Repair and Conservation

I have been very fortunate to work on vernacular buildings made of earth, stone and lime for the past 25 years and I have come to recognise that the skills and knowledge of our ancestors are a precious resource for the future.

Repairing a historic building presents a wonderful opportunity to examine the details and unravel, as best we can, how the original builders approached their work. At the same time repairs done with respect and knowledge of the past tend to be more sympathetic and in keeping with the spirit of a place or structure.

Tay Landscape Partnership

Rebearth has been working as a specialist contractor for the Tay Landscape Partnership on the conservation of several 18th and 19th century mudwalled (cob) buildings in the Carse of Gowrie.

This work usually involves removing recent and inappropriate repairs in cement followed by more sympathetic treatment with earth.  Structural repairs are carried out using recycled mud blocks, helical bars and clay mortar with surface applications of earth or hot lime renders.

The skill is in knitting all these different elements together to create a strong well integrated repair with compatible and breathable finishes.

As well as carrying out repairs we are also involved with survey and analysis of these precious buildings and helping owners understand how to look after them.

Logie Schoolhouse, Angus

This project, for the National Trust for Scotland, involved the repair and conversion of an 18th century mudwalled building into a comfortable and low impact home.

We made several hundred mud blocks with local subsoil and straw to rebuild the internal gable that had collapsed due to water ingress. Much of the mudwall had been faced with fired bricks that were delaminated and slumping. These were carefully dismantled and rebuilt, stitching them back into the original fabric with clay and lime mortar. The walls were finished with hot lime harl.

The project was extremely successful and won seven awards including the Europa Nostra prize for Cultural Heritage.

Turf Building

Scotland has a rich tradition of turf and peat building since prehistoric times with many archaeological remains and a few surviving examples in the Highlands and Islands.

I have been extremely lucky to work on several turf projects including the repair of a gable in Aberdeenshire, turf wall experiments for Historic Environment Scotland and a skills exchange with Icelandic turf builders in 2016 organised by Arch network (follow the link to see my report). Turf also plays a vital role with clay in the soft capping of monuments and wall-heads.

We are working with others in Scotland and beyond to revive this ancient craft and give it new life in repairs and modern structures.

Earth Mortar Repairs

Many old buildings in Scotland were made from stone bedded in earth mortar. This ubiquitous technique, not well recognized or understood, is often hidden behind more recent lime or cement coatings.

I have been involved with many projects using earth mortars; sourcing local subsoils, testing mixes and designing repairs using local materials that are compatible with the original fabric.

For example our work for the Bute Landscape Partnership, in collaboration with Arc Architects, concerned the conservation of several earth mortared chapels dating from the 7th Century. The repairs involved filling the core and joints of the masonry with stiff clay mortar and capping the wall-heads with local turf suited to the exposed conditions.