mary poppins is one of my favourite films. when we were kids, i was probably six or seven at the time, one thursday afternoon, after school, following a visit to the dentist, on the way to the bus stop, my mum looked up and saw that the film mary poppins was showing (as they called it then) at the cinema. she asked us if we wanted to go? there and then, it started in five minutes. i don’t think we’d hardly ever been to the cinema, if at all. we jumped at the chance. i don’t know if she ever took us again, timings i guess were never right. but what a film, it sort of made up for it. its stuck in my memory. the magic of it. chimney’s it seemed were like a portal into another world. a world, i think, a lot of us might have preferred to have lived in.
chimney’s are central to what most of us think of as home, hearth and home. a hearth stone is a place where cooking and heating are often located, and the chimney is the device thru which it all happens. things come and go up and down the chimney, flue gasses, hopefully just go up (unless suffering from back-draft) and bees and sometimes birds have a way of making their way down the chimney.
not so long ago, many people used to put heck, or apotropaic marks on the chimney or post supporting the mantle, to keep witches spirits away, particularly to keep them from entering the building thru the chimney.
this is a close up of one of the mantles, i hewed them (made with axes, not sawn). this is one of my favourite things about this building, there’s something about the surface marks left by the axe that’s like no other texture, this, for me, is the heart and soul of the building. a direct link to the saxon carpentry from essex, where i’m from. hewing, like archery, is a feeling thing. and this is something i like about the whole approach that i’ve taken to building this house, its gauged, and felt, and as far away from mass produced as i can make it. its handmade and heartfelt.
although romans used ducting to vent flue gases, the concept of chimneys doesn’t really exist until the 12th century in england. prior to that fires are vented thru an opening in the roof.
as much as i like the idea of building a smoke house, i want one for preserving meat, fish and cheese, not for living in.
i thought long and hard about what kind of chimney i was going to build and how? somewhat governed by the availability of materials i guess it was always going to be from schist/slate. as it turned out it involved a fair amount of block work as well, and i varied the stone with bits of granite, quartzite when i could find them, and sandstone.
had i had more confidence in my ability at the start, i would have done without the block work, and just built in stone. also i could’ve forgone using clay flue liners, particle insulation and heat resistant mastic, and just plastered the flue with clay as i went. this would have reduced the over-all cost of the chimney considerably, and kept it closer to the intention of using only natural materials where-ever i could.
i hewed some very meaty walnut beams for the mantels and chestnut for lintels, where they wouldn’t come in direct contact with heat. based on the idea that even in the event of a chimney fire they would withstand longer than either steel or reinforced concrete.
in the end its been a 2 and 1/2 month marathon to get it done. it was built the old way, with a pile of rocks and a bucket winch, a trowel and a level, even the muck i mixed by hand, i wasn’t using enough per day to warrant putting the mixer on.
the stack is 2.2 meters wide by 1.1 meter deep and about 10.5m high from the foundation.
i can only hope the rest of the house gets finished so there can be a house warming, with the first fire lit of the house, in the proper way of things.