Thursday, 9 January 2020

The Still Room

The Still Room in the basement of Balintore Castle is a room that has remained untouched by the restoration - save for blocking the window opening with a reclaimed modern window. The intention was to keep out the weather and bring in the light. 

The room's neglect is due to the fact that basement accommodation is less appealing. However, Balintore's basement is half above and half below ground so there is natural light and the rooms are less gloomy than conventional basement rooms.

As the restoration moves on, a need has arisen to reclaim more and better storage space. Previously, we have just been throwing building materials in un-restored but dry rooms, but missing floors have made access and storage inefficient.

Re-flooring the Still Room is an easy win as the dwarf stone walls, which once held the wall plates in position, are in perfect condition. Gregor installed new wall plates, and on top of these, running perpendicularly, new floor joists.

new floor joists - looking towards window

new floor joists - looking towards door
I am looking forward to fully flooring, and this reclaiming this space properly!

Still Rooms date back at least to medieval times, but disappeared from houses after the Victorian era, when their function was replaced by the mass production of consumer products.

I am currently reading "Castle in the Air" by Lady Jean Fforde (1920-2017). She describes her childhood, at the end of the country house era, spending summers in Brodick Castle in Arran and winters in Buchanan Castle near Loch Lomond.

autobiography of Lady Jean Fforde

Buchanan Castle is the sister castle to Balintore, being also designed by Willliam Burn and being by far the closest stylistically. So of course, any revelations about life in Buchanan, sadly now a total ruin, have their echos at Balintore. Lady Jean describes the stillroom at Buchanan thus:

Back in history the distilling of beers and various medicines took place in the still room but latterly, under the jurisdiction of the housekeeper, the stillroom maids did all the decorating of cakes and made all the pastries, jams and chutneys, marmalades and pickles. (pp43-44)

So yes, there really were dedicated maids for Still Rooms! I first learned about Still Rooms from a plaque on the wall in Charles Dickens' first London townhouse at 48-49 Doughty St., which has a small Still Room.

Given the function of a Still Room, we were not surprised by yesterday's discovery of drainage in Balintore's Still Room, which when tested still worked! :-) There is evidence of a sink in the window opening - see the brick supports on the right-hand side in the photo below:

note both drainage and ventilation below window

Roadside Castle Sign

A friend of Balintore, who includes stone masonry as one of her hobbies, very kindly offered to produce a new sign for Balintore Castle. I requested something as large as possible and close in style to the existing sign I had made commercially last year, described in a previous blog entry here. Both boxes were ticked with style.

There was a definite need for a sign to show visitors which turning to take to the castle, as the obvious approach, which is through the gate lodges, is so rough and uneven that many a car has bottomed out, even when I have remembered to tell the driver in advance not to come this way. :-) Now, all I have to do is say "Take the turning by the sign.". This should hopefully direct visitors up the bumpy but navigable west drive rather than the treacherous east drive.

Rather than building a cairn to hold the sign, or rather than constructing a wooden post that could rot over time, I thought that attaching the sign to a large boulder of local stone would win the prize for aesthetic longevity. Though a simple solution, the difficulty was finding and then moving a sufficiently large stone. 

I identified some candidate boulders during a dedicated walk in the vicinity of the castle, and today Greg selected one of these, which possessed interesting mottled colours (greens, purples and browns) and striated texturing. Andrew moved the boulder with a hired forklift. Et voila!

the new driveway castle sign

A chunk of stone broke off as we tried to angle the boulder, so the sign would be readable from the road which goes past the castle. And at one stage during the maneuverings, the boulder did take off down the hill - ending up with the presentable face at the bottom. Finally, perseverance paid off, and due to the brilliant sunshine today, no-one minded being outside.

Greg, Andrew and their winter woolly hats tame the errant boulder

Andrew's hired forklift