Over the last five weeks The Larches has been surrounded by a girdle of scaffolding. We’ve known we really needed to have the house re-roofed for over a year. Trying to hold many of the lower slates in place proved impractical. The result was leaking from the gutters especially at the back and the danger of slates falling in high winds.
A new year’s resolution got us finally to move! And when the roof was stripped the rotten soffits and some defective joists proved how right we were.
It’s been interesting to pull back the curtain of time to get a glimpse of how the house was built over 125 years ago and to see how roofing techniques while modified, still retain much of the traditional practice. Perhaps the biggest difference comes with the weather and wind proofing.
The old roof was sealed throughout by parging. This is a method of coating the batons and the undersides of the tiles with parget – a mortar of lime and horsehair. Nowadays this has been replaced with a much simpler and quicker method, where a breathable membrane sheet is secured under the batons and the slates are nailed to the batons.
Fortunately the original Borrowdale slates (about 10 mm thick) were strong and of good quality, as Frank the roofer had predicted, and the majority could be resized and reused without breakage. In this way the vernacular style of a graduated roof can be retained with the largest slates being used at the bottom and the smallest (and shortest) ones covering the top rows of the roof. Replacement ones are primarily for the bottom rows.
Since modern slates are almost invariably thinner (to reduce costs), second hand Borrowdale slates, suitable for environmentally sensitive areas and similar to the ones we have, are hard to come by and now sell at a premium price of £3,000 a ton.
The photos below show the back roof ready for the slates, the roofers working up the rows from the bottom, the look of the completed roof after a chimney has been removed and finally the filled lorry after the scaffolders have spent a morning dangling acrobatically from poles as they dismantled the scaffold and boards. It’s been fascinating to walk all round the house at roof level to see the work, but now we’re glad to be back to normal.