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.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Civilisation Delta

I have to continually remind people that conditions in a castle undergoing restoration are far from their palatial expectations, and in fact may more accurately be described as squalid.

There is one working WC in the castle: obviously an essential for the many craftsmen who work on site. However, for the last 6 years or so the accompanying wash-hand basin has been a plastic bowl which you have to empty down the WC.

Some visitors were arriving late yesterday, and suddenly I decided enough was enough so earlier in the day I asked Gregor and Greg to install a proper wash-hand basin. I had picked up this small repro Art Deco basin a few months back at an auction for £12 which, as it turned out, fitted perfectly into the window opening. One doesn't feel one can ask for oneself, but I could ask on behalf of others.

The basin is sitting at a somewhat wonky angle, but it will have to be taken out anyway when a proper window is fitted. At least it is fully functional, and it is a major advance for the level of civilisation at the castle.

first working bathroom basin installed at the castle

Downpipes: Update

A brief update to yesterday's entry. Adding paint thinner to the grey cast iron primer made it go on smoother (without the unevenness problem), made it easier to handle, and made it go further. Win, win, win! 

Two of the three square cast iron downpipes on the exterior of the kitchen wing have now been installed and painted as shown below.

kitchen wing cast iron downpipe 1 of 3

kitchen wing cast iron downpipe 2 of 3

Friday, 24 August 2018

Downpipes: Before, During and After

When I bought Balintore Castle most of the downpipes were missing: long since removed by lead and cast iron bounty hunters. To get the roof draining properly as quickly as possible and as cheaply as possible, plastic downpipes were installed everywhere. They certainly did the job, but aesthetics dictated that they were only a temporary solution.

I have been scouring eBay for years for reclaimed cast iron downpipe. The square profile at Balintore is much rarer than the round, and despair set in. However, a few years ago I spotted 12 lengths for sale just outside Reading. I bagged this for £150. The retail price for new is around £200 a length i.e. £2400!

These reclaimed downpipes have been stored in the basement of the castle. During my current holiday at the castle I insisted that these be installed: Gregor and Greg got on the case yesterday. The kitchen wing is getting close to "holiday let" readiness, so it made sense to replace the three lengths on the exterior of this section of the castle first. The photographs show the "before, during and after" of  the replacement of the plastic by cast iron.  All photographs are from today:

remaining reclaimed cast iron downpipes in basement

before: temporary round grey plastic downpipe
during: Greg pointing stonework before replacing downpipe
after: replacement square cast iron downpipe in position - top section still to be painted

original downpipe profile
replacement downpipe profile- what a match!

The original cast iron downpipe was galvanised so has a somewhat matt silver/grey appearance. This looks well, and the zinc coating has certainly done its job over the last 160 years. There is not a hint of rust. To emulate this look I found a cast iron primer which is grey in colour. Protection and no need to paint in a one-er! I initially used this primer on replacement gutters last year, but when we tried it on the downpipe yesterday it seemed rather gloupy and went on in a rather uneven manner, with the paint surface breaking up almost like oil on water. When dried, the effect was OK but in the pursuit of perfection Gregor brought in some paint thinner today to see if this might help.

It is only now putting the original and reclaim downpipe photos together on this blog, that I see how exact a match has been achieved - hurrah!

I got a second job lot of "square" downpipe from a Bristol architectural yard sell-off earlier in the year for £30. Well, it was advertised as square but is actually 3" by 4" instead of the required 4" by 4". As it is the right style, I suspect that the difference will not be noticed by eye, if used in selected locations. After all, I was fooled by the auction photograph below (lot 297). With a 2D image you cannot tell the difference between perspective and dimensional difference. 
Of course, even more is required: one has to pipeline one's downpipes! :-)

second job lot of reclaim downpipe

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Rare Archive Photos

An archive of historic photographs owned by the Storrier family, has recently been made public. My friend Andrew went to investigate today, and took some rough preliminary smartphone shots of the ones featuring Balintore Castle and Balintore House.

Before they are scanned in high resolution, I thought you would very much enjoy the following preview images. These are, to put it simply, quite wonderful and give a glimpse of Balintore Castle in its full 19th Century magnificence with a full retinue of servants. I had often tried to imagine the scene in my head. There are some surprises - the sheer number of servants for a start. When people asked me the question, I guestimated the full compliment of servants at Balintore to be around 12. In one of the photos, there are 12 women servants and that's just for starters and not even counting the men.

I can't quite work out if there are any castle guests in the photos, or whether these are purely servants and gamekeepers. Can anyone make any identifications of role (from costume) or indeed if anyone can put any actual names to the faces, that would be even better!

I think I can identify the cook (ample figure and not wearing a customer-facing lace cap!); the footman (light jacket with tails), and I love the wee "grouse boy" who is holding three grouse, each of whom is half his size! Obviously, the photos will bear further study - I think I can spot a pair of identical twin maids flitting between the photos.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Easter Tiling

I took a fortnight's break before Easter with the intention of tiling the walls and floors of Balintore Castle's kitchen wing. Sadly, the delivery of both sets of tiles were late so the floor tiles arrived with just 4 days of my holiday left, and the wall tiles will arrive on the very day I leave the castle.

It's very frustrating, but I have been trying to make the best of my remaining time, and
instead of celebrating Easter I have been tiling furiously - aided by my friend Andrew and my cousin Ann.

The choice of floor tile for the kitchen is an interesting one. I went for black riven slate as this is a natural material like the original flagstones. These flagstones have long since been removed but it would cost around £400 per square metre to replace. There is now underfloor heading taking up some of the original flagstone depth, so I had to go for something thinner which will also help with heat transfer. It is important that the kitchen still has the quality of a work space so rougher riven un-calibrated slates seemed the natural choice.

The downside of irregular slates soon became apparent, trying to align them vertically or even to get them to fit into a regular grid is a nightmare. Ann cut up a large cardboard box to form cardboard spacers: these have some "give" so worked better than plastic spacers which would have been inappropriate.

Anyhow, the picture below shows the almost completed kitchen tiling  - it is a large area! 

almost completed tiling in kitchen

While waiting for the tiles, I was able to seal the mahogany worktops that Gregor had constructed from fantastic quality mahogany shelving I bought at an architectural antiques auction in Manchester. Gregor has been concerned that his worktops would get stained or water-marked, so I sealed the worktops in the scullery and the kitchen that surround the various sinks. The seal was some kind of oil, that recommended being applied between 20 and 30 Celsius. That was not going to happen at Balintore: the puddles round the castle are still frozen! :-) Anyhow, I applied 2 coats as recommended and this has brought out the wood well.

You will see that the unit doors are the doors from the Nottingham Natural Museum that I got from an architectural yard in (guess where?) Nottingham. These feature in an earlier blog entry here.

sealed worktop in kitchen

sealed worktop in scullery

Friday, 30 March 2018

Lyell's Boulder

One of the greatest local luminaries is Sir Charles Lyell (1797 to 1875), who essentially established geology as an academic field of study and introduced a number of theories that are now the bedrock of the discipline. Lyell was a contemporary and friend of Darwin, and one of the first heavyweight academics to lend credence to Darwin's "Theory of Evolution". Lyell was accorded the honour of being buried in Westminster Abbey as I detail here.

Sir Charles Lyell

When I say local, I mean ne plus ultra local: Sir Charles Lyell owned the plot of land where Balintore Castle now stands, prior to the sale of the Balintore Estate to David Lyon.

I had the story told to me by my friend Andrew, that just before dying Lyell insisted on being taken for one last time to a boulder on top of Meams Hill just to the north of Kirriemuir, which I regularly drive past. Andrew and I have often pondered climbing the hill to find it.

Apparently, the boulder was some remnant of ice-age transport that proved that an ice age had actually occurred. Lyell crawled from his carriage on all fours, almost blind by this stage, just so he could touch the stone.

Anyhow, upon recent interrogation by a local historian it transpired that I had no idea where Andrew got his information. Anyone with an interest in history should check their sources, so I checked back with Andrew. The Lyell story can be found in the 'Regality of Kirriemuir' by Alan Reid, 1909. The book was limited to a print run of 650 copies, after which the printing plates were destroyed. I include photographs of the two pages that tell the tale below:

Lyell's boulder story: part 1 of 2

Lyell's boulder story: part 2 of 2