Sunday, 25 November 2018

Sans Watermarking

I wrote a blog article last year on how to remove a watermark from a digital scan of a contemporaneous drawing of Balintore Castle. I needn't have bothered as a very thoughful Jeffrey Sanchez has recently supplied me with a copy of the image before it was watermarked. In a sense, it is the image which holds all aspirations for the building, as it was the one drawn up by the architect's practice for the client and captures the Victorian baronical dream of the Scottish Highlands.

Old Parsonage Open Days 24/25th November 2018: Part 2

When my friends inside the Landmark Trust invited me to visit the Old Parsonage in Oxford this weekend, there was no prospect of me refusing. I was super keen to see how this British charitable organisation ( founded in 1965) presents historic buildings for holiday rentals. And of course, who can resist a dinner party with good company in a delightful setting?

With my car out of action, I set off in the dark to cycle the 9.4 miles from my house to Iffley where the soiree was taking place. Having not cycled this route in the dark for a number of years, I got lost and took the wrong turning three times. Due to the rough cross-country terrain, the gear mechanism on my bike broke half-way there. Holding my bike light over the gears and moving some bits of metal around, I got rid of the grinding noise but not the squeaking. Still, it was a good enough fix to continue my journey. The entrance to the normal cycle path I take along the banks of the Thames, was closed with many warning signs about there being no access to Oxford. However, at that stage I had only 10 minutes to get to the parsonage on time, so I continued regardless. Thankfully, the route to Iffley was still open and I crossed the Thames at the Iffley Locks for the first time in my life, despite cycling past the locks many times.

I got lost in Iffley. I knew the Old Parsonage was near the church and I cycled all the small lanes round the church but could not find the building. In desperation I looked back at the church, and could see a series of lit small arched upper floor windows in a row, of decided historic interest, somewhere to the right of the church tower.  I cycled to where I could get as close to this architectural feature as possible and found, much to my relief, a door marked "Old Parsonage" which led directly onto the pavement. I had cycled past here already, but in the dark I had missed the mediaeval stone detailings!

Tim of the Landmark Trust welcomes you at the front door of the Old Parsonage

The Old Parsonage is, it has to be said, an absolute star of a building. If there is a square foot of wall space that is free from panelling, I did not manage to find it. :-) Like most panelling in really old buildings, this was likely recycled from an even older building as it had been bashed about somewhat to fit. The main block in which the holiday accommodation has been placed is around 1500, but some other parts of the building are considerably older. Another part of the building is the vicarage for the adjacent Norman church. And yes, there is a vicar living in the vicarage. 

drining room Tudor fireplace - flaps in panelling reveal ancient stone structures

There is a classic monumental stone Tudor fireplace in the dining room. Around the fireplace are four opening flaps in the panelling where you can see the stone structure in the wall behind. These reveal a 12th century relieving arch above the fireplace and the massive stones from which the Tudor fireplace itself is built. Had the 12th century arch once formed an even larger fireplace opening? Was this was wall 12th century, or had the 12th century stones been re-used from elsewhere? No-one knows. However, the site is clearly one of deep time.

To my mind, the Tudor interior is the most quintisentially English with the large fireplaces, dark wood panelling and furniture giving the most homely vibe imaginable. The wooden floors with the patina of age, were raked at a variety of improbable angles and the floorboards creaked exactly as they should in an old historic building. I needed no convincing: the generous room sizes, yet with an intimate feel; the comfortable and well appointed accommodation; and a Thames frontage, made it a building I would be happy to settle in for the rest of my life. The dinner party guests discussed their favourite periods: Julie is medieval and the parsonage has her name on it too; Tim is Palladian and Georgian; Duncan is Victorian and I am a mediaeval/Victorian hybrid. 

My visit to the parsonage was all too brief so I did not really take any photographs, but being a fireplace nut I recorded these and I had a photographic reconnaissance round the garden on Sunday morning. When I arrived on Saturday evening, I had no inkling there was any exterior space let alone that a garden led directly down to the Thames.

the grassy Thames-side terrace of the parsonage - looking over Iffley Locks

The terrace by the water will be amazing in Summer. There were steps leading down to the water, and the Landmark Trust could do well by the building by installing a mooring point.

view through drawing room window to ancient Mulberry and Thames beyond
An ancient, just alive, mulberry tree in the garden was propped precariously in position - let's hope it survives for many years into the future.

the drawing room fireplace

The fireplace in the drawing room looked like the collision of a Georgian marble fireplace and a deeply carved Victorian dark wood fireplace. Whatever the story behind this chimera, it was obviously bespoke, and its history merges with that of the building. I couldn't help but love this mongrel.

Two women visitors on the open day on Saturday were discovered standing in front of one of the fires. It emerged they had swum across the Thames to get to the parsonage. Emergency beverages were supplied forthwith. "But where did you get changed?" asked Duncan. "We have our ways" replied one of the women mysteriously. Hats off to these intrepid visitors. I have never been able to even manage a cold shower myself. 

The incident puts me in mind of Dame's Delight which was nearby. This is the female equivalent of the legendary Parson's Pleasure also nearby. The latter Wikipedia article records one of my favourite related and ribald Oxford anecdotes. One wonders if the eponymous parson of the nude bathing spot, came from this very Old Parsonage?

where else would one see the use of "abut": one of my favourite Angle Saxon words

I had an incredible night's sleep at the Old Parsonage. I have a theory that the older the building the better one sleeps. And I am no longer a Landmark Trust virgin! My observation over the weekend, is that the Trust presents their buildings to the very highest standard. 

They set a very high bar indeed for the holiday lets I am planning at Balintore Castle. I was relieved, amongst such perfection, to see naked light bulbs in the dining room chandelier. I have a phobia of naked bulbs in period buildings as they reveal the lighting technology of the day and break the period illusion. I hide all bulbs at Balintore behind glass shades.

Staying at the Old Parsonage is a special and much-to-be-recommended experience. It has spurred me on to try to do something similar at the castle.

the incomparable Old Parsonage from the garden side

Old Parsonage Open Days 24/25th November: Part I

One of the utter delights of restoring an "at risk" building is meeting and making friends with like-minded individuals. I am indebted to friends of Balintore Duncan, Tim and Julie who invited me to a dinner party at the Old Parsonage in Oxford yesterday evening.

The Old Parsonage in Iffley is a Landmark Trust property, with open days this Saturday and Sunday (24/25th November 2018). Duncan, Tim and Julie are on hand to show members of the public around and ensure the building is looking at its best. In fact the open day does not finish until 4PM today (25th November) so there is still time to visit.  I implore you not to miss this opportunity to see such a delightful and historic property. You will be made very welcome.

Open Day at the Old Parsonage Iffley

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The Counting House Knockers

Just 100 yards from where I am currently working is a hostelry called "The Counting House". It was built in 1893, on top of the foundations of a 2000-year-old Roman basilica, as Prescott's Bank. My work colleagues and I love the sumptuous interior. However, this story involves the exterior of the building. 

I was walking past on my morning commute (hence semi-darkness in photos) when I spotted that the front door of the Counting House has two lion's head knockers, absolutely identical to those I have recently installed on the front door of the castle. A few yards further on, the service door for the Counting House sported a letter box of almost identical design to the one I had just installed on a side door of the castle. 

What an amazing coincidence! Presumably the brass fittings at the Counting House were from the same company, so inadvertently I had bought coordinated fittings from the same company but in separate purchases. My two lion's heads were bought in two separate purchases as well, and I was delighted to get a matching pair. I never thought this would happen. I can also now date my fittings to 1893, a bit later than the castle (1860) but within the correct period ballpark.

Lion's head knockers are in essence portal lions in microcosm: those grand statues of lions either side of the entrance ways to ancient cities. There was originally a lion's head bell pull on the front door of Balintore Castle, long since gone but visible in old photos in this blog, which was no doubt inspired by the first owner's name of Lyon.

The morale of this story is that the almost instinctual choices we make in aesthetics, but also in other matters, hold strong truths and patterns that we may not even be aware of. Until that is, we are walking around the streets of London and spot things that are strangely familiar.  :-)

the Counting House on my morning commute

lion's head knockers at the Counting House
lion's head knockers at Balintore Castle

letter box at the Counting House

letter box at Balintore Castle

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Feel the Love

Thanks to friend of Balintore Emma for pointing out that Balintore Castle is currently feeling the love on "Visit Scotland" on Instagram with 25, 387 likes !

Friday, 5 October 2018

Rare Archive Photos Scanned

I managed to get the photographs from the Storrier family archive (mentioned in a previous blog post) scanned in by the Angus Archives last week. The digital images arrived by email just in time to incorporate them with the talk I gave last night (Thursday 4th October 2018) to the Forfar and District Historical Society. It was thrilling to be able to present these in public for the first time. The venue was the East and Old Church Hall, Chapel Street, Forfar. I was delighted by the excellent turnout and warm reception. 

Anyhow, without any further ado I will present the digitised images below. These have to be watermarked for the blog sadly. One character, a bearded and rather smiley gamekeeper appears in more of the photos (i.e. 4 of the 7) than anyone else so his changing appearance is a useful cue to putting the photos in temporal sequence. The changing ladies hairstyles is another clue that the photographs were taken years apart rather than in just a single shooting season. 

The first photograph looks to be the only one that shows "guests" as well as "staff". To my eye, the three people sitting on chairs on the left, as well as the boy in front are guests. The cap of the seated gentleman on the right and his literal separation from the three guests (social divide?), is instant condemnation to the lower ranks. :-) Here the smiley gamekeeper is photo-bombing the party, quite an achievement for the 19th century, and one feels that he is very much his own man and would be great company.

Photo 1: "guests" as well as "staff"?

The second photograph shows the brass lion's head bell pull on the right hand column very clearly. Long since gone sadly! The smiley gamekeeper has a little grey in his beard, so I suspect this is the latest photo. All the women have a "bouffon" hair thing going on, that may be Edwardian. Can anyone date ladies' hair-dos? I have naturally tried googling, but got nowhere.

Photo 2: bouffon hairdos!

In the third photo all the women have a parting! The man with the stick (bottom right) is William Fenton Senior; his wife is next to him. Thanks to a plea on Facebook for putting names to faces in old Victorian photos - I doubted whether it was even possible being so long ago.

Photo 3: hairdos with parting

If has been suggested to me that the fourth photo could be as late as the 1940's, as tractors only took over in the late 40's and were certainly in operation at Balintore home farm, where the picture was taken, in the 1950's.

Photo 4: draft horses at the home farm, castle in background

The fifth photo shows a younger gamekeeper, so I suspect this is the earliest photo. This is my favourite as it shows the servant retinue in its full Victorian heyday with cook and footman. 

Photo 5: Youngest incarnation of gamekeeper; staff including cook and footman

Balintore home farm, in the sixth photo, most recently operated as a sheep farm. However, a little earlier it clearly had goats!

Photo 6: goats at the home farm

The seventh photo has a great view of the castle from what is now known as the Auld Smithy.

Photo 7: the castle from the Auld Smithy

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

One Step Forward; Two Steps Back

While replacing the third of three plastic downpipes on the exterior of the kitchen wing with cast iron ones, we hit a problem. The ground was dug up at the foot of the new downpipe so we could connect it up. However, the drain here was simply not draining. It looks like the rain from the roof has just been soaking into the ground rather than being taken way - probably for many years.

I stuck my hand down the drain and pulled out as much earth as I could. This did not unblock it. :-( The drain pipe seemed to be going under the castle rather than away from the castle. Gregor and Greg excavated round the drain, and the first section of pipe appeared to be a trap. The trap had a U-bend, but as the U went up again the pipe was fractured. The crack was around 15mm wide, enough to let earth in and block things. Gregor shoved a length of thin but rigid plastic into the crack and wiggled. This just did enough to unblock the drain and we could hear the water drain away with an echo-y splash into the underground tank in the middle of the service courtyard. 

After much debate we reasoned that we would have to either seal the crack or install a new drain, because if we did nothing the earth blockage would recur. In any case, the crack meant that a significant amount of water, perhaps the majority, entered the ground.

Greg excavated around the ceramic trap to free it, and with much digging in hard stony ground and with much wiggling, it finally came loose. You can see from the picture of the trap below that the crack is at an angle and that re-joining would be next to impossible.

the original Victorian trap with cracked U bend

Reluctantly we replaced the trap with an inpection chamber which arrived with Plumbageddon, a mass purchase of plumbing bits and bobs. Plumbaggedden, described in an earlier blog entry, was starting to pay dividends.

The inspection chamber outlet was connected by a rubber adapter to where the old trap was connected - once the salt glaze pipe was given a neat vertical edge using a saw. The input pipes were at a higher level so could not be fed into the inlets but instead fed-in from above. Here you can see the kitchen sink drain - a white plastic pipe inside the original lead pipe and the land drainage pipe from the area around the kitchen  - which terminates in a 90 degree grey bend.

replacement inspection chamber

The next picture shows the new connection from the square downpipe; two black riser chambers and a cast iron manhole cover. All bits courtesy of Plumbageddon. All that remains to be added are three inspection chamber inlet blanks, and then we can back-fill the hole. For once Plumbageddon did not oblige, and I had to order the blanks from the Internet.

fully connected inspection chamber with risers and manhole cover

The final image shows the third of the three newly installed cast iron downpipes, with the newly installed drain. Hurrah! Having to rework the drainage was totally unexpected, and took a couple of days. Moral was low at the end of yesterday as we had not been able to unblock the drain, did not know what was happening underground, and had no idea how to solve the problem. So from the high of seeing the third cast iron downpipe installed, we were then cast down by not knowing how we could ever get it to work. Apparent forward progress can actually make one realise that one has actually gone backwards. :-(

new cast iron downpipe and new drainage to handle the water properly

Many thanks to Greg and Gregor for persevering, and particularly Greg for digging for most of today while stuck in a deep muddy hole. I did some digging but then Greg insisted "That's what I'm here for.". :-)  

Yes, the new drain is sticking out of the ground at the moment. However, the top riser chamber will be cut down to meet the final ground level, once this has been established.