Friday, 27 August 2021

Relaying the Hall Floor (Part 2)

The new limecrete (NHL5) screed is laid (left) over the recycled foamed glass, and I have done a scratch coat on the lime plaster (below) where the old concrete skirting board was.

But things do move on slowly at times, like when you are waiting for the NHL to set completely, or when waiting for the scratch coat of lime plaster on the wall to go off so you can do the second coat.

The English limestone flags arrive today, I hope, but they cannot be laid for at least another couple of weeks, but it's more like three weeks - first it's the wait for the floor to be ready then - guess what? - the contractor has a planned commitment for 9 days on September 6th which means we are waiting until almost September 20th.

However, with a small delay the water pipe was fixed two weeks ago now. I am really glad that it was noticed as it would have gone sooner or later. The cost was probably an additional £750 (plumber and builder together). I can only guess at how I would have felt if, in a couple of years, the new floor had suddenly become very damp and we would have to done the job, cursing, at even greater expense.

I have also sold the Staffordshire Blue tiles for a reasonable price. They went to a flooring contractor who was going to lay them in a couple of days time in a house in London. Sadly I could not interest him in the collection of red quarries I have.

One job I can do is to paint the skirting board which has already been delivered. The profile matches what we have in the lounge which was made for us in 2011, so t'other half is very pleased. Result!

Friday, 13 August 2021

The Corroded Rising Water Main

I mentioned that the water main had been found to be corroded and, as a result, the floor work had to be suspended until the water main could be fixed. The job was done today (I am most grateful to Curtis & Carder Ltd) and here are some photos of the corroded pipe.

It might have been only precautionary (and also expensive) but I am sure that, in a year or two, we would have had a massive leak in the hall; if we had continued and done the floor, that would have been most annoying and a lot more expensive!

No further comment or comment is neccessary!

Thursday, 12 August 2021

Relaying the Hall Floor (Part 1)

Well, I have finally taken the plunge: the 6" square, 1" thick, red and black (Staffordshire Blue) quarry tiles in my hall have been lifted and I am laying a limecrete floor.

The current floor is (I reckon) the original from the conversion of the school to a house in about 1861; the photo (right) shows it as it was in 2010. We left a small part of the old floor near the under-stairs cupboard (left of the stairs in the photo) as it's not in bad shape.

The limecrete floor will be constructed with a base layer of "Geocell" Recycled Foamed Glass (RFG) (see as opposed to the Light Expanded Clay Aggregate (LECA) which I used for the kitchen floor (see entries in March/April 2011).

The RFG (being loosely laid, left) has several benefits (compared to LECA), one of which is that the depth of the floor is less and hence there is less to dig out! I have already been caught out by the volume of the removed floor - it seems to have expanded massively (like, doubled) in volume and so is filling more bags that I expected! It was very well compacted.

We have also removed the horrible concrete skirting (which was painted BROWN before we moved in! I re-did it in white) which will be replaced by some pretty profile in pine to match what I fitted in the lounge.

The removal of the old floor left a huge hole between the door to the lounge (at the front of the house) and the door to the kitchen/diner (at the back). I solved this by fitting a bridge using two 3 metre bits of 75mm x 50 mm C16 covered with bits of old floorboard from the firewood pile.

As an added refinement, I have covered the boards with a piece of carpet (as laid on the stairs and landing); the stairs are easily accessed from the bridge.

An unforeseen problem: in one corner of the hall we uncovered the mains water supply (which I knew was there but had ignored for the last 10 years) - photo below.

Below the tile level it was badly corroded and so it has to be done NOW, not later; so now outside there is a large hole and I have a plumber coming on Friday to fit a plastic pipe through the wall to the mains supply outside the house (photo below - note how the water pipe comes out from the wall and goes under the rainwater drain at an angle). More expense but it's worth it (as I keep telling myself).

The original plan was to re-fit as many as possible of the existing tiles supplemented by similar ones bought at local reclamation yards. Sadly, yesterday I took my other half to a reclamation yard as I needed to buy some more reclaimed tiles - the re-useability of the lifted ones is just over 50% (even worse than I had gloomily expected).

This visit was a mistake - first I was gently told off by the owner for sorting out suitable good condition tiles (!), so I didn't buy any at all. Then, second, once the other half had seen for herself the difficulty of finding acceptable old quarries, she decided that we should buy some proper stone flooring instead. Aaargh!

So I now have available a large number of mostly one inch, good clean reclaimed quarries (a variety of red, red/orange, proper Staffordshire blue and other blue/black), plus a lot of good ones waiting to have their grouting etc removed, plus a lot more of rejected ones (suitable for outside use only). At least I don't have to do any more grouting removal and also the retained small part of the original floor will now be done as well.

These are actually the old tiles in 2010 - the ones I have now are not quite as bad!

Sunday, 4 July 2021

A Real Work of Art - in our house!

"A real work of art" is how my other half described it -or more accurately, them. We have just replaced two opaque bits of glass in a bedroom door with two specially commissioned contemporary style items of leaded stained glass. I think we'd had the idea a while ago but, like so many ideas, it has taken a long time for it to come to fruition. That is often how I do things, I guess - at least it usually means that the final thing is perfect but equally often, it dies a death.

The panels in question are in the standard old four-panel pine door to a north facing bedroom. I guess that the old wooden panels were replaced a long time ago in a bid to shed some light on the stairs which otherwise have no natural light. The glass used was about 4mm thick and one side has vertical grooves to distort the image from the outside. The trouble was that it was impossible to get old paint and varnish off the edges and especially from out of those grooves, so they always looked dirty. Interestingly, the plain side of those glass panels is actually wavy, so I have no idea how old they are.

Strictly the new windows are coloured and leaded glass (and not painted glass), but everyone calls this "stained glass". Here are some photos of what we now have and the old glass.

It's quite difficult to get a decent photo from the stairwell, but the left picture shows the colours cast on the door surround, and they also appear on the yellow clay paint of the stairwall.
The old panes, removed without breakage!

This shows the wavy nature of the old glass.

Thanks to Themis Mikellides at Bath Aqua Glass who made the windows for us.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Sometimes I am Truly Blessed

Well,, I'm really annoyed - only partly with myself. I have cut the back of my right hand and I really don't know how it happened. I have done a lot of physical work in the last 9.5 years and suddenly out of nowhere I have hurt myself. When I did my entire house over two years I only got a single injury, by rushing to find my phone when it rang; I slipped and hit my right knee on the newel post, which brought on a bout of housemaid's knee... Since then I have done lots more work on the local church, all without injury until a couple of days ago.

Let me tell you what happened: the church has had a new wooden floor put in and fixing the old tiles which are right alongside the new floor was not in the contract, so Muggins here gets the task (as always) of making good the little gap. Naturally, in some places the repair had to be more than a single tile as things like that always get loosened by, in one case, a friend who simply "forgot" that he MUST NOT TREAD NEAR THE EDGE!

I was using a 4.5 inch grinder on some Victorian floor tiles to get them to fit. You have to remove any grouting around the edge and make sure that it fits properly. I had done loads of those, and then had to sort out a few small pieces to insert into the floor. Where there is a triangular corner piece (with the two shorter sides at 2 inches), and the adjacent tiles are still well attached, you don't really have any choice unless you want to relay the entire floor: I am using an adhesive to fit tiles like that, but the issue was that the piece of tile was too thick. Solution: grind a small amount (5 mm, perhaps) off the underside of the tile.

Thus, well knowing the dangers of this job, I found a piece of 6" wood and clamped the piece of tile to it, using a G-clamp. I could then put a foot on the piece of wood (because my workmate is in the church and I was at home) and safely grind away the necessary, with two hands on the grinder. Gloves on, goggles on, what could go wrong?

So I was happily doing this when it all did go wrong. I think the grinding wheel touched the G-clamp which caused the grinder itself to be twisted in my hands and somehow hit the BACK of my right hand which had been holding the side handle. My left hand was still holding the main body of the grinder and I threw it away, just as I noticed the blood literally pouring through the glove. I left a bloody trail into the kitchen and staunched the flow with cold water and kitchen towel.

The resulting cut was about 2cm long, on the back of the base of my right thumb, about 5cm below the edge of the bit of skin between thumb and forefinger. Have a look at your own hand and see if you can identify the main tendon on the back which operates your thumb. Well, the end of the cut was at right angles to the tendon and about 5mm from it - yes, less than 0.25 of an inch!  Near the left end of the cut there was another tendon less that 10mm from the cut.

Google tells me that these tendons are called the extensor pollicis longus and the extensor pollicis brevis, and it is a complete mystery to me how they are still in one piece. Somehow I had let a grinding disc attack my hand and go right through all the skin layers at right angles BETWEEN two most important tendons! As the doctor at A&E said as she inserted four stitches, "You are very lucky" - or perhaps Someone is looking after me?

A week later I had the stitches out and two days later you can hardly see the scar.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

A New Back Gate

Over six years ago, I wrote here about the back gates which
were previously doors, one from the house and the other acquired as a swap for some old glass. The latter one was always a problem as the white paint was very tough to sand and in fact was probably impervious, so kept any water in as well as out! I never painted the garden side of it for that reason, so it was black on the public side and white on our side.

Last year I saw that the black and white gate was rotting and I replaced the upper ledge in situ. Then this year I realised that the rot was worse than I thought; the new ledge was about the only decent bit of wood on the gate, with both braces and the two old ledges all looking bad. Moreover, some of the T&G was bad, especially the edge where the two gates almost meet.  I haven't bothered with photos of the rotten wood - I'm sure you are familiar with that! 

Feeling adventurous, I purchased some 6x1 inch treated "as-sawn" timber and, after some serious sanding, set about replacing parts of the gate in sequence. First I made two new
ledges, replacing the middle one first and then securing the two gates together (using spare wood and screws) while I replaced the bottom ledge which carried the lower hinge. Then I had to remove the first two planks from the latch side of the gate as they were narrower than the replacement board. (See top photo) 

When the first plank was fitted I removed the next old one and fitted the second new one, and so on. The only real difficulty with this was that the hinge screws had penetrated through the ledge to the planks, so I had to be careful when doing the planks closest to the hinges as the gate then felt a little wobbly with these screws removed.

The other necessary trick was to work out where the hinge screws would go and, of course, one of them was right into a join between two new planks. 

The penultimate plank required me to rip a narrower plank to
allow the last plank to be full size with two good edges. Then I cut two new braces which were added after the third photo on the right.

Anyway, it's finished now, complete with four coats of primer/undercoat/top coat and I'm very pleased with it!

Havng used treated timber I don't expect to have to do much maintenance to it, other than clean the bird muck off it - I'm wondering whether bird spikes on top would look silly or OK?

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Fame at Last

In a typically modest fashion, I post here the review of my book "Rotas, Rules and Rectors" which was published in Church Times on March 22nd this year. If you would like to buy a copy of the book, please do so at

Saints with staves
Lyle Dennen praises a churchwardens’ guide

Rotas, Rules and Rectors: How to thrive being a churchwarden
Matthew Clements Matador £9.99 (978-1-78901-631-4) Church Times Bookshop £9

GIVEN its title, this book is surprisingly delightful. The subtitle makes this clear: How to thrive being a churchwarden. The key word is “thrive”. Matthew Clements, with years of solid experience, gives an abundance of practical advice about how to do the job well. By his style of telling stories, packed with insight, understanding, and humour, he makes it sound even enjoyable.

In all the years that I was a parish priest and then an archdeacon, I would have loved to have this book to thrust into the hands of a new churchwarden or someone considering standing for election. Clements tells it as it is. But, behind all the lists, filling out forms, duties, and building worries, he shows how the churchwarden is a key person in offering warmth, welcome, compassion, and integrity — the best of lay leadership in the Church of England.

As Clements paints the portrait, even with the times of annoyance, frustration, and anger, he still evokes the churchwarden as an answer to Bishop Edward King’s call for more “homely English Saints”. Clements sees a deep spirituality in the churchwarden doing ordinary things consistently well. If I were to commission an icon of a churchwarden, I would send the iconographer Clements’s story of himself in a heavy rain, in a safe place on the church roof, with one hand holding an umbrella over his head and the other with a long stick clearing the gutters**. Of such as these is the Kingdom of God: doing things for others, doing things for Christ.

The book is filled with pithy good advice, for example: “always address the cause of a problem, not the symptom.” He goes through all the fundamental responsibilities, the relationship with the Vicar and the leadership team, security, safeguarding, money, meetings, and buildings. Lots of valuable detail. All these topics are made alive by his own stories, which he uses as examples. But he is clear about the goals — to make the church a place of welcome and a place that is loved.

The last two chapters are a brilliant conclusion: next to last is “Things I Have Disliked or Done Wrong”, and the final chapter is “Things I Have Done Right”. For Clements, the disliked and wrong often centred on others’ not appreciating the enormous amount of work done by a churchwarden; and for things done right it is the realisation that the work is done for God.

The Ven. Dr Lyle Dennen is a former Archdeacon of Hackney.

** Actually it was a hopper.

The book is selling well and a further print has been made! There's still a long way to go before every churchwarden in England has read a copy.                  

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Rotas Rules and Rectors

I am pleased to announce that my book "Rotas Rules and Rectors - How to Thrive being a Churchwarden" was published in November 2018.

This book is aimed at helping existing Anglican churchwardens to understand the job better and even thrive while doing it. I hope that it will also both encourage potential churchwardens to stand for nomination and discourage the no-hopers who get elected and then stop after one dismal year as they didn't know what they were getting into.

In my view the published books which purport to be on this subject only cover the legalities of elections and meetings etc, and fail to cover the actualities of what you need to do. This book covers that sort of thing using my own experience of 11 years in the job at two different churches since 2005.

"Rotas Rules and Rectors" is published by Matador (ISBN 9781789016314) and is available widely on-line (just search for the short title), but please buy from my own website if you want a copy as that will maximise the profit to my church's re-ordering fund. I am currently offering it at £7.99 (which is £2 off the RRP) plus £1.95 P&P.

You can also find more details of the book, including extracts and author details, at

Follow me on Twitter @AChurchwarden and Facebook @beingachurchwarden

Monday, 20 August 2018

The Last Sash Window - Pictures

Well, at last I've done the fiddly bits on the last sash window,and so the job is effectively finished and I can now post a few photos. Firstly, here's what it looked like before we bought the place (first seen in August 2010).

Then, here's what it was like after removal of the ivy (and we moved in - July 2011):

Here's what it was like after a quick coat of paint on the (concrete) cill and the fake stucco (probably later in 2011, or else in 2012):

Finally, here's the finished product (2018):

As you can guess, I am pretty pleased with the result, especially as the old wavy glass can really be appreciated when it catches the reflections and, of course, the fact that both windows work as intended!!

I am now certainly qualified to give advice on refurbishment of Victirian sash windows, having started with absolutely zero knowledge.

Edited 25 Aug 2018: I just found that I made a miscalculation. I added a nice brass latch and a solid brass handle to each of the windows, and then found that one of them wouldn't stay in place as it did before. Clearly my weighing to make my lead weight was too accurate as it didn't take account of the brass handle, which has now been removed. Drat!

Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Last Sash Window

Well, it's really time to celebrate, as I have just finished a complete renovation of the last sash window on my house! There were seven sashes on the house and in the restoration of the house we added two more - one in the rebuilt extension and one in the kitchen replacing a Crittal door (where there used to be a large sash); of the existing seven, one was a complete renewal job (the large venetian sash at the front bay) as it was too far gone. I did the first of the other six in 2015, followed by two more in both 2016 and 2017, leaving just the one. I deliberately started with the largest and then the next four were all pretty well the same size, leaving the smallest to last. I'm glad I did this, as I used two larger damaged pieces of glass in the last window, and got them cut to size; one I had managed to crack on removal (grrrr.....), and the other was newer, thicker and not wavy, so having the wavy glass available it was a no-brainer to replace it. BTW, if you want to see the effect of wavy glass, hold it in sunshine and look at the image on the ground - this is why it is valuable.

The window concerned was the front window with two lights, both just one over one, separated by a cement mullion on the outside; this window is for the bathroom/loo upstairs. The top pane on each side is a rectangle with a half round at the top, and I checked with my glass supplier that he was able to cut such a shape (just in case I broke one) but in fact both those came out OK. The top pane on each side was a fixed window, lacking pulleys and cord, and in fact some of it was unpainted - obviously it had been installed unpainted, so had probably never been removed in 150 years.

All my sash windows have needed a complete renovation. All of the latches were solid and unusable, all the pullies except one* were worn out, with huge gaps between the spindle and the housing, most windows were painted in solidly, the bottom half of the putty was usually falling out, and only about six cords were intact out of 24. So the complete renovation involves removing all glass and brass, strip to bare wood, repair as required, paint, fit same glass with fresh putty and refit with new cord, new pulleys and new latches.

I had one issue as three of the weights were locally cast lead (2.1 lb) and one was a standard 6.5 lb iron one, just like the rest on the house. The issue I had was that I could not get the iron one out easily. Eventually it came when I worked out a way of levering it out longitudinally, forcing the gap apart a bit. When it came to re-instating the window, I made a new one out of lead sheet, wrapped around a long plated screw. This was made at the same weight as the others, because I was using the correct thickness of glass; the 6.5 lb was serious overkill by some repairer in the past - that one weight was more than the required weight of two, and of course being on the one side it meant that the window would always have been sticking by being unevenly weighted.

By now I have got a good idea of how to do this job but even so I reckon that each complete window takes about 30 man-hours and an elapsed time of almost two weeks. Although this last window was smaller and one over one (all the others were two over two, with two frames), it is a double window with four frames so took me just as long as the larger ones.

So, this last window is basically done but I just need to re-instate the pointing and sort out the cills; I think I'll leave that for a couple of weeks time. I'll offer free advice on Victorian sashes but I hope I don't have to ever do another. Now, I have work to do on the church opposite in August, so I expect little more will happen on the house this year - the tiles in the hall floor are just about the last major job on the list.

* and that was only found serviceable after I had wrecked the face plate in getting it out!