Rescuing a traditional witchert cottage from damp and decay.

Ian Slater Architectural Design Ian Slater Architectural Design Ian Slater Architectural Design Ian Slater Architectural Design

Refurbishing a traditional cottage and adding a contemporary extension.

Witchert, meaning, 'White Earth', synonymous with some Buckinghamshire villages, was used for buildings and boundary walls during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The High Street cottage site before redevelopment.

A stone 'grumpling' (plinth wall) forms a base on which Witchert, dug from close by and mixed with wheat straw, is laid in 'raises' or 'berries' – layers of about eighteen inches high – using a spade to lay and trim. Each berry is left to dry before applying another.

This Witchert cottage had been dug into a bank, its permeable limestone floors and grumplings ill-advisably lined internally with modern membranes in an attempt to prevent damp entering the building. As is always the case, this treatment has the opposite effect, trapping naturally occurring ground water under pressure within the floor with the grumpling transferring water into the absorbent Witchert.

In order to rectify these problems, traditional methods of repair and replacement need to be carried out by experienced contractors with the knowledge and resources to allow the building to breathe once more. Ground levels were reduced and rainwater outlets taken away from the building. The ground floors were replaced with 'Limecrete', a totally breathable material, and incorporated under-floor heating. The grumplings were repointed inside and out and internal wall finishes repaired/replaced with lime plaster. All other internal finishes were retained and augmented with skillfully applied lime putty before being painted with breathable clay paints.

The two-storey extension mirrors the style of this row of cottages with vertical timber sash windows, a clay-tile roof and painted rendered walls. The rearward single-storey, open-plan kitchen/dining and vaulted living area provides a very light, modern living space which opens out onto a private rear garden.