REPORT FOR EMESS ON CLAYFEST 2017
Clayfest was this year's festival of building with unfired clay, which which took place at the Heritage Skills Centre in the grounds of Lincoln Castle between Monday 12th and Saturday 17th June 2017. It was a demonstration of traditional building techniques which could be brought up-to-date for use in the 21stcentury.
The event was organised by the national group Earth Building in the United Kingdom and Ireland (EBUKI) with the help of the local group East Midlands Earth Structures Society (EMESS). This was the sixth annual national event which EBUKI have organised. They have followed the principle of holding the events in different parts of the British Isles noted for their particular local traditions of earth building techniques. Last year's event was in Cumberland, and next year's will be in Ireland. EMESS has a number of different local building techniques, but by far the greatest number are of the mud-and-stud method. They are mostly in Lincolnshire, in the East Lindsey District Council area, and with the village of Mareham-le-Fen having the greatest concentration.
The week of Monday to Thursday contained various building courses using clay, lead by professionals, with delegates learning about the various techniques.
Rammed earth was used to form the base and fire compartment of an oven, using temporary timber shuttering into which the earth was compacted. Clay blocks using mud mortar were built over that to form the oven itself and its chimney.
A portable timber framework of walls and a roof formed the basis for mud-and-stud construction, using the usual clay-and-straw mix, and this was partly finished with mud plaster.
Clay plastering took place on a number of different wooden supporting frameworks which had different traditional backing materials such as laths or reeds fixed over them.
Unfired clay blocks were used on a temporary wooden framework to form part of a domed construction.
A tent-like framework of saplings was constructed to form a temporary shelter called a bender such as would have been used by charcoal-burners or shepherds. This one had straw-bales to form sleeping platforms, with walls covered in mud daub.
Unfired clay blocks were used to form what could have been a simple circular garden structure, where the bond between the blocks was obtained simply by wetting the blocks.
On a stone wall which used mud mortar, cob construction took place. With the use of timber formers, two circular windows were built, one using bent timber for reinforcement, and the other using an arch of clay blocks.
All the people on the courses learnt a great deal from these hands-on experiences, and through talking to the course leaders.
To give a focus on the local building technique, the symposium which ran throughout the Thursday, was on the subject of mud-and-stud construction, using the experiences of different speakers.
Naomi Field, an archaeologist started the day with a talk entitled “Lincolnshire Mud-and-Stud : Sorting the Fact from the Fantasy”. 30 years before, she had surveyed the Withern Cottage when it was still in that village, before it was rebuilt in The Village, Skegness. She is now carrying out more detailed surveys of the timber structures of cottages, and thereby finding re-used timbers, a greater variety of plan forms than had been known, etc. She will be organising a conference at the end of January 2018 to discuss these matters.
Rob Ley, a mud mason, gave his “Experiences and Observations of Working on Historic Mud-and-Studs”. Rob had also been demonstrating the techniques he had learnt and refined, by leading the course on building the mud-and-stud demonstration building. He showed photos of how he was constructing new mud-and-stud buildings in the wood where he works, which have planning permission but do not need building regulations permission as they are not habitable. He prepares all his materials by hand in the traditional way, eg hewing main timbers with a side axe. His buildings were to be on the tour of Lincolnshire on the Saturday.
After a coffee break, Kathryn Banfield of Heritage Lincolnshire talked about “Mud-and-Stud at Risk: Long Term Solutions”. She is a former manager of the Heritage Skills Centre but now, through Heritage Lincolnshire, tries to find financial help for people and organisations who have buildings which are at risk. She illustrated the cottage at Little Steeping which her organisation repaired and rented out as a fund-raiser. Her expertise could be valuable for the construction of the new building at The Village, in Skegness.
After the inevitable discussions over the lunch break, Dr Marcin Kolakowski, of the School of Architecture, Lincoln illustrated the Hexagonium experimental building. This collaboration between university students and a local builder resulted in the construction of a timber-framed building which was weather-proofed with a variety of different earth panels. The thermal insulation of each of these new panels would be tested as an extension to the research paper for Terra 2016, which assessed the insulation of existing mud-and-stud walls. After the symposium, a number of delegates walked down to look at the building.
Brian Hayes-Lewin of the National Trust then described the on-going investigations of a not very typical mud-and-stud cottage on the Gunby Estate, owned and managed by the Trust. There appeared to be a mud cottage in there, but it had been much disguised by later alterations. The problem was therefore what had been there originally; of the later additions, what should be kept; and how should the building be put back into use to maintain its future.
Afternoon tea was followed by your reporter David Glew, on Solutions to Thermal Insulation of new mud-and-stud buildings. New construction can comply with planning and building regulations except for the standard of thermal insulation. That is a problem in a cool climate like the UK and so far only compromise solutions have been found, which David illustrated. What needs to be found is the wonder additive to the mud mix to improve its thermal insulation.
Following the discussion, it was apparent that each of these talks was relevant to the maintenance of the future of existing and new mud-and-stud buildings.
This part of the event took up the Friday, and used the theme of “Building Bridges” to widen the theme of the symposium to the whole field of earthen construction.
Rowland Keable addressed the problem of building bridges, by considering the improved marketing of the materials and building techniques. He talked about how to change the public's perception of building with earth, through better communications.
Maria Saez-Martinez talked about the historic record of earth building in Scotland. She referred to the analysis and documentation of this information, and gave an overview of the information in Bruce Walker's collection.
After morning coffee Dr Wendy Matthews used her research into ancient earthen buildings to connect information on their construction to the way we build in earth now, and how we could build with earth in the future.
Dr Dan Maskell considered how the ancient, but universal, material of clay could be used as an innovative material for future construction. Modern knowledge could put an old material to new uses.
Dr Erica Mallery-Blythe has become concerned at the increasing levels of background radiation which have become part of modern life, through the use of digital equipment. She showed how this could be reduced by screening, including the use of earthen walls.
After a discussion and lunch, Louise Halestrap described how earth could become a conventional building material. Fired clay is common in the developed world, and unfired clay in the undeveloped world, but it would be in its unfired state that earth could have greater use.
Peter Coch's talk then showed how earth construction in Slovakia had taken place in the past, and how earth was being used in the present. In several of these papers, an old material was being used in a new and more sophisticated way.
Continuing this theme, William Stanwix spoke about the development of light-earth materials for use in the UK. Reducing weight, increasing thermal insulation, and making materials available, are all part of encouraging the greater use of earth.
Following afternoon tea, Dr Fidelma Mullane took us to Ireland. From there she illustrated the use of tempered clay in construction. Perhaps she will attend Clayfest in Ireland in 2018.
Finally, Franz Volhard brought proceedings to a close with his key-note address, and returning to the subject of light-earth building. This will be one of the main ways forward.
As a result of the discussion, and this wider range of papers, it was apparent there is a larger frame-work for the future of earth building, and the local mud-and-stud tradition could become part of that future.
For the sake of completeness, here are the buildings which the delegates visited on their tour around the County on the Saturday :
Ailby Ash Holt – new mud-and-stud working buildings.
Ivy Cottage – the National Trust's problematic existing cottage.
Whitegates Cottage – a renovated and occupied existing mud-and-stud cottage.
Withern Cottage – a reconstructed mud-and-stud cottage located in a museum of old buildings.
Greetham Farmhouse – the largest existing mud-and-stud residential building, with an aisled hall.
Thimbleby Village – various mud-and-stud and thatched cottages within a village street.
Photographs of the clayfest will be found on our clayfest photos page in the next few days!