Back in 2010 our church was awarded a much-needed restoration grant by Cadw (the body responsible for ancient monuments in Wales). One of the conditions of the grant was that the church had its exterior walls lime washed. An ancient but none-the-less effective method of protecting and waterproofing the stone walls. Throughout history, the practise of lime washing stone walls had been wide spread throughout the UK but it became less popular during the Victorian era when a fashion for more gothic looking churches took over. Damp had previously been an issue in our church, but since we have had our distinctively white washed walls, our church has been dry and the lime wash has worked rather well at keeping out the weather. After 5 years however, the original covering had started to show signs of wear. We realised that we needed to have a new coat applied, but unfortunately this is where our problems began.
Who in 2017 offers a lime washing service? We contacted a long list of contractors but no one would touch us with a barge pole. The only quote we had was for £14,000 and when we followed it up, they lost interest. And then by chance, we got to hear about the parish church of St Sannan’s, Bedwellty near Blackwood (in the Dioceses of Monmouth) who had come up against the same issue as us and found a solution – do the lime washing themselves. So, we went up to meet them to find out more and ended up blatantly plagiarising everything they had done (why re-invent the wheel?). And it worked like a dream.
First, we sourced our bagged hydraulic quick lime from Ty Mawr in Brecon, a company specialising in traditional and environmentally responsible building materials (just as Bedwellty had done before us). They were very helpful.
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We had told them what we wanted to do, sent them a photo of our church so they could see what sort of colour we wanted (as there are several shades available) and they talked us through everything and delivered it to the church gates.
Next, we needed to pull together a working party to apply it to the church walls. Again, we took a leaf out of Bedwellty’s book and organised a working party. It was reminiscent of the “barn building” scene from the film “The Witness”. We got an item published in our local newspaper (The Barry Gem) and gave an interview on Bro Radio saying that we were re-kindling the old tradition of pulling the community together to lime wash our church. We called on everyone to give a hand, whether they were connected with the church or not as this might be a unique opportunity for anyone interested in historic buildings or ancient crafts. We ended up with an army of eager volunteers turning up (in the rain) to lend a hand. Some from our congregation, but most people from the locality who had seen the newspaper article and had no connection to it.
Everyone in the congregation played a part. Whether they were there brush in hand, or whether they made sandwiches, pies, cakes or drinks. We had an excellent spread of food. Even a barrel of ale to quench the thirst of our workers. It was a great success. Everyone who came enjoyed themselves and learned something new, we all had some hearty fayre and we got our church walls lime washed. Win – win. We needed to be a bit creative with doing our tower and ended up having to hire a cherry picker to reach the high bits. But at the end of it all we got the job done for less than a thousand.
If you have an ancient building and would like to replicate what we (and Bedwellty) did, we have put together a series of “how to” videos below which show you how to prepare, mix and apply a lime wash. It was recommended that the church have its lime washing reapplied every year, so we plan to make this an annual event. If you are planning a similar event feel free to get in touch and come along to watch how we do it. As we can testify, plagiarism works.
Step 1. The preparation.
You will need safety goggles, protective gloves, wide paint brushes (with extention poles if you are having to reach), bags of hydraulic quick lime, a big bin to mix your lime wash in, a hose and buckets to pour the lime wash into and a plasterers paddle for mixing. You also need to make sure you have equipment to access all heights needing to be covered and follow what ever safety guide lines come with that equipment.
Before application, blast your walls with a pressure washure to remove any dust, or loose stone or loose bits of old wash. Always apply to a dampened surface. It will not take if your wall is dry.
Step 2. Tips on mixing your quick lime.
Use your plasterers paddle to mix the lime. Be sure to follow the ratio of quick lime and water given to you by your quick lime supplier. Ensure all the powder has been mixed thoroughly with the water (in the bottom and corners of your mixing bin). You want to achieve the consistency of single cream for a good coating. With no lumps.
Step 3. Applying a lime wash
Before applying your lime wash, ensure that you have dampened down your wall surface with a hose. Use a broad, thick brush and slap the stuff on. There is no requirement for finesse or artistry. Get the lime wash on thick and fast.
Some other things to consider;
1. Limewash is not very adhesive. The way it sticks to your walls is a chemical reaction between the water, the lime and the stone. You can give it more adhesion if you add linseed oil to your quick lime mix
2. Envirnomental factors are important. Ideally you want a dull, drizzly day to keep your surfaces damp which makes the application easier. If it's colder than 5 degrees C, the reaction is slowed down and may not take, if it is dry and warmer than 16 degrees it may dry to quickly and turn to a powder unless you keep dampening it down. Heavy rain is no good as it will wash the lime wash off the walls as quickly as you are applying it.
(Click on any thumb nail below to enlarge the photo)