Timber Frame Repairs

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 JCB...how 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!

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 Katie.Seabright@essex.gov.uk 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.

Introduction to Timber Frame Repairs Course

An Introduction to Timber Frame Repairs9th - 11th May

This course will be of interest to those who wish to work on historic timber-framed buildings.

Run by Essex County Council's Historic Buildings & Conservation Team, it is designed for amateur and professional carpenter/joiners alike who want to broaden their knowledge and interest in timber frames.

The majority of the course will be practical, consisting of work to a historic timber-framed barn.

Course content • Diagnosis of problems • Analysis of repairs • Choice of timber • Timber frame joints, scarfs and splices, mortice & tenons • Foundations and plinths


Course Tutor: Richard Green, Richard Green Joinery Richard runs his own joinery business working mainly in north Essex where he has built up an excellent reputation for his high quality work on the historic buildings in the area. His work covers fine joinery to working with green oak on historic timber-frame repairs.

Cost: £255 - free places available (see below)

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE There are a number of free places fully funded by the City & Country Group Bursary Scheme. For details and application criteria contact: traditional.buildingskills@essex.gov.uk

To book a place contact :

Katie Seabright

E-mail: traditional.buildingskills@essex.gov.uk

Tel: 01245 437672

Historic Buildings & Conservation,

Essex County Council, County Hall,

Chelmsford, Essex, CM1 1QH.