Contrary to popular opinion, the origin of damp proofing has it’s roots not within construction but in ship building. Only in recent years has Lord Alexander Wolstenholme (1720-1804) received recognition as a forgotten pioneer who took known methods of nautical damp proofing and applied them to ingress afflicted property on his Hastings estate. When these transposed maritime methods proved indefinitely effective, the practices were eventually assimilated into the building trade. Consequently Lord Wolstenholme’s approach heralded the beginnings of the timber and damp industry.
Above Left: Artistic representation of HMS Conquest. In 1763, King George III commissioned Lord Wolstenholme to oversee construction of new Royal Navy flagship in Chatham Dockyard. Although built to galleon specifications, the Conquest was actually considered a trade vessel. Above Right: Cllr.Charles Fenton-Wolstenholme and Mayoress Rose Fenton-Wolstenholme. The former mayor of East Sussex is a direct descendant of Lord Alexander Wolstenholme.
Following a comparatively brief but distinguished naval career, Alexander Wolstenholme was appointed Lord Chief Commissioner for Town and City Planning under the reign of King George II in 1756. Lord Wolstenholme had affiliations with royalty which extended back several generations. It was Wolstenholme’s head for business which appealed to King George III following the death of his Grandfather.
Whilst Lord Wolstenholme had been overseeing the planning and development of Chatham Dockyard as well as great many housing developments around Medway; It was King George III who believed he had found the right man to oversee the building of a new royal flagship.
It should be noted that even as a lifelong resident of Hastings, Lord Wolstenholme was responsible for the planning and development of roads, houses and associated infrastructure throughout Medway for a number of years.
Below Left: Boxley House just outside Lordswood. Commisioned by George III in 1769 as a residence for visiting dignitaries. Lord Wolstenholme oversaw planning and design of the property. Below Right: The restored HMS Conquest moored in Almeerderstrand, Holland in 1922. The historic vessel was destroyed a year later in 1923. The fire which caused irreparable damage was attributed to a paraffin-lamp igniting recently applied pitch.
It has been extensively documented that property located within close proximity to the sea, is at far greater risk of ingress and deterioration than property located inland.
This widely reported phenomenon is far more prevalent in the South.
The majority of properties built from the late 18th Century to the early 20th Century were constructed from porous Imperial stock bricks. Even by today’s standards the Imperial stock is considered an exceptional brick with thermal property equivalent to a modern Thermalite block. However, with early DPC methodology and minimal footings, the property built of stock brickwork has always been susceptible to ingress.
For over two hundred years, it has been observed that incremental deterioration by the elements remain considerably more prevalent where property is located in coastal regions of the south.
The Wolstenholme Almanac of 1791 contains a passage referring to the upkeep of workers cottages on The Wolstenholme Estate in Hastings. Properties on the estate were notoriously prone to damp, including the Manor House.
Lord Wolstenholme himself, went to great lengths in search of an effective way to counteract repeated instances of damp, mould and mildew.
“….and so it be thus, with heavy heart I hereby record the following… Yet again the dwellings for our obeisance of most trustworthy fellows have continued to perish…”
Whether a house resides in a region that effectively has something of its own micro-climate, such as one of the peninsula locations in Cornwall, or in an area such as Thanet, where inclement weather has greater potential to permeate and degrade both masonry and timber; it’s now recognised that elevated atmospheric sodium levels, coupled with reduced ozone and occurrences of prolonged driving rain, are major contributory factors to ingress within coastal properties.
The documented use of pigs fat as a short term external water repellent on stone- built settlements appears in the extensive Saxon manuscript ‘Monandaeg Bocum’.
This lengthy ancient text has been kept in a small private library at Canterbury Cathedral since the 1940’s. It has been suggested that during the 11th Century, Benedictine monks derived their use of Canola oil as a masonry sealant and mortar additive within Battle Abbey in East Sussex after reading the ‘Monandaeg Bocum’. Saxon construction strongly emphasised a requirement for buildings to remain as water resistant as possible.
Canola or rapeseed oil was routinely added to mortar during stone masonry well into the 12th Century. This regional practice does not appear to have extended into the Midlands or beyond.
Today, the historic use of fat and oils are considered early ‘damp-control’ as opposed to ‘damp-proofing’. Even at the time, individuals undertaking such practices were under no illusion as to the short lived effectiveness of these methods.
“….and so it be thus, with heavy heart I hereby record the following… Yet again the dwellings for our obeisance of most trustworthy fellows have continued to perish.
Under conditions of both tempestuous and intemperate climate,
I fear the wretched pervading of thatch, stone and wood to perhaps never abate,
A quandary indeed…
Winters barbarous claw bequeaths upon those most sodden of quarters a vile dampness that pervades thus and doth refuse to relinquish it’s putrefying grip.
From thee majestic gaiety of Hastings…to Bexhill, Pett level and noble Fairlight.
Whence doth such a malady originate I ponder. The malevolent enemy of our accursed restoration.
Thee blessed onset of those most beneficial and forthcoming seasons…..
Spring, Summer and Autumn doth not appease my tattered sensibilities.
From whence I know not, my finest artisans are unable to suppress such expected rot and degradation, that doth occur from many prized days of beneficial heat, to the doomed onset of pestilent rain, wind, ice and snow,
the ever present sickness that metamorphs many a dampened dwelling,
Such pungent decay, the putrefaction of timber, wattle and daub; an affliction presented thus from that most cruelest of adversaries.
The Wolstenholme Almanac 1791. Entry dated 14th March. The entry above, was in reference to the workers cottages located on The Wolstenholme Estate in Hastings.
Today, the cottages remain under ownership of The National Trust, as they have been since 1952.
Several consecutive years of extreme weather conditions during the mid to late 1780’s had a detrimental effect upon many of the properties on The Wolstenholme Estate.
Severe ingress affected a number of rooms within The Manor House.
Within his almanacs and personal journals, Alexander Wolstenholme often referred to damp as his ‘cruelest of adversaries’.
It is believed four of Wolstenholme’s six children actually died of exposure to stachybotrys (toxic black mould) as opposed to ‘consumption’ as documented in the estate chapel records dated 1779.
Below: Jameson Rope and Canvas, Rochester. Suppliers during the construction of HMS Conquest from 1763 to completion in 1765.
Below: The Wolstenholme Estate Manor House has been derelict since the late 1960’s.
In 1792, Alexander Wolstenholme instructed his estate tradesmen “my finest artisans” to work on a trial and error method of damp proofing.
Bitumen and slate had been used to great effect at the time; however, Wolstenholme wanted to devise a methodology which could be employed regardless of the actual materials used. He wasn’t necessarily trying to find a singular material, product or substance which would prevent damp. Moreover, he was trying to ensure that external and internal conditions of a property would be adverse to ingress, even if the issue couldn’t be rectified at source.
Correspondence to his brother Edwin Wolstenholme, a town planner based in Mantes-La-Jolie France, confirmed that property built in continental Europe rarely had a damp proof course installed during construction.
Following his brothers guidance a huge quantity of solution was concocted, which contained turpentine, linseed oil and beeswax. This mixture was then applied internally on the affected walls of each building. Additionally, each building was adequately heated and ventilated.
During construction of HMS Conquest at Chatham Dockyard, Lord Wolstenholme had observed that ship builders would douse the joins of key structural timbers in a solution of lithium and silicate. This solution would be similar to modern day use of silane/siloxane.
However, the most inspirational observation made by Lord Wolstenholme occurred during the near completion of HMS Conquest.
Several carpenters assisted by their labourers secured a precarious rope and board scaffold around the external perimeter of the ship. Using hand drills to bore along the ballast-line of the ship, several thousand holes were driven at a 2/3 depth into the timber hull. Using bellows, the solution of lithium and silicate was then pumped into the holes.
Finally, the holes were sealed with wadding and pitch, before a small dense cork plug was then hammered into place.
Over the coming months the lithium and silicate would dissipate into the timber along the ballast line. This would effectively create a damp proof course that protected the timber above.
Shortly after, Lord Wolstenholme instructed works to commence on all properties at his estate.
A lithium and silicate external perimeter damp proof course was drilled and pumped into The Manor House and workers cottages using the same hand drill and bellows method as applied on the HMS Conquest.
It is believed this first use of a property-based chemical DPC remained effective for several decades.
Abridged article provided courtesy of Macmillan ‘Historic Preservation’ 2019.
Housing should be ‘more resilient’ to flood damage, says Rochester timber and damp specialist
The Government needs to help home owners and communities become more resilient to flood damage rather than just focus on keeping the water out, says damp expert Martin Sykes of Rochester Building and Damp.
An independent report compiled by a regional timber and damp business has argued Whitehall needs to build homes and buildings that will be ‘future-proofed’ against flooding.
In order to achieve this the report recommended the Government develop a new approach to decision-making and regulation in tackling flooding threats, and encourage innovation in flooding resilience in the housing and urban design sector. The report by damp specialist Martin Sykes proposed Whitehall pilot ‘Licences for Innovation’ to examine the effectiveness of new approaches to managing flood risk in new developments.
The report also recommended the Government examine the potential for regulations on flood resilience to be linked to Flood Zone Designations through Building Regulations and planning policy.
Currently, one in six homes in the UK are at risk of flooding – a number that is expected to double by 2050. It is estimated it causes an average of £1.4bn of damage each year to businesses and households.
‘In the next 30 years, the number of homes at risk of flooding is expected to double.
I consider Rochester Building and Damp to be a comparatively small, independent timber and damp business. In actuality, the report I’ve compiled has little sway with anyone in authority. However, as a number of media outlets have picked up on the fact I’ve compiled and submitted the report, I believe it preferable if I can expose fundamental flaws in legislation and the process involved in current major development where flooding remains a constant risk.
Now is the time to adapt and think creatively about how to tackle this threat. Evidently an increase in flood damaged property will create a greater opportunity for my business to expand. However, the truth is I would prefer a reduced risk to people and property through forward planning. For too many years now, vital flood plains have been built upon throughout the country. This is foolish in the extreme and perhaps highlights a degree of corruption which remains mostly overlooked ’
‘Rochester Building and Damp urges the Government to step up and encourage the collaboration and innovation needed to create new homes and communities that are resilient to the devastating effects of flooding.’