Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Plumbageddon !

A castle contact mentioned he was clearing out some large sheds belonging to his family before selling the buildings on, and suggested I might be interested in the contents for a small fee. I popped over last Friday evening for a reccie, and my mind was blown by the sheer quantity and variety of plumbing fittings on offer. Given I had just spent a small fortune on a modest order of plumbing bits-and-bobs from ScrewFix, despite this being the cheapest place, I knew immediately that this was the buy of the century. :-) Most of the castle has yet to be plumbed-in, and these represent supplies for many years into the future.

The only downside was moving and storing the haul. My friend Andrew came to my rescue. At one stage the castle's entrance hall was full of plumbing paraphernalia: some items identifiable but others were totally unknown to me. Andrew correctly caught the spirit of the moment and dubbed this "Plumbageddon". Most items have now been put away, but I had to sacrifice one of my wine cellars to ignominiously house sewage fittings and cast iron guttering. 😃

Plumbageddon: looking through castle's front door

Plumbageddon: looking towards castle's front door


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Original Kitchen Colours

In most instances the original colour schemes for Balintore Castle are not hard to fathom. Most of the castle was decorated once in 1860, immediately after construction, and then left. This is the glory of lead paint: it stays on woodwork forever. The powdery high opacity 19th Century paints used on walls also have an impressive tendency to stay attached.

However, in the kitchen, the woodwork is painted a battle-ship grey colour, which looks rather industrial and is not to my taste - though I have come to love it. The curious thing is that when wetted this grey paint looks rather brown, in fact very similar to the colour the kitchen ceiling beams are painted. Wetting a pigment is a good way to find out what it might have looked like when freshly painted. 

Hmm, so was this grey paint actually brown before weathering, and how come the paint on the beams has not weathered in a similar way. It was a conundrum. When I paint the kitchen again do I use a grey or a brown?

However, one day Andy spotted that in a worn region of door lining there was brown paint under the grey. Aha, so the original colour was brown. 

Later I found woodwork where there was just a single coat of grey and no underlying brown. Hmm, so was the original scheme grey and brown, and then regularised to grey? This seems very unlikely. Perhaps the grey woodwork with a single coat was replacement wood? This again seems very unlikely. Curiouser and curiouser.

When I was washing down the timber framing over the serving hatch, a section of brown paint was revealed. This was where an electric cable was installed around 1900. This implies the grey make-over is 20th Century - perhaps when deep Victorian browns went out of fashion? Another possibility is that they thought they were matching the original paint colour, but did so when the new paint was in the tin and still wet.

Given this definitive dating evidence, the balance of probability is thus very highly in favour of original brown woodwork, which does indeed coordinate well with the original yellow/orange colour of the walls.

Before I repaint the serving hatch woodwork brown, I thought would photograph the "before" for the record under CFL lighting and under smart phone LED flash. Hopefully the absolute colour can be inferred, if required in the future, from the two different illuminations.


grey (+ some underlying brown) paint on the serving hatch woodwork under CFL illumination

grey (+ some underlying brown) paint on the serving hatch woodwork under white LED illumination


Monday, 21 November 2016

Frosty Gatehouse Reccie

I have written to Angus Council to ask for listed building consent to make structural repairs to Balintore Castle's gate lodges, which I have recently acquired. The wooden lintels above the windows and doors have rotted totally away, and inserting concrete lintels will ensure there is no further masonry collapse. The classic collapsing pattern of ruins is from the window and door openings upwards, and this simple fix will ensure the future of these structures. 

The Council asked me to provide a few details of the works, so I thought I may as well put the information on the blog, so they are easily accessible at any stage and from any location.

This morning was beautiful and frosty, but very cold. However, I was able to warm-up by being in the sun and walking briskly to the gate lodges to get the blood pumping.


leaving the castle: smoke rising from the wood burner in the kitchen wing
arriving at the gate houses

Technical Details for Angus Council

The names used for window and door openings are shown in the plan view (below) of the two ashlar-detailed octagonal gate lodges. Note the east gatehouse has two door openings, as there is additional domestic accommodation of random rubble construction through D3.








W1, W2 - lintels gone


W3 - lintels gone (small fragment of wood)


D1 - lintel gone


W4, W5 - lintels gone
D3 - lintel rotten, stones above detached


W6 - lintel gone


D3 - lintel present but rotten


west gate pier from north


west gate pier from south


east gate pier from south


east gate pier from north

Schedule of Works for Gate Lodges

(1) remove timber lintels

Note that masonry above lintels is generally sufficient to hold walls up as current lintels have rotted sufficiently that they are no longer providing supporting.

(2) insert re-enforced concrete lintels

This may involve the removal of some surrounding stone. Note that 3 or so lintels will be required to provide the width so these can be inserted in sequence providing intermediate support by using some slate packing.

(3) concrete in lintels and surrounding stones


Schedule of Works for Piers

My masonry consultant reported, after inspection, that no lifting apparatus would be necessary to dismantle the piers. All the stones can be handled by two men. Scaffolding will be erected beside the piers and the stone blocks moved sideways onto this. Reconstruction will consist of the same process in reverse.

The piers do not require total dismantling as in some places they are intact and square.


Appearance and Materials

There is no mortar between the close-fitting stone blocks of the piers (which may explain their spreading apart) but some adhesion from the rubble infill. There is pointing to help stop water ingress. Any loose rubble infill will be removed and replaced with equivalent mortar and stone/brick material. Repointing will use the same lime/concrete mix as the original.

The lintels will appear as grey concrete rectangular inclusions in the internal stonework i.e. these will not be visible from outside the structures. Internal wall cladding will eventually hide the lintels totally.



Sunday, 20 November 2016

Indae Windaes

To install two humongous steel I-beams, which will be the starting point for the rebuilding of a top floor bedroom, some serious lifting power was required. Cue Gary and his Manitou telehandler.

To amortise costs, what else could one do with a telehandler? In fact, there was no shortage of other jobs at the castle needing muscle and Gary completed these extremely efficiently on Saturday morning. I had assumed the following tasks would take all day:


  • installing a Victorian bath through a window at the front of the castle
  • installing an Edwardian bath through a window at the back of the castle
  • lifting beams for the new floor through a window
  • moving several piles of castle rubble to "tip areas"
  • moving reclaimed wood supplies nearer to the storage room


bath entering front window (from north)
bath entering front window (from west)
bath entering from window (from south)






bath entering back window

And finally a video of the floor beams being moved from the front to the back of the castle, prior to lifting them through a window. It is a bit of a tight squeeze going round the castle. Hold your breath! This is the first outing of the HD video camera on my new mobile phone. For some reason YouTube insisted on taking the shakes out of my camera work - they certainly know how to crush a newbie. :-)







Temperature Inversion Wonders

Despite the dropping temperatures, morale at Balintore Castle has been running high due to the brilliant sunshine of the last few days. In this photograph, taken today, the sun is lighting up the tops of clouds nestling in the Vale of Strathmore to the south of the castle.

I have witnessed this phenomenon of temperature inversion in Glen Quharity itself a couple of times from the castle. Instead of looking down into the valley, one is looking across an ocean of white beginning at the edge of the castle terrace. This is even more special when lit by the sun, like a magic and glowing sea coming inland.




Thursday, 20 October 2016

Cannibalising Nottingham

One of my absolute bug-bears is people stripping out bathrooms and kitchens in historic buildings, and refitting these with modern units, yet taking great pains to conserve/preserve/restore the other rooms. Why should the heritage of bathrooms and kitchens be of any lesser value? The end result of this cumulative process, which is particularly prevalent now, is that very few period bathrooms will remain. 

Anyhow, when it came to refitting the rather bare kitchen wing at Balintore Castle, where most items had been stripped out decades ago, the approach was going to be rather different. Modern units were of course out of the question. After discussions with my carpenters it became clear that instead of going 100% bespoke, it was going to be more economic to cannibalise antique or vintage units. The other benefits are getting better quality wood and an instant period feel. Some people may consider the end result a "fake", but to my mind it is about creating something of good quality that compliments the building and is "period credible". That is to say, a casual observer might think that the cannibalised units were original to the building.

Of course, Victorians did not have fitted worktops of the modern form, but I have decided to install 3: one in the kitchen; another in the utility room (once the dairy larder) and yet another in the scullery. But how to source the under-counter units? For months and months, I was looking at vintage shop units, antique drawer units, and even large Victorian dressers. These proved either too expensive or too small. The kitchen wall is 24' long and to put units along the full length requires a large amount of matching antique timber. Not an easy quest!

When I was in the depths of despair, I spotted 22 salvaged cabinet doors from the Nottingham Natural History Museum. These are pretty massive: 3' 10" (H) x 2' 4" (W). These are far too tall for kitchen cabinet doors as a standard work surface is just 3' high. However, could the top horizontal panel be cut off and used as a drawer front? Could the bottom two vertical panels be used as a kitchen cabinet door? I messaged the seller for the panels sizes, and while not ideal, these seemed just within the appropriate limits to cannibalise as described.


museum cabinet doors

So on my last drive from England to Scotland, I swung past Nottingham and loaded the back of my pick-up with the goodies from the museum.


door pick-up in Nottingham


In fact there were many more doors than I needed. :-) However, the surfeit provided an opportunity to tie together stylistically the various rooms in the kitchen wing. I had been considering some wall cabinets in the utility room, so why not just make them from the same batch of wood? 


The biggest "risk" was whether the doors could be sawn into two without splintering or damage, and indeed whether the aesthetics would be lost. Gregor, my carpenter, cut off two putative drawer fronts and we arranged them on the floor, in the planned set-up, against a putative kitchen cabinet door. The effect (below) looked not too bad, some trimming, in-filling and jiggery-pokery with the sizing would be required but it was basically a go-er.



experimenting with cutting up doors

The first unit built, finished today, is the wall cabinet. This uses a number of full length museum doors and so is a good test bed as considerably fewer variables are involved. To our amazement, despite the impressive carpentry, which I suspect is from 1926, we discovered the museum doors were slightly different sizes and not even square and true. In short, they had been cut-to-fit. Likewise, Gregor had to cut them to fit once again for their new home.

We improvised with modern solid brass cup handles. Hopefully, these are "period credible". The next task is to stain and varnish the new timber to match the old.


wall cupboards in castle's utility room - completed today!

To conclude this post are the future plans for the remaining cabinet doors.

Here is the design for the kitchen (with cabinet door for reference). The work surface will fit into the three window reveals, shown in plan view, at the top.



Here is the design for the scullery. Again the work surface will fit into the window reveal.


Finally, here is the design for the left-hand wall in the utility room. This room is essentially going to become a mini-kitchen. Squeezing everything in proved quite a challenge.


Thursday, 8 September 2016

New Finial for Balintore Castle: The Video

Many thanks to friends of Balintore, Andrew and his father George, for ingeniously constructing a new replacement finial for the square turret at Balintore Castle. The story I heard was that the original final was pulled off to salvage the lead around 50 years ago. This makes sense as it is the lowest turret, so the lead was definitely the low hanging fruit. I did not even ask Andrew to do this! My own best approach would have been a balloon and papier-mâché! The video tells the whole story: