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The story of Slaithwaite Hall goes back a long way, though no-one seems to know exactly how long. (History of Slaithwaite Hall)
My involvement began about ten years ago when my parents were looking for a smaller retirement home, they went to the hamlet named after the hall to look at a converted barn. They decided against the barn, but were rather taken by another cottage which shared a yard with a broken down ruin. When they asked the estate agent if this other cottage was up for sale they were informed that it soon would be, but that it would be in a job lot with the ruin with which it shared a yard and the victorian cottage appended to the end.
They ended up buying the whole thing, and in the course of the negotiations realized that as well as the house they wanted they were getting the oldest house in the valley. Finding this out rather stymied plans to demolish the ruin and make a garden for the other building, but by this time they were taken with the possibilities of the Hall itself, despite the fact that it had no roof and had been converted into pigsties.

View from the Fold, October 1988  

(Various pictures of the hall in 1988 before work started, click for bigger versions)


One look in the underdrawing of the 'Victorian' cottage revealed that it was nothing of the sort, the heavy oak truss visible in the loft space and the style of the timbers made it clear that it was significantly older, as did the thickness of the walls and the unglazed timber mullion windows revealed when the existing window frames were removed.  The cottage had been modernised in the 1930s, but was now suffering rather from damp and woodworm. The first stage was to strip out all the worm-eaten softwood (the worm-eaten oak could stay), dividing walls and damp plaster. It was about this stage that we had a bit of a surprise, during the 1930s renovation, or perhaps earlier, a doorway had been cut through the roof truss in a rather risky looking, but obviously adequately strong way.

(The truss revealed)

The plans for the restoration included a gallery in the main hall to provide access to the upstairs rooms, so the doorway was no longer needed, and so it was decided to repair the truss.

(the truss during and after repair)

It soon became clear that we were going to need an awful lot of wood, and the cost of oak seemed somewhat prohibitive. When making enquiries about having a tree that we had been offered (in Chelmsford) cut up to suit our purposes we had the good fortune to find a tree surgeon with access to a mobile bandsaw and a lot of trees to dispose of, we thus managed to get our first 500 cubic feet of oak at a remarkably good price (£4 a cubic foot if I remember correctly)

 

(wood being cut to size and 'sticked' for seasoning)

It seems that everything about a building like this takes a long time, even building a stud wall takes several days when you are dressing the wood with an adze then fastening the studs together with mortice and tenon joints and wooden pegs.

(Partition wall under construction)

During the course of the initial demolition it was found that the frontage of both the hall and the cottage contained the lintels from unglazed timber mullion windows and it was decided to re-create these, for the side and rear elevations, however, we were able to use stone mullions, carved from surplus gravestone edges we found in a local scrapyard. We were unhappy with how much window opening is left when fitting hardwood framed DG units in mullion windows, so we made a mould and cast a suitable profile in lead to mount double glazed windows directly in the mullions.

(Carving a window mullion)

Inserting window openings proved to be an interesting activity, the walls are 2'6" or more thick and are built of local stones in a roughly triangular shape, these are built up in such a way that the points which go back in to the wall interlock. The whole think is mortared with ordinary clay, and the interstices filled with smaller stones. This makes for a surprisingly stable wall, but one that takes a long time to rebuild. We have been using weak mix of sand, cement and lime for rebuilding and pointing, however.

 

(Inserting a new window opening)

(the back of the house with the new windows inserted)

We also stripped the cottage roof, cleaned up all the timbers, re-pegged them back in to place (after replacing a broken roof-tree), boarded the roof, fitted counter-rafters with insulation between them and re-laid the roof slates.

It was then time to move on the hall. After demolishing the pig sties and digging up 3 separate stone flag floors (all broken) we found that the original floor level had sloped by about 18" across the depth of the house, and that a stone hearth still existed in the centre of the floor, revising the age estimates for the building somewhat.
With the floor out it was time to underpin the walls (a planning requirement, several centuries of not falling down is seen as insufficient proof of stability by the authorities)

(underpinning the walls)

The next stage (logically, though not chronologically) was to get a roof on the hall for the first time in 25 years. New oak rafters were fitted and the wind-braces reinstated,
(the wind braces, are of course, completely pointless in a stone building, but would seem to indicate that the cruck truss originally formed part of a wood-framed building) Also in this picture can be seen my mother doing some pointing. She has re-pointed very nearly the whole building.

(The hall roof timbers in place)

The next stage was to board and felt the roof (caving equipment proved useful here, the roof is slightly steeper than 45 degrees, unusually steep for slates but about right for thatch, whatever the reason it is a bit too steep to stand on without slipping). At this stage we only did as far along as the dividing wall, a window and lintel were fitted in the opening in the foreground, the entire wall had previously been demolished to provide tractor parking)

(boarding the roof)

The final stage was to slate the roof, eventually we managed to find enough slates and after what seemed an eternity of sorting to size and thickness and drilling holes the roof was completed. The slates are local sandstone and largest are about 2' x 3' and 1.5" thick.

(Slating the roof, with a little canine help)

Originally it was planned to employ builders and other tradesmen to do the work on the house, but as time went on and my parents previous house failed to sell first the money, and then the inclination to do this failed to materialise. So far we have done everything ourselves, with occasional help from friends. It must be said that making your own forge in order to make your own door furniture may be going a bit far.

(My father at the forge)


Several Years after wrting this page, my empty promise to keep it updated has been fulfilled. Latest pictures can be found on the next page