The Void and its Secrets

This is a decidedly secret place

IMG_2389Up inside the low dark void on the second floor, accessed by the little door, I squatted right down inside once more among the filth. This is not a place for claustrophobics and I was very conscious that my ankle was still sore. As I was about to leave, I shone my torch further along and spotted these hanging from a nail on the inner side of a beam

Too low to stand up in, and with its rough bench bracketed to the wall, this secret place feels like a priest hole, used to hide something or someone. I know I have been reading too many war-related books lately!

These are thin metal tags, consecutively indented with numbers 3045 to 3100, and originally bright and shiny metal, now rusted. From a search of Google images, I believe they are cow tags, but someone must have really lost their way to leave them in this top floor ‘void’ of a townhouse. There are no fields here

These would not (have not) been seen by anyone poking their head into the void, as I did several times. There is a full row of these hidden nails where small items could be hung out of sight

The huge attic above it has at some time been locked from the attic side with its iron bar and the door panel has been smashed to reach the bar, then patched up  (How Low Can We Go?). The void is not easily detectable from inside there either

Of course, we’ll probably never know any more. It would be amazing  if someone knew something, but generations have passed. We should probably keep it exactly as it is. It feels important to keep it intact, until someone can come up with an explanation

Any ideas?

How Low Can We Go?

There are clues everywhere, but put on your sunglasses

It’s exciting to find dates on things. I got a rush when I noticed that the panel of the attic door which we use on a daily basis is patched up with a financial report from 1914. Did someone from the house have links with Paris at that time?

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Newspaper seems to have been used liberally in the house. It’s great because it helps establish dates. The latest so far is 1983

On our first weekend at the house (Wine, Weather and Woodworm – 4 nights in Quillan) we noticed a door from one bedroom which didn’t open, while the other side of it in the ‘Jewel Room’ had fabric wall covering continued across it, making it invisible. The fabric covered the entire room, but we removed it from one wall amid a tempest of dust, exposing two layers of paper, the bottom one being pure ‘jazz age’ in exuberant zig zag, while also incorporating stripes and curves (below right). I love art deco but this is hideous

Having removed the paper from the wall with the door, I found that they had filled out the old door with cardboard and newspaper to make it flush with the wall before papering

The date of the stocks and shares is 9th August 1895. Under the newspaper is also some very old sort-of-flock paper, in a beautiful teal colour. It must have once looked very impressive, and it presumably pre-dates the newspaper

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Back in ‘the big cupboard room’ I purloined the builders ladder from the attic and have unleashed a torrent of papers. There are flowers, geometric print with flowers, stripes with bouquets, just stripes and then a simple one-colour blue on a pale background under them all

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Geometric with flowers – do you think it’s too much?

The one thing the occupiers of this house didn’t over-use was restraint. My neck and shoulders ache tonight, but I’m getting a little bit closer to the bones of the house now

 

Peeling Back Layers

It’s a random sum

There’s something about stripping wallpaper that to me is very therapeutic. The downside is that it can be immensely hard work when there are numerous layers and RSI sets in. Multiply the layers by the number of rooms to strip and the total here becomes at least fifty, perhaps seventy. I don’t know what that number means – it’s a random sum – but that’s what we’ve got. Yesterday that total equated to around about a year’s solid work for me

But today that number has been considerably reduced, courtesy of one of the roof guys who saw me labouring away and brought in a stripping product for me to try. I tried some last night and can confirm that the sum will now be divided by perhaps ten, meaning that naked walls will be achievable in about six or seven. I started again this morning after a coffee

The effectiveness seems to be due to not only the product, but the application using a pressurised spray (‘vaporisateur’), the type you sort of jump up and down on to build up pressure

When we were kids there was a product that was regularly applied to prevent greenfly in the garden, not only by our parents but by us, very willingly, because it seemed so much fun to use the spray thing. It was called, enchantingly, Killa Spray. Therefore, before anyone gets too precious about using spray substances to remove wallpaper without proper mask/ overalls/ ventilation I would suggest that any damage was already done back in the seventies

So, the concentrated product is enormously diluted with water (we’re back to wallpaper stripper now, I very much doubt that Killa Spray still exists) and is used to soak the paper economically and evenly. A few minutes later a scraper will just lift the paper cleanly. Voila! C’est fait!

I admit that I am not so tough, I do wear gloves because my hands are like beacons of abuse right now. But I am also really enjoying removing wallpaper in its truest purest form as therapy

IMG_8092And as you can see they’ve left some spare paper in case I change my mind!

When Offered an Olive Branch, Wear Safety Goggles

a difficult decision – is it the right one?

To ‘offer an olive branch’ is to make good with someone, to try to resolve issues. The definition I found online was ‘to do or say something in order to show that you want to end a disagreement’

Our builder may define things rather differently. He was at a tasting in an olive grove this weekend, and managed to walk into the branch of a tree while not wearing his specs, very badly bloodying his eye in the process

Oh, the irony. He looked terrible, poor man, but assures me it looks worse than it is

At today’s meeting he confirmed that the structure I have found is indeed a very old fireplace, but said that the work required to uncover it (my work, not theirs) would be far greater than I realise. Part of me wants to continue, but once fully revealed it would surely compete with the wooden 19th C fire surround next to it

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This wooden surround is a strong enough statement

It’s tougher than I thought, this job!

When we bought the house we knew the building was 17th C, but the huge attraction was very definitely the 19th C aspirational makeover, which was done with some conviction and was largely intact. The danger is the distraction of earlier finds, some of which (the lion murals, for example) will have to be worked in, because they are very special

So I will document this latest find and allow the builders to put plasterboard in front of it, thereby preserving it, at least. I had hoped to avoid using plasterboard, as I know that builders can be overly fond of it, but perhaps in this instance it’s the best thing (however, if you ever see me referring to the use of ‘plasterboard’ in a future post, please stop me!)

We don’t want this house to be sanitised and shrouded in board. It must keep its character, but because of that we must also hold onto a reasonably cohesive scheme – something I was reminded of only today by another blogger’s post

Perhaps covering up this very early fireplace is our offer of an olive branch to the ’19th C’ house we fell in love with:

First step to owning our new gorgeous wreck/house in Quillan

 

When Wallpaper Becomes Something Else

Think Father Ted and Dougal knocking out the dent

Yesterday’s small ‘outline’ in the plaster has turned into something much larger. Think Father Ted and Dougal knocking out the dent in the car, if you have seen that episode. So as I continued to chip away it morphed into a very large outline, some 160cm or more across, and, having checked the crack in the room above, it is definitely relates to either this ‘feature’ itself or the way it was dealt with during the remodelling of the 19th C

A friend living locally thinks it is unlikely to be a fireplace because it is too large for the room. She may be right, but it leaves us back at square one. As I don’t want to remove all the plaster and bricks without taking advice, it’s very hard to get a decent photo

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Perhaps we’ll fully uncover whatever it is and expose it, as an unspecified feature behind a double bed. Or we may just cover it back up again. At very least I’ll ask the builder if it needs a lintel or something to stabilise the wall before re-plastering, and hopefully I won’t find myself in next door’s bedroom, apologising

On verra…

 

 

 

 

How Strong is Wallpaper? and Other Questions

Can anyone who knows French/old houses, please help me?

I am working under the assumption that wallpaper cannot hold up a three-storey house: not even if there are five or more layers of it. I hope I am right, because:

I’ve been working in a first-storey bedroom we call the ‘big cupboard room’. At some point the room height has been reduced by about 100cm to borrow enough height to squeeze a room above it, leading to a low void, like an eaves cupboard. The room was originally the same height as the salon (390cm). The original moulded cornice is still visible within the void next to the later room on the second floor, and shows that the division between the bedroom and the ‘big cupboard’ is an original 17th Century feature (perhaps a salle de toilette?), and not a later change as we had assumed

(I only know this from crouching in this void, armed with a torch to get a better look at the cornices. A weird little space with a rough seat/bench built onto the wall, it contains huge cobwebs, a cast iron saucepan lid and a couple of very old mummified shallots. Strange? I thought so)

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Into the void. Something’s hanging from the ceiling mid-pic. Only just noticed

How is your spacial awareness doing so far? I know, a diagram might help

Anyway, the original tall double doors are still in place in the ‘big cupboard room’ in keeping with a higher ceiling. But was the entire first floor of that ‘house’ once two high-ceilinged rooms with mouldings and tiled floors? This makes me wonder if it was not originally a house, but a commercial premises of some sort

Now the paper stripping comes in: the plaster in this butchered room is bulging along the adjoining wall to next door. A crack has broken through all the layers of wallpaper, and there are at least five, probably six layers (have I just answered my original question?)

I’ve removed some paper the original plaster shows an outline about 75cm square, by the looks of it, filled in before any of the layers of paper were applied. The rough filling is dropping out and someone has later (badly) skimmed over it. I scraped away to get a better view of the indent. I might have said that it was a window, but the house is part of a terrace of houses and this is an adjoining wall. Plus, a window would not be so close to the floor of this room and right up against the fireplace

It’s a terrible picture and I’ll try to get something better, but the top of the indent is roughly 1/4 of the way down and the bottom 3/4 of the way down the photo. The right edge lines up pretty much with the mantelpiece. The crack is not visible here

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So what could this unwanted ‘feature’ be? It’s definitely original to the house

 

 

Things in the Roof

Slept in today and woke at 8.40 – probably due to having a proper pillow at last and the excitement of watching last night’s fantastic rugby game

I hung out for a bit in the attic, ankle-deep in pigeon droppings as usual and picked up a few bits of crap among the way

There was a broken moulded tile of some sort, complete with incy wincy. I took photos – recording everything – and a piece of rusted hardware that probably needs to go back on one of the shutters at some point. We seem to be treating this place like an archaeological dig as much as a renovation. I tried to remove anything we wanted before the roof guys just sweep it all out. I also found what must be the original frame for the lantern over the stairway. I only realised what it was when I saw broken glass caught in the torchlight

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Looks like he’s got a spider on his moustache?

There was newspaper dated Tuesday 26th April 1955, stuck between rotten floorboards. I couldn’t decide the reason for the paper being stuffed down there and I don’t advocate using it as a DIY material, but it had survived over sixty years before I dragged it out. Will the house now collapse?

The church clock struck twelve and I retreated downstairs for lunch with my carrier bag of tragic treasures, like some compulsive shopper covered in cobwebs. On the way out I also recorded the final resting place of the last pigeon. It’s sad, it’s gruesome, but she probably had a good long life. I didn’t put her in my shopping bag. Charlotte will probably complain

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Sorry, have I gone too far here?

I love how France stops at lunchtime. I love that on a Sunday there is nothing to do. Nothing but potter

On the way downstairs I grabbed the few items of textiles that I had squirrelled away for washing at My Home from Home from Home this evening. I don’t know if any of the pieces are to my taste, but if I can’t find a place for them, someone else will