or less pleasant to live in and I had time to turn my thoughts to the concrete shed that stood a few yards away. The shed housed an old wood-burning boiler (not working) and lots of old rubbish, and was clad on the outside with cement and chicken huts and on the inside with various old boards and doors.
It seemed to offer little in the way of redeeming features, so I set to with a chainsaw and a pneumatic hammer, starting off by removing the chicken sheds.
Demolition work being a great pleasure, I set to happily – and took about two days to get to the main structure of the building. As it turned out the first wall exposed was a traditional colombage (half-timbered) wall. As more of the recent additions were removed we rapidly realised there was much more to the building than we had thought.
In fact it turned out to be a traditional 17th century cottage (with later use as a prune drying and bread baking ‘summer kitchen’), with stone and colombage walls and a lovely traditional ‘A-frame’ wooden roof structure (this had also been made invisible by its chipboard cladding). Funny the things you find in the garden…
Contrary to received wisdom, enveloping an old building in cement actually seemed to have protected it rather well, and it is now a very attractive cottage (and popular gite).
That was six years ago. Meanwhile in the house, we had tried to preserve original features where possible, and one of these was a wall built using an oak frame, with the wall itself made of what must be the worlds thinnest bricks. Imagine quarry tiles (as used for flooring) being tipped upright and used to build a wall.
I never could imagine how they had done it, balancing these ‘micro bricks’ one on top of the other to build a wall, and it had two places where it sagged very badly, but seemed to be holding on. So we kept it as a period feature, and kept our fingers crossed it would stay up. Which it has.
Each spring before we start renting out the house (now a holiday rental property) I look carefully at the wall and take a view on whether it is safe or not. I always decide it is. Unfortunately a more knowledgeable member of the family visited during the winter and said ‘Well, of course, it could fall down any time”.
Which made me nervous because people on holiday don’t usually want a wall falling on them – and even if the bricks probably aren’t very heavy a whole wall would be. So this year I have clad over the wall. Not removed or replaced it, just covered it up with a new plasterboard wall.
As I was finishing I suddenly realised I was setting someone up in the future for the same excitement as I had when I discovered that a concrete shed was really a very old cottage.
One day someone will poke and prod, tap the wall knowledgeably and investigate, then call in their family – ‘You won’t believe this, but some idiot has covered up a traditional oak framed wall with plasterboard. Now why would anyone be quite so stupid…?’