Hopefully, you caught our recent TV appearance on Channel 4’s new tv series: Great British Home Restoration with Charlie Luxton, but in case you didn’t, you can still see us in action on Channel 4’s catch-up service More4. And for those who share our love for history and heritage, we’ve put together a case study with a bit more insights into the project, which we hope you enjoy. Here it goes:
First, a bit of background
When home restorer Hazel took on the challenge of turning her dilapidated oast house into an idyllic new home, we were lucky enough to be chosen for this incredible challenge.
After decades of living in her large farmhouse, it was time for 79-year-old Hazel and her beloved dog Lucy to downsize. And she had her sights on a new home – literally. Just a stone’s throw from her farmhouse lay a little-used oast house that was a shadow of its former self.
With the support of her friend Glyn and lots of enthusiasm from her builder Stu, Hazel began to restore this little piece of Kent’s heritage.
When host and architectural designer Charlie Luxton arrived at the oast, it was clear that this was going to be a big challenge. The oast house had lost its signature cone-shaped roofs, the 146-year-old brickwork was crumbling and it was far from habitable.
The plan was to strip out the entire interior of the building and add two new floors to the cooling barn – one housing the living and kitchen area, the second a bedroom and office. The roundels would house stairs to the upper floor and a lounge and a spare bedroom.
Adding the roof
As the new interior took shape, and it was time to start work on the roundels’ roofs – which thanks to their conical shape is less than straightforward. Enter Dude & Arnette.
The roofs are constructed by adding a ring of cement and sand on top of the roundel and then placing a wooden roof plate on top. This must be completely level to ensure the roof does not lean. A challenge given the old, uneven brickwork.
Once completed, four wooden rafters connected with cross braces are added. On top of this, a wooden ring is placed and then many more rafters are added in to give the roof its iconic conical shape. The cone is then covered with felt and tiled.
Again the cone shape poses a challenge when tiling. Darren and team use traditional handmade Kent peg tiles to tile the new roof. Following the techniques perfected over almost a century in business, the team get to work adding the tiles. They use squares and tapers so that any tiles that begin to drift downhill are swung back into position by the taper. Then every fifth row some cement is added to ensure that once they are in position they are not coming off – regardless of the weather! As Charlie says ‘tiling the exterior of the roof takes great skill and craftsmanship’.
Four weeks later and Darren and builder Stu complete the roof and Hazel’s new home is beginning to resemble its original mid 19th-century self.
Creating the cowls
The last stage of the build is to add the oast’s crowning glory, its white pointed cowls.
Each cowls rests on a long wooden pole that lets it rotate a full 360 degrees. When the wind blows the cowl always has its back to the breeze. This simple and traditional design still works perfectly today.
Here at Dude & Arnette we still make cowls by hand the traditional way. And that sense of tradition is not only seen in the techniques used, Darren still has his ancestors original toolbag!
Every cowl that comes through the doors of Darren’s workshop have their own tale to tell. A great example is the layer of green paint often discovered while refurbishing old cowls This layer immediately tells the team any cowl they are dealing with is at least 70 years old. During the second world war, cowls were coated in camouflaging green paint to stop them being used as landmarks for the Lufftwaffe.
Adding the cowls
The arrival of the cowls is a landmark moment in the restoration. First, a 22-foot rotating pole that the cowl will be fitted onto, is fixed into place. Then comes the nerve-racking part of the process for everyone watching. Cowls can weigh a whopping 220kgs and the ones going on top of Hazel’s roundels needed to be lifted 20 metres into the air. Not only that, but just as the crane arrived the wind picked up (eeeek!).
As Hazel watched in anticipation, one cowl made its way safely onto the roof and placed onto the waiting roundel. Soon followed by the second one.
The final step is to add the bespoke fingers – one with a motif of a dog, to reflect Hazel’s love of dogs and one featuring a cow to represent the farm’s history. Finally, after 50 years the oast house has been returned to its former glory.
To sign off the job, Darren hands Hazel her cowl service book. But this is no boring pile of papers. Based on an old tally stick that would have been used as hop pickers as a way of counting how many bushels had been picked, this piece of wood can now be used to record the history of Hazel’s new cowls.
Now the interior has been completed, Hazel and Lucy are well and truly settled and enjoying life in their wonderful piece of English heritage.
‘Another bit of history saved’