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Unique Brickwork in Boston Spa, Yorkshire.

Unique brickwork features can tell a story. In this case it is very much a historic event, and one that was recently uncovered during a recent building survey, in September, in the rather attractive former spa town named Boston Spa.

So, some clarification is needed on the use of the word, stabbings. The stabbings I speak of, are a regional vernacular, and refer to a stone dressing treatment that stone masons use to provide a key for a coat of render, before its application to a wall structure. This term is one that I have not come across before, and it was made aware to me during the building survey, by the rather helpful vendor, and this was found to the stone walls of the property, that I was inspecting. The property is a grade 2 listed stone built terraced property, its construction dating to the late 18th century, and most likely built around the time that the village of Boston was developed, on the back of a property boom after a mineral spring was discovered in the locality. The spring is said to be the reason why the village grew to become a spa town (and gained the spa part), but ultimately and unfortunately lost favour as the nearby town of Harrogate had a rather useful rail link, which Boston spa did not have direct access too, and so the boom turned to bust in the latter part of the 19th century, the spring was not to blame for this though!

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The stone dressing, stabbings, as previously mentioned, were used as a key for render when the stone had little natural key of its own, and were noted during the inspection of the property. And this was possible as the render that was applied many years ago, has long since been removed, revealing the interesting history and evolution of the property. The building in question is believed to have been originally a kitchen annexe for Beechfield, a hotel built to serve the visitors to the spa town. The property itself has been altered by means of new openings being formed, and others blocked up as they were no longer needed, and all of this is on display due to the render being removed, fascinating history on display for anyone to see. The stabbings were however not a defect, just a part of the history and evolution of the property, the stabbings were thought to have been used to provide a key to the smooth limestone blocks,  ready for the render to cover up the alterations made to the wall structure. The defect was identified as a different and more modern addition, a lot less welcome addition, the property has at some point in the fairly (by the property’s age) recent past been repointed with a cement-based mortar to all the joints of the stonework, no doubt after the render was removed, it will have pulled the old lime mortar from the joints out with the removal of the render. This defect alone was deemed to be of concern already, given that the wall is of solid construction, but when combined with high ground levels, and hairline cracks to the inflexible mortar, and naturally occurring fissures within the stone, known as grikes (vertical fissures) in limestone paving and where the stone can be quarried from as it forms natural blocks around 1-5m2 called clints. This has resulted in significant internal dampness to the internal finishes and woodwork. The stabbings required no further action, the cement pointing however, was noted and reported to the client, including the effect it is currently having upon the property. The mortar pointing was recommended to be removed and repointed with a lime mortar, and the ground levels lowered (garden) to maintain a good surface area of wall that will allow the wall to naturally dry out. This combination of defects will with time result in a greater deterioration of the internal finish to the walls, and any adjoining woodwork, and potentially the deterioration of the stonework.

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The building survey inspection provided a great opportunity to look at a fine historic building, and one that could better inform a client as to how to sympathetically maintain the property going forward, so that the property can be enjoyed by many more generations. My personal gain from the inspection, was an interesting gathering of local vernacular, and a further understanding of geology including clints and grikes, and a rather good cup of tea, which is always welcome!

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By Johnathon Howe – AssocRICS