Barn restoration

Visiting the farm

Sometimes (..often), visitors to the farm are drafted in to help out.  Usually, it's to help block a gap as we move the cows or similar.  But sometimes, it's a little more involved...

Last weekend, Paddy, Dad's godson, was literally kidnapped and taken off to help harvest a new green oak beam for the upcoming Timber Frame Course.

And a good job too, as it is safe to say it was not a one man job.  The perfectly shaped branch in question belonged to a huge fallen oak at the edge of the Marsh. Employing the basic laws of physics and engineering, plus a chain saw and a JCB, we extracted and lifted the section over the fence.

At one stage the words "Why don't we come back tomorrow and take the fence down?" were uttered.  But Farmer Humph was persuaded to persevere (I climbed on the tree trunk and stamped my foot) and has now shaped the beam, and it looks gorgeous.This curved beam will replace a piece of 4x2, and restore the original archway through to the old farm.  This particular beam made the cut as its shape roughly matches that of an existing arch, which will remain in situ.  It is fantastic to be able to use wood from the farm in the restoration of the Stable.  A lot of the timber in the original build is recycled from earlier buildings, but it makes you wonder how much "new" wood was harvested from trees on the farm...without a grim.

Huge thanks to Paddy for explaining to Dad how his plan was a little kamikaze, and working out a safer alternative - model godchild behaviour.  Apparently, one of Paddy's early memories is attempting to climb the giant steps up to the combine; a sure sign he should return during harvest and have a go driving that very same Mercator!

New Year in the company of...


What better way to end the old, and start the new year than a little guttering. Check out those fascia boards!  We're taking a flexible, non-Gregorian approach to the definition of the year given this particular stretch of guttering was started...well the last blog post I can find is from November 2012, so we'll say around 18 months ago.

The return of the dynamic Longmoor Farm Duo, and a lot of patience-maintaining chocolate biscuits, kept woolly-hatted Gutterman on track through mud, rainstorms, and the loss of Gutterman's secret weapon: the red spirit level.

But, the day you've been waiting for has arrived...the gutter is flowing.  Monumental news.  Gutterman and family were also delighted to introduce Dairy Farmer Stuart to the joys of sheeting sugar beet. (Not a typo.)

Wind and rain are no match for Gutterman.  Before Christmas, our brave aerial superhero worked into the night to replace roofing batons and tiles which slumped in the recent storms.I joined him in the driving rain to sort tiles, but most importantly, provide Christmas cookies and make sure the solar-powered radio remained dry and played calming Classic FM - luxury is never far away at Lower Dairy Farm.

Sometimes, being the custodian of old buildings can be frustrating.  Every extra hole in the roof or similar, takes time away from the restoration process proper.  However, with the Stable once again watertight, preparations are already underway for 2014's timber frame course.  Watch this space for more information.

The end of the year saw Gutterman complete his Soil Protection Review ahead of time - High Five! Gutterman;  further secure the roof of the Pole Barn - High Ten! Gutterman;  and muck out the bullock yard on Christmas Eve...moderate five Gutterman (perhaps high ten for finishing it).

We hope your New Year is filled with health, wealth, effective guttering and not too many unwelcome surprises!More from Gutterman later this year...we hope.

Let sleeping cows lie...

The cows are in!  They are greatly enjoying being tucked up in the barn, where the prospect of fresh straw is enough to get the oldest and, shall we say, most 'heavyset' cattle kicking up their heels with joy!  Before settling in for the night, when all is quiet in the barn...apart from the chewing of cuds, snorting and that one annoying cow with a deviated septum.  There's always one. Snoring aside, it is warm in the barn, and if fuel prices get any higher, I will be blogging from there.  Or maybe just select a nice clean one to bring indoors.  No. 100 would do.

It has been a mixed month, a new muckspreader is gracing the fields of Lower Dairy Farm, Dad's been patching up machinery left, right and centre, the JCB got stuck...again, and there's an annoying hole in the Stable courtesy of Jude.Thanks Jude.  It could have been worse, but is another job to add to the list before winter sets in.  Fortunately, a scaffold tower was erected in record time, and is ready for the repairs when a tired Farmer Humph and Steeplejack Humbug have a spare moment.We think he's dreaming about our last sugar beet harvest...!  A joyous event coming soon to LDF - Christmas has nothing on that celebration.

(For the record, the women of the farm are still working.  Girl power.)

Thatched barns

Thank you to everyone who braved the chill wind to join us for Open Farm Sunday.  Despite the weather, we had 350 visitors and not one pig escaped amidst the excitement, so a good day all round!

One photo was missing from our barn restoration display, and mid clear-up this morning, it reappeared.  As a thank you, I thought I would share it on the blog!This is one of only two photos we own in which the barn is thatched.  It was taken from the front garden of the farmhouse, looking across Water Lane (not to mention a rather lovely flower border) - can you imagine the cost to do that now!  Or, as Dad wisely pondered, can you imagine taking on a farm with thatched barns today!?

Don't forget, you can submit your present day photos of OFS for the chance to win £100!  We would love to see them too - share them on our Facebook page or e-mail them to

Huge thanks to all our helpers without whom the event would not have been possible:  Lesley, Georgina, Mandy and Kathy who sold a record amount of cake -  Mandy's gluten-free lemon ricotta cake was described as "the best ever" by our GF connoisseurs;  Wayne, Paul and Brian for meeting, greeting and fielding questions about multi-colour cows;  Will Wilson for bravely volunteering to help at OFS having never seen the farm or us before (very brave)!  Becca, Naomi and Bridget for efficiency and cakes for the deprived Taylor girls;  Liz for returning after last year and excellent freezer work, and the Wiston crew for the loan of "safe" trestle tables.  Not forgetting the lovely other Taylor girls for all their help, support, obsessive drain-rodding and special commendation to the incredible Mrs Rogers for her superhuman pre-Open Day work.  Thank you!

Expedition Equinox

Departing Base Camp at 1400 hours, the intrepid Transition Nayland explorers conquered the elements to reach Destination Lower Dairy Farm.

The urn was on* and a splash of bunting arrayed the Mill House, where the brave Equinox Explorers refuelled on tea and cake (preferred expedition food of Sir Ranulph).


There's nothing like a cup of tea to melt the icicles in the relative warmth of a barn!  A trip to see the calves, and our hardy explorers were back on the road, joined by Humbug, our resident Husky, for their return to Base Camp.

Woolly hats off to Transition Nayland for persevering so merrily in the lovely conditions!

We had great fun hosting our first event in the Mill House.  For us, it is lovely to be able to share what we are doing on the farm and our barn restoration progress.  There is a lot of work ahead of us, but the Mill House has come a long way in the last eighteen months.

Thanks to Transition Nayland for a lovely afternoon!

*Yes, I love tea urns so much, I take pictures of them.  Go ahead, judge me.

Honey Monsters Inc.

Where's the honey?  My highly trained scent hound and I are on a mission to locate the source of the strong honey smell in The Stable.  Something timber-related or honeycomb?  I really want it to be the latter, and to find it without angering bees.  So far, no success, however I'm going to forgive my olfactory weakness given my trusty sidekick is more interested in licking metal shelving.  Underachieving Scooby Doo.


The Stable is the oldest building on the farm and dates to the 17th Century.  Originally, it was thatched, the bowed roof seen today is the structure adapting from lightweight thatch to heavyweight tiles.  Fortunately the timber framers mantra "triangles are strong" holds true here!

We're searching for the golden nectar because The Stable is playing host to this year's timber frame repair course on the 22nd - 24th May.  As with previous courses, we've got a lot of work to do to prepare the site.  Whilst the building was once used for rearing calves, there haven't been too many changes since my grandparents bought the farm.  To the point, the picture below shows the contents of the loft:..the original corn sacks holding feed (now chaff) for the heavy horses that left the stable in 1951 when my grandparents introduced tractors.  I like this photo, but just occasionally, in a fleeting moment of weakness, I think I'd like it more if it were on someone else's farm!  There's even hay left in the mangers which is pretty remarkable.  Almost a shame to disturb it...

However, it is a beautiful building and has one massive positive; unlike the Mill House there is considerably less concrete shuttering to remove!






So over the next few months,  the building will be emptied, every feature photographed, the structure to be worked on explored, and we'll replace the branch Acro prop with several "borrowed" from Richard Green, the course leader.  We'll even restore electricity after the last cable crossing the yard had an argument with a loader.  The tractor won.

This is the first time for decades we will see an empty stable, so despite the "Where are we going to put everything?" questions (cue minor hyperventilation), it is very exciting.  We'll keep you updated here on the blog and local readers can inspect our progress on 9th June, the glorious day that is Open Farm Sunday!

If you are interested in taking part in this or other traditional building repair courses, head to the Essex Heritage website.  Dates for the next courses hosted here at Lower Dairy Farm are:  Lime Plaster Repair:  26th April;  Timber Frame Repair Course : 22nd - 24th May.

Bursaries are available, funded by City and Country Group as part of their initiative to address traditional building skills shortages.  Contact for more information.

Little Pig Robinsons

So, our pair of calm, docile, lop-eared Houdini-piglets have decided they would rather be roaming the mean streets of Horkesley as opposed to a life in their lovely green meadow.  Thank you to everyone who took part in the attempts to get them back into the field.  The way to revitalise the Big Society?  Community animal herding.

   I very kindly left the escapists in the care of others to head to our twin farm in Dorset, to witness the remarkable results of Adam Henson's new agricultural show, "Pimp My Calf Hutch".Me and Calf-Tel have had our differences in the past, but if I were ever to consider camping was a good idea, I would like to take one of these with me - canvas is very overrated. [NB. Had I had to assemble this I would probably be thinking differently. The smaller version drove me to near-violence.]

But, there is no need to run away!  Better than a calf hutch or pig sty, is our pimped-out barn here in Essex.  For those who didn't make it to OFS, we are proud to introduce our new-look Mill House.

 Hats off to the incredible Richard Green for the work he put in to turn this side around in under a week.  And for patiently dealing with the site Führer, sorry, foreman.

Not to mention a bricklaying apprentice with little (to no) spatial awareness.  "Is that level?" Genuinely, no clue.  I could blame the PTSD from stacking 1600 Victorian bricks for the new plinth the day before my short-lived apprenticeship, but I would be lying.

The barn is now boarded against the weather.  Naturally, this is a temporary measure and distressingly, the boards will have to come off (joy!) to reinstate the original features we've preserved in the frame beneath.  However, our priority at the moment is making sure the barn is weatherproof and structurally sound in order to continue the work.  I did not get a chance to put these pictures up for Open Farm Sunday, but the change in a year is quite remarkable.

JULY 2011


JUNE 2012


Inside, it is looking fabulous with Roy Cafferty prepping sections for the lime plaster course next week.  Following my "success" at bricklaying, I am confident lime plastering will uncover my hidden genius.

Thank you again to everyone on the Essex CC courses, but particularly to Richard, Essex/Suffolk's premier timber frame restorer, for the incredible work.  It is lovely to have an area getting back into a usable shape and to see progress on the farm.

Lime Plaster Course 12th - 13th July 2012

Essex County Council are delivering a series of free Traditional Building Skills courses for the Managing a Masterpiece Stour Valley Landscape Partnership aimed at people based or working within the Stour Valley.

Hosted at Lower Dairy Farm, this practical course will cover:

-  Introductory talk -  Correct methods of repair -  Laths (riven or sawn) & fixings -  Sands & aggregates including hair -  Preparation of lime plaster, including mixing & gauging -  Ways of giving a set -  Methods of aftercare -  Patching existing plaster

The focus will be on increasing awareness of the need to continue working with traditional materials and in traditional styles to ensure the survival and continuation of built heritage.  This course is aimed at craftspeople and plasterers working in the Stour Valley.

Course tutor - Roy Cafferty - Traditional plasterer

Roy Cafferty runs his own plastering business and has been in the trade for forty years.  He works in all aspects of lime plaster but specialises in fine plaster finishes.  He is one of the few lime plasterers who still run mouldings in situ.

For further information and bookings contact Katie Seabright on 01245 437672 or e-mail