Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A Restrained Day at the Auctions

A newly discovered pleasure is the auction room. It is a happy hunting ground for Victorian furniture and fittings for Balintore Castle. Prices are well below those on eBay; you can see the quality for yourself and delivery is mostly as simply as popping it in the back of one's pick-up.

I visited Taylor's Auction Rooms in Montrose last Saturday. Some items that looked good on their website did not hold up in the flesh, and conversely some items that one passed over on the Web. jumped out in the showroom, due to their sheer quality. 

One example of the latter was this oak Arts and Crafts dresser, with carved lions and  brass scroll work. This would have been ideal for Balintore, but it went for £400 (too much); the feet needed fixing and the size would have made transport a challenge.

Arts and Crafts oak dresser - sold for £400

Arts and Crafts oak dresser - carved lion

Arts and Crafts oak dresser - brass scroll work

Another suitable item was this HUGE oak bookcase - very few pieces are large enough for the library of the castle which has long since been stripped of its original bookcases. The bookcase went for £250 which is a good price, but transport would have been a costly hassle on top. If the price had been lower then I would have jumped in. You always need to be prepared to walk away, and conversely you also need to know which items you would jump on, despite any problems, if the price is right. I think I recognise the bookcase as coming from the Scottish Parliament as I spotted similar attributed ones on eBay.

huge bookcase - sold for £250

The good thing about these auction rooms is that there is no need to leave empty handed. I picked up a couple of electric saws for a tenner, exactly the type my builder had been requesting. I had been looking for wall bracket oil lamps for some time, and I bagged the pair below for £35, after a minor bidding war. The picture shows the lamps after I polished-up the fonts (the oil holding bit). The two brass fonts had different patinas - perhaps they had been stored differently? - so I brought them back to the same finish, being careful not to overdo it. However, as I plan to paint the cast iron brackets gold (there are signs of gilding) then the fonts have to be reasonably close to gold to match. Old brass polishes to a "buttery gold" colour which is attractive in itself, more modern brass polishes "white" which is not a good look - and then time is required to develop a patina to soften this. I have heard this is due to the different copper content.

pair of bracket oil lamps - bought for £35

There was a shoulder-mount stag's head in great condition at the auction which would have been ideal. You can tell the condition of a stag's head by the ears, as these are the first bits to go. These should be round and intact with no nibbles. The castle had six stag's heads in the Great Hall at one stage. However, the stag's head at the auction went for £180. I walked away.

You both win and lose at an auction and never know the "haul" in advance. Saturday's haul was very modest indeed and yet even if there is nothing in your haul, you have seen and learned more than when you entered.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Auchans Castle : Balintore V0.2

A friend called Alasdair from my home town of Prestwick recently visited me at Balintore Castle. He was the boy across the road from my granny: so our connection goes way, way back. We got talking and I revealed that I had almost restored Auchans Castle just 5 miles from Prestwick. The castle and the surrounding 8 acres came on the market around 15 years ago  - of course I was completely unaware of the building before this! :-) Supposedly, it was partially constructed from the stones of Dundonald Castle, an even older building that I had heard of, never visited, but seen from a distance. It is amazing how we never go to see the treasures in our own area.

When it was on the market. I visited with an architect who had worked on medieval tower house restorations previously. The restoration was eminently feasible. The building was 50% there, and the other 50% were the stones lying around about the building. For a medieval structure, it was huge and intact - so the auguries were good. Mediaeval restorations can all too often end up with problematically titchy accommodation!

I stayed on-site after my architect had gone. As it grew dark, I considered whether I would take the project on. Reality checks have to be done on-site. There was a bit of traffic noise from the A759, the main Troon to Kilmarnock road. This was at the end of a 150 m drive - perhaps this distance was adequate clearance? The noise wasn't loud or irritating but "there".  And of course, the other consideration was "Can one go back?".  It is in human nature to want to feel one has moved on, and yet this was so close to where I grew up. On the other hand, was this a positive sign?

By the end of the evening, something did not feel right.  Either factor: slight road noise or "going back" would not have been deal breakers on their own. but together they were. It was a huge disappointment, the setting was beautiful and the building was perfect. Another building had fallen through recently, and I had pinned all my hopes on Auchans.

Anyhow, Alasdair mentioned he had a photograph of Auchans from the 1920's and that it was intact then. I had no idea such a photograph existed and had assumed the ruination was centuries old.

Here is the promised photograph Alasdair sent me afterwards. I have to admit, as much as I love this building, I had not expected anything quite so spectacular and atmospheric. The men standing on the tower give an idea of the impressive scale. I am wondering if I made the right decision, the castle and grounds sold eventually for a mere £88k to the adjacent quarry. No restoration has been done, but the area round the castle has been cleared and fenced off.

Balintore Castle emerged directly from the ruins of Auchans Castle. I contacted the Historic Scotland representative for Ayrshire who had been hugely helpful with my earlier researches on Auchans, and moaned how I had again lost out on a building even if only due to traffic noise. Guess which building the representative recommended instead?

Auchans Castle in the 1920's


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Jacob's Ladder

Further repair work on the box gutter at Balintore Castle necessitated building this scaffolding. The section of guttering in question is above a low pitched roof, making it hard to access. The solution was a dog-leg scaffold construction requiring a veritable Jacob's ladder to climb!

I don't like to think of the vast quantities of new lead, new slate, and new sarking that have been carried up these ladders over the last few weeks. Where possible I passed materials up, so my builder wasn't constantly climbing up and down carrying everything. We could have done with a few of those biblical angels processing ceaselessly up and down! Perhaps, I ordered the secular Esher's ladder by mistake? :-)

Jacob's ladder - to access a box gutter for repair/salvation

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Pimp My Scaffold

Sometimes, you just have to kick-back and do things not because you should but because you can.What one can so with an unused ridge roll for a pole; a spare dash of white emulsion to coat that pole; a donated saltire and a capricious idle moment.

one scaffold : pimped