Thursday 29 August 2013

Sashy Slaggy Stylee

I don't believe I have ever "lifted weights" in my life.  Ms. Balintore, as one friend is wont to call the castle, may be a mistress in genteel poverty, yet she has the uncanny ability to continually push one's unwilling boat onto uncharted waters.

The reconditioned and new windows at Balintore Castle, need to have their sashes balanced. Sash windows work on the counterweight principle, very much as a lift in a building. The upper sash has a counterweight one pound heavier than the window itself, so this sash will stay at the top. The lower sash has a counterweight one pound less than the window itself, so this will stay at the bottom. The force to move a sash window, no matter how large or small, is therefore never more than a pound. Simples!

Anyhow, the set of remaining original sash weights at the castle were not correct to balance the repaired windows. The traditional way of altering a sash weight is to saw a section off the end, whether the material be cast iron or lead. I didn't want to destroy an existing weight by taking too much off. and indeed I wanted to be able to use the intact weight wherever possible. I needed a large selection of sash weights in various denominations that I could experiment with and cut-down if necessary without messing up Balintore's historic fabric.

This is where eBay comes in! I managed to secure the 79 weights below for less than a pound (£) each. They are from an early 19th century building in Summertown, Oxford, which was having the sashes double-glazed. The windows ended up so much heavier they has to be balanced with lead weights rather than the original iron ones, which were in consequence surplus to requirements. The seller worked for a company which does high end renovations,: these have included the Savoy and Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons.  

Ironically, I once worked in Summertown for the University.

Anyhow, I noticed some of the castings were very rough (slaggy) indeed, though it was just about possible to always still read the weight stamped onto the side of the weights. 

So however reluctantly, I have been pumping iron though of a sashy and slaggy variety. :-) With their half pound increments in weight, my layout reminded me of the major (ivory - whole notes) and minor (ebony - semi-tones) keys of a piano keyboard.

sash weights purchased for Balintore Castle

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Flooring on The Move

A generous benefactor gifted some spare reclaimed oak flooring, that had lying around in their garden, to the Balintore Castle restoration project. Hurrah! Yesterday, I set off in my trusty pick-up to collect. When I arrived, it looked like another two trips would be required, but by carefully packing the back of the pickup for maximum density with the 5" wide planks (see the first image) and by using the passenger seats for the 2 ¾ " strip flooring (see the second image), I may get away with just one more trip.

I can't wait to put this flooring in situ, and then sand it to bring the characteristic oak graining back to life. Flooring, certainly in the quantities required at the castle, requires a lot of handling, but when you know you are putting something of beauty back you don't mind.

pick-up tightly packed with reclaimed flooring
just as well there are no passengers in the back!

Thursday 22 August 2013

Fascinating Delaminations

Many of the stone slabs which once covered the ground floor and basement of Balintore Castle, have long since been, er, re-purposed in the gardens of the surrounding area. I am aware of some in the nearby village of Kingoldrum, and even the slabs in one of my neighbours' gardens look rather familiar.

Needless-to-say, re-flooring Balintore is one of the most expensive parts of the restoration both in terms of material and labour. The positive aspect is that when reinstating stone floors, one can install underfloor heating and insulation.

As a temporary and unsatisfactory flooring solution, we had arranged the slabs and slab fragments lying around into as flat a surface as we could muster. Today, we lifted these slabs in preparation for the proper flooring solution. Some of these flags were partially de-laminated when we laid them, but on lifting these up (several winters down the line), they miraculously cleaved into intact sheets right in from of our eyes, much is the way slates are produced, but without any of the effort. So one slab, for example, split into 3 new slabs, each roughly a centimetre in depth. Hurrah, this means that we have extra new slabs with which to patch the existing floors. albeit with some extra support underneath required. Some of the original floor slabs at Balintore are 3 inches thick - no support required!

The new stone surfaces revealed by the splitting were not what one would have expected. They were dark and riven with a beautiful greenish hue. The photograph was taken obliquely to the light to show the surface texture. The stone floors in Balintore are currently flat and a light dusty grey, but now I realise the original colour and texture could have been very different. A similar argument applies to the stone the castle was built from. It looks a purple-brown colour now, but originally before oxidation it was a mid grey. This become apparent to me one day, when I saw some stone, internal to a block, revealed.  So when first built, the castle was a very different colour.

newly split surface of stone stab : emerald and riven

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Exploding Wheelbarrow

I do not quite remember when the Balintore Castle wheelbarrow first came into my life. Neither do I know with any certainty where it came from. However, I suspect it was a generously donated gift item. It has definitely seen better days, but is metal and though thoroughly bashed around, has plenty of life left in it yet.

Today, I was hauling around ridiculously heavy quantities of hardcore. The professional supervising the operation, pointed out that the tyre on the wheelbarrow needed inflating. Aside from sheer inertia, the other reason I hadn't inflated the type was that I was dubious about the state of the type and "best left alone" is often the watchword.

However, on professional advice I inflated to a compromise 20 PSI. "It still looks a little soft, David" was the advice after a few more loads of hardcore. I inflated to a second compromise of 35 PSI. A few more loads, and then a deafening "BANG!!!!". It was a wheelbarrow tyre blow-out of the highest order, my load dropped and was now glued to the floor and immobile. I was blocking the corridor too, and it won't be a surprise to those that know me that the second professionally-manned wheelbarrow had lapped me several times, cruelly mocking my puny efforts, and even now was threatening to get past.

The supervisor helped me carry the corpse of the wheel barrow, distended by its last meal, to a suitable place of rest. I retired to source a new inner and outer tube on eBay, which is more where my skill set lies. Delivery tomorrow, Fingers crossed that my trusty pack mule is only hors de combat for one day.

gargantuan wheelbarrow blow-out: ravaged inner and outer tubes

Sunday 18 August 2013

Reverse Engineering a Castle

Today I was examining the floor areas of the three principal rooms at Balintore to assess flooring requirements. These three rooms are all connected to one another for maximum flow during social events The main rectangles for each room are:

dining room     = 35' x 21' 
drawing room  = 35' x 21'
grand saloon   = 35' x 28'

So the drawing room, dining room and saloon share the same long dimension: quite a surprise as there are no fully shared walls. The drawing room and dining room have the same dimensions: again a surprise as the drawing room looks far larger to the eye. I have long been puzzled by the room dimensions not being multiples of nice numbers like 4 or 6, but today I spotted they are all multiples of 7.

So in best Georgian tradition the rooms are beautifully proportioned as follows:

dining room       = 5 x 3
drawing room    = 5 x 3
grand saloon     = 5 x 4

William Burn, the architect of Balintore, started his career in the Georgian era.

The grand saloon is roughly 27' feet high so it is not quite a perfect cube, but essentially has proportions 5 x 4 x 4.

I guessed Balintore must hold such nice patterns like these, but I did not twig what they were until today. And of course, this hidden encoding of numbers in a building goes back to masonic and Knights Templar traditions.

mathematically perfect proportions of inter-connected principal rooms

Saturday 10 August 2013

The Way We Were

I have only ever seen small versions of this very old photograph of Balintore Castle. However, a friend recently sent me an A4-sized photocopy,  so I had it scanned for this blog and indeed for posterity i.e. so it doesn't matter if I ever lose the paper copy.

It was clearly taken shortly after construction as the subjects have a proprietorial pride in the building. I have been told that the man in the tall stove-pipe hat is the architect William Burn.

It is a delight to be able to zoom in on the detail for the first time by having a hi-res scan.

Things present then but absent now:

  • pair of urns above entrance
  • ball finial on low square turret
  • lion rampant in shield above entrance

Things absent but present now:
  • yews in front of building
  • ballusters on wall to left of entrance tower 
I have recently discovered that the yews date from 1960's, as they are small in a 1960's photo and so are not an original planting. These are now for the chop! :-) The presence of a few balusters on the wall at the front nowadays (most have been removed) but not in this photo is a mystery. Perhaps, construction was not quite complete at the time of the photograph?

earliest known photograph of Balintore Castle

Friday 9 August 2013

Drawing Room Rejoist Rejoice

Rejoice! - as of this afternoon the floor in the drawing room has now been totally rebuilt. Most of the existing beams were OK, only two had to be replaced. Around half of the wall-plates had rotted away and were replaced. The wall-plates are essentially the "beams" that go round the outside of a room and give something for the floor joists to sit upon. The floor joists had been removed a long time ago (for salvage one presumes), a few were left in-situ, but all bar one were rotten. So basically all the floor joists had to be re-installed using new timber.

You can see all the new floor joists running left to right in the photographs. Before, because the drawing room had no floor, you could only peer in from the doorway. Now, by treading on the joists you can walk around the room for the first time: it's a good feeling.

We did have a bit of a wobble this morning on the levels (you can see the unforgiving spirit level on the hearth), but thankfully this was nothing that a bit of brute force (my builder's not mine!) couldn't sort out.

I can't wait to get the floorboards down next.  This, in itself, is going to be a big task as the room is 21 feet by 35 feet. Has anyone got 68 square metres of flooring going cheap? :-)

newly be-joisted drawing room looking west

newly be-joisted drawing room looking east