Skokholm Cottage Renovation

14th August 2011
Day 1
It was an early start, arriving at Martins Haven for 7 am. There was food for the week together with building supplies and tools that had to be loaded on the boat, the Dale Princess, so that it could leave at 8 am. The luggage, food, equipment and building materials had to be carried up a set of steps and placed on the rocks before being passed down to the landing stage. Lugging nearly a dozen large tubs of lime wash was hard – it felt like a day’s work in itself. The builders moved much of the equipment and helped to load the boat, though they would be joining us on the island the following day. It’s ironic that the only rain that day was during the half hour or so as we loaded the boat. Some of the cardboard boxes were in a sorry state, but they held firm. The crossing was very calm, the sea being much calmer than the previous few days.
After unloading the boat, the dumper truck was used to ferry everything up to the buildings. A welcome cup of tea later and it was time to erect four mist nets, two by the bog, one in the cottage garden and another by the kitchen block. As part of an objective to obtain bird observatory status, bird ringing must be carried out. The nets will be used on and off over the next five weeks. It wasn’t long before a few sedge warblers were caught. These were ringed and their details, including weight and size, noted.

The cottage and the building materials

After lunch we started work in the cottage, chipping away at the old plaster as this all had to come off and be replaced. Unfortunately, the only wheelbarrow that would fit through the door had a flat tyre so the rubble had to be carried out in buckets. This seemed a never ending task which was to be repeated many times throughout the week.
The cottage is a Grade II listed building dating from 1760, and is in desperate need of repair. The external appearance must not be changed. Internally, there is more freedom, but traditional materials will be used whilst bringing it up to modern standards, including electric lights and (next year) a plumbed water and drainage system.
Indeed the electric supply was the single biggest change since my last visit. Low energy lamps and LED lighting, not to mention an electric fridge freezer and the ability to charge laptops and other devices, all powered by a couple of solar panels and a battery storage system.

The roof in the process of being removed

Day 2
The builders arrived around 8.30 am. After breakfast they started removing the old roof, which did not take long. The chimney stack was brought down in stages – it couldn’t be brought down in one go as this would result in the cottage wall being brought down with it. The two rooms at the front of the cottage ended up waist deep in rubble.

The rubble from the chimney in the front room

The fireplace

In the afternoon, the dumper truck couldn’t be switched off. The key appeared to have dropped out – but why was the engine still running? It turned out that the key had sheared off, so a screwdriver was brought into use.
The chimney wall was shored up and some old bricks removed in order to restore the fireplace to its original size ready to install a wood burning stove. A start was made on removing the soft mud and earth from between some of the stones in the walls.

Day 3
The builders continued to work on the roof, though not everything was done that was planned. The A frame in the cottage required some cutting down because the building was not level. Meanwhile, the chimney rubble was removed from the front rooms of the cottage in buckets and the large pieces of stone passed up onto the scaffolding and into the dumper truck. The rubble and will be used to form the base for the water storage tanks which are due to be installed next year.

The roof completely removed

The gaps between the stones of the internal walls filled were with lime mortar which mortar consisted of a mixture of three to one sand to lime. This strengthens and stabilises the walls, as well as allowing them to breathe, which is something some of the walls could not do as they had been plastered over with hard cement at some point in the past. More wood that had been left from the previous day removed from the cottage and burnt. Numerous timbers and pieces of wood had suffered from woodworm. A stand for the second cement mixer was made. The solar heated camp showers were warm by 4 pm but had cooled down by 6.30. It was quite a windy day, the dust flying everywhere was like a sandstorm especially in the small rooms where it swirled about.

Clearing out the rubble

Work in the common room

Day 4
Different areas of the walls had earth scraped away and replaced with lime mortar. It’s better to do the walls in sections rather than in one go. Though the walls were sound, parts were in a fragile state. The wall around the chimney area was strengthened using normal cement mortar. The builders completed the rafters and laid the roofing felt. The rebuilding of the chimney stack was started.

The new roof under construction

The new chimney under construction

Day 5
More time was spent chipping away earth from between the stones in the walls and filling the gaps with lime mortar. Lewis, the warden, and Gerry from Skomer came over. The builders started putting the slates on the roof and continued to build the chimney stack. A new flue was fitted.
The evening was spent watching Fast and Furious IV on the laptop in the Wheelhouse (aka the dining room).

The new fireplace under construction

Day 6
More of the same as regards building work, with a start made on the lead flashing for the roof. Steve and Paul left so the volunteers were down to three. The evening was spent watching Hot Fuzz on the laptop in the Wheelhouse. Thanks to Rob who brought the DVDs, and to Charlie for the use of his Mac book Pro.

Insulating the new roof

The rear of the roof completed

The front of the roof nearing completion

Day 7
It was decided that the volunteers would leave with the builders in the afternoon, rather than early the following day, as the sea conditions were better. The following week’s volunteers would also be coming across, including an ex-MP from the local area. During the morning the builders completed most of the roof. After lunch, much of the work involved tidying, cleaning and burning more waste timber. It’s ironic that the only sun that day was while we were waiting for the boat and loading the luggage.
A mention must be made for the excellent food served up during the week. From freshly made pizzas, lasagne, quiches, bacon rolls mid morning, rich mushroom soup, a choice of great curries and some mean chilli. Cakes and pies too. Just listing it does not do it justice, I’m afraid!
It was good to see the amount of progress made in one week, and I look forward to seeing the cottage in its resplendent refurbished state.

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2011

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