Ex Libris Kirkland

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Subtitle A History of Building Britain
First Written 2020
Genre Nonfiction
Origin UK
Publisher John Murray
ISBN-10 1473663946
ISBN-13 978-1473663947
My Copy paperback, bought in Munich
First Read July 06, 2024

The Stonemason

OK, this is great. The author is a stone mason restoration expert (does a little carving, but mostly masonry only), and kayaks his way around southeastern England doing repair work. In the book, he takes us thru a history of England's buildings from the neolithic to the modern, and talks about construction methods as well as WHY those construction methods were used. Like a Robert Macfarlane book, but all about work he's actually done. Fascinating stuff, although the author isn't a great writer.

Noted on July 9, 2024

It’s interesting that the author does restoration work and not only do they need to repair the stone work - but sourcing the right kind of stone is important too. Most old stuff was built with local materials, so that’s part of the job also, finding some quarry or farmer you can pay off to get the right stone for the job

Noted on July 9, 2024

Personal essays told thru a framework of stone-built history, like a mason version of Macfarlane? Count me fucking IN.

Noted on July 9, 2024

Once nearly every parish church would have been filled with colour and dramatic imagery on the same scale as this, before one by one they fell prey to the actions of iconoclasts, vandals and restorers, to leave us just scraps.

Quoted on July 9, 2024

[We were just at Guedelon and discussing how I don’t understand how Lime mortar works. Can you use shells as well as limestone? We saw buckets of shells there too.]

At the front of the chapel next to the pile of marl and chalk waited the galvanised bath tub that was the only container strong enough to deal with the most volatile of building ma-terials: quicklime. This quicklime was limestone cooked at 1000 degrees at the kilns at Cheddar near its famous Gorge.

With the bath half-filled with water, we added the marl and chalk and some coarse aggregate. The bags that held the fist-sized grey-white lumps of rock looked harmless enough, but were covered in warnings to keep them dry. I knew they needed handling with respect. Having togged ourselves up in goggles, masks and sou'westers, we lit the fuse by carefully emptying the bags into the water. We quickly stepped back and picked up our rakes and waited, as builders have done for over four thousand years, since a Minoan or Egyptian alchemist first discovered the peculiar reaction that we were about to experience. After a pregnant pause and a few innocuous-looking vapours, the bubbles came. Quite suddenly all hell broke loose and the tub erupted into a spitting volcano-like cauldron, its contents hot enough to strip flesh from bone - a use to which quicklime had been extensively applied in the plague pits of London. Going at it in unison with rakes, as the chapel's builders would have done, we took it in turns to mix it up, the steam so intense that visibility disappeared. Then, as quickly as it had started, it suddenly slaked and the ferocity ebbed away.

We shovelled the hot putty out and used it immediately to fix the new work into the wall. Satisfyingly, it was a perfect match for that used by the original country builders, and once it had set the walls would be able to breathe. It was an irony that the hardest of stone needed to be bedded with the softest of mortars to ensure the building survived for another few hundred years.

Quoted on July 9, 2024

Ex Libris Kirkland is a super-self-absorbed reading journal made by Matt Kirkland. Copyright © 2001 - .
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