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The roof is collapsing !!

Our first major project – and we’re very pleased with the results

Pigeonnier

Our first visitors, Joan’s folks John and Sue, came in late January and Sue spotted something that I’d missed and had been staring me in the eye in all of the photographs we’d taken during our trip over to buy the house. The roof in the Pigeonnier was in a much much worse state than I’d previously thought (something which would prove to be a common theme!) and was in serious danger of imminent collapse.

So, out to a builders merchant to pick up a handful of acro-props and quickly shore up the roof until we got around to doing something about it.

Fast forward a few weeks and my parents visited in the coldest winter ever and I’d decided with dad that we would ‘have-a-go’ at a bit of roofing when they came in the springtime after Easter. So, with no prior roofing experience, I took a look at it and said, no problem. Three days. Whip the old roof tiles off, replace any damaged chevrons, install new laths and put the old tiles back on- simple!

Well, yes, it was simple.. did it take three days… not quite, more like eleven.

First job… this building had previously been used (for decades) as a pigeon loft/poultry house. The floor was a good 20cm deep all over in compacted well rotted bird guano.

Easy to dig up and right now fertilising my Charentais melons and courgettes but it did take some hard work to get it shifted… well over 30 wheel barrows full of it (I’m guessing about 2000 litres of manure!) all moved by Joan.

The roofs on the older buildings are all put together from hand made canal tiles. Taking the old roof off was fun and quite easy, we broke remarkably few which, given their age was quite an achievement.

I took a huge quantity of photos during this time as a way of learning how the roof was put together. All the tiles were put aside, stacked on pallets ready for cleaning and re-use. We quickly devised a special nomenclature for roofing which involved various combinations of the following words/phrases :- Unders, Overs, Special unders, New overs, Wet overs, Flat unders and New unders – it all made some kind of sense at the time.

There are plenty of snaps which show the roof in various states of undress. Once the roof was off and all of the rotten/crumbling laths had been taken care of, it was clear that there was quite a bit of the roof superstructure to be repaired and the tops of the stone walls, and the masonry supporting the main oak timbers holding the whole thing up. Phew, many days work ahead then.

Much of the old softwood timber was shot through with woodworm but thankfully it became clear after a bit of t.l.c. that the main oak timbers would be just fine and would not need replacing. I did find some old smaller pieces of oak in the roof chevrons that I was able to replace and will reuse elsewhere. Oak of this age is an amazing thing, very very dense, heavy and just exuding character when worked back with a gouge. It was tempting to stay up the scaffolding all day carving arty things into the oak! But, we worked hard at it for 10+ hours a day and it was finally coming together.

Once the superstructure was put together we clad the timbers in 15mm flat sawn pine board that had been pre-treated with an antifungal/insecticide and then on with some moisture barrier sheeting.

Re-tiling the roof went remarkably quickly once I’d got the hang of it. We tried hard to make the repairs to the new roof look as invisible as possible. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to have gone and bought new factory made tiles, that are cheap, of a consistent size and colour and to have put up a roof that looked like a Disneyland variant of an ancient Charentais farm building. But no, we wanted it looking just the way it was.

And what will become of this building? Well.. we’re not that clear yet! Current thinking is possibly a bedroom, a gym or a games room for guests.. It’s slightly awkward as it’s really the only easy passage between the main house & gardens and the outbuildings & paddock garden. We have put in a couple of roof lights to improve the ventilation / lighting so it’ll be usable some way down the line, but for now it sits empty with a spectacular new roof that makes me smile every time I look at it! First major job done successfully for very little money, looks good, the repairs are in keeping with the surroundings and it’s no longer going to collapse and injure someone! A job well done.

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