Apr 20, 2017

Woofenden go with the Flow at Watersmeet

Woofenden Construction has recently completed a full slate re-roofing at Watersmeet, a National Trust property in Lynmouth, Devon. Our Project Manager, Russell and our Roofing Specialist, Darren, tell us about their memories of the project.

The National Trust had run a campaign to sell slates to the public at £10 per slate, raising £30k towards the cost of the project.

Darren Chidgey, Woofenden’s slating specialist remembers: “We used Delabole Slate, supplied from a quarry in Cornwall. Because of people being able to sponsor a slate, we had rather a lot of slates with writing on the back. Some of it was quite touching, actually, with memories such as, “We first met here in the 1960s”, “I proposed to my wife here” and “Grandma and Grandad used to come and they loved it here”. There were even messages from across the world”. There are lots of people with a personal connection to Watersmeet and those slates will be there for a very long time to come.

Russell Mirams, Project Manager, was the main point of contact between the NT building surveyor and the Woofenden team: “When we first arrived, unlike many historic projects, the building didn’t look particularly worn out. There was no scaffolding up as yet and it was still open to the public.  Once the scaffold was up, however, there was evidence that the lead was split and really needed attention”.

Scaffolding Up Inside the Weather Wrap  Slates Ready to Go  

The Woofenden team is fortunate enough to include tradespeople with a wide range of specialist skills, so they were able to run the whole project in-house. Working with lead is a particular specialism and one of Darren’s favourite jobs: “The property was quite challenging because of the shape of it. It has an octagonal turret, which is one of the main features of the building. A lot of the timber work on the building was quite rotten and had to be replaced and some of it was fairly complicated in terms of the angles and cuts we had to make. We had to make adjustments on quite a few areas where the lead valleys ran down the roof. There was evidence there had been leaking before, so we had to extend the valleys and make sure that didn’t happen in future”.

Octagonal Roof Darren the Roofer Leadwork channels

One of the biggest challenges was the scaffolding. It was a huge job in itself because it took 4 weeks to go up. The property is at the bottom of a valley near Lynmouth and the scaffolding could only be delivered to the main road at the top of the valley, then had to be ferried down in small batches.

Darren explains how they made the building weather proof in order to carry out the work: “The whole building was wrapped to keep it dry, so it was like working indoors. You can expose everything and not worry about the elements”.

However, he also remembers how much the weather featured in a rather dramatic day onsite: “We had every kind of weather. It’s amazing how fast it could change. One day we all had to leave early because we saw the river rise by about 4 feet in a few hours. The river was booming all day. The water started to lap one of the access tracks, so we decided to make our escape. Luckily it all seemed to pass quickly, so it wasn’t flooded the next day”.

River Rising at Watersmeet The Roof Unwrapped

The elements had also taken their toll on the external woodwork, all of which has been repainted. Russell told us about the unique pillars around the veranda: “The trust provided some tree trunks to replace those already around the veranda. The existing trunks were rotting at the base, so we’ve inserted special staddlestones from Thorverton Stone under each of the trunks to keep the bases dry and help them last for years”.

In older buildings, the company sometimes finds signs of bats. Russell worked with Liz Bradshaw, an ecologist that the National Trust uses to make sure any bats in residence are kept safe: “We had to have a bat warden there whilst we were stripping off the roof because there was quite a bit of evidence of bats. They are protected so in the first few weeks, she had to be present if we found any trace of them. Potentially that could have stopped us working, but we only found a couple of dead bats that had obviously been there some time and one live bat on the toilet floor, which was rescued and released after being fed”.

The team often has to work to bring historic properties up to modern standards. Konrad, the stonemason, chopped out some stonework in order to put in a fire door in the bathroom in the upstairs flat. Darren describes how they also made two chimneys safe: “We were asked to remove the render on two chimneys, but, it soon became evident that they would have to come down because they were unstable. We reconstructed them using lime mortar; there was no cement used, to remain sympathetic to the history of the building”.

Plans for Lead Old chimney Reconstructed Chimneys

Both men say that their most abiding memory is of the location. It’s simply beautiful. Whereas the public usually park at the top of the valley and walk down, the team accessed the property via a steep track, meandering alongside the river then over a narrow stone bridge.

“We’re most proud of being able to complete the project within the allotted time. We were working right up to the end of the Friday before it re-opened on the Monday morning.  It does put the pressure on when you’ve got the scaffolders taking the scaffolding down (safely) behind you!”

Thanks to Darren, who provided all the images here from his photo log.