23 March 2022

Pondering my drystone slate wall

I am one of those people with a two-storey garden. The upstairs garden is at the same level as the ground floor, where my front door is, and the downstairs garden is about half of the old slate yard, which was sold to the owners of the houses now occupied by me and my neighbour in the 80s. They split it, and turned it into garden. I am not sure if my neighbour originally had any garden, to be honest. But there is a big elevation difference, and that is spanned by a big slate drystone wall. I had wondered a bit about that wall when I bought the house. The surveyor said it was going to be fine for another 20 years or so, but I was not sure about how much surveyors actually know about this sort of thing. And for the first year, I had more important things on my mind. But I did have my mind on that wall. Right above it are both my master bedroom and my extension. If that wall would come down, what would happen to them?

I've pondered a bit about how to go about finding out. The problem is that I figured if I would have someone look at that then they would have an incentive to say it was shit, even if it wouldn't be. Because then they could get the job. And that would help pay their mortgage. So what to do? But then I spoke with Susan and Dean, who had had a wall on their property prepared after it had collapsed. They had good experiences with the stonemason. And they gave me his contact details.

The slightly wobbly wall

Idiosyncratic details: a part that sticks out for no apparent reason and with a gratuitous piece of rusty metal in it, and a stone signed 'JI'

One day he came to have a look. He was not impressed. He said it had been badly done; first of all, he said you should not make walls like this using slate. The rock is too porous, so water gets in, and the freeze-thaw processes you get in winter than split the rock. He pointed out several cracked stones. He also said the stones were too small. And they were also put in in the wrong orientation. You should not be looking at the long edge! That should be pointing inwards. He also said that if you really want a slate wall, it should not be taller than I am. This wall certainly is. And he noticed the difference between the lower rock and the upper rock; he figure its height had been increased at some point. That may have been ill-advised.

His judgement altogether was not positive. This wall would come down. And it should not be rebuilt in the same way. But he said that my extension and conservatory were not actually leaning on it. If the wall gone down, it would only be the wall. Now that was a relief. And I don't think he had only said it was crap because he could get work out of it; he had argued everything quite convincingly. 

I also showed him the collapsed wall of my neighbour. That left him speechless. I can imagine!

He later sent me a quote for redoing the entire wall, but that was not really anything I could afford given that I also wanted solar panels, and have the western fa├žade of the house re-rendered. I will just have to hope it doesn't come down anytime soon! And when I have recovered from the panels and the rendering, I can start saving money for my wall. If it comes down before that, it will not fall on anything crucial. Just a bit of neglected part of my garden. The most proximal part of the wall would fall against my neighbour's extension, but that part of the wall is in the best nick. The further away it is from the original houses, the worse shape it is in. So that is convenient.

I think I will just leave it as is for now! But I have the contact details of the stonemason. Maybe he'll be back…

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