Our knowledge of properties dating back to this time is enormous, and we reasoned that as the basement was built at the time of original construction there should not be a flooding problem, as the builder of the time would have ensured it remained dry and usable.
We started the remedial action by removing the cement tank from one wall and waited for rain. As we thought would happen, rainwater oozed through the brickwork at low level, leading us to conclude that there was a problem with the drainage outside.
During the first investigative dig, we found that the external drains looked to have been renewed in the 18th century, and there were numerous failings with cracks and poor joints allowing rainwater to spill. We also uncovered an ice house which was filled with water.
Using stain, we were able to establish that rainwater from one side of the large roof of the house was piped into the ice house, which was built less than 4 metres from the basement itself. The obvious conclusion was that the water had to be removed from close proximity with the basement, and to this end we dug trenches and laid in new drainage pipes to move the discharge of rainwater into a ditch some 60 metres away.
Once we were on top of the water issues, we again focused on the basement, first removing the rest of the concrete tank. In so doing, we found that the lower 500mm of wall had disintegrated due to be soaked for a very long time. Luckily the walls had been built roughly 4 feet thick, which was fortunate as around 2 feet had virtually disappeared. Our next task was to remove all the rotten and failed bricks, and underpin with reclaimed bricks of the period, laid using lime mortar. We had also uncovered the original brick floor, which we repaired to first class condition.
Our use of water stain had also led us to conclude that the original drainage was undertaken by means of a culvert, which discharged the basement water into the same ditch into which we had previously piped the rainwater. We used a camera and high pressure water to find and clear blockages in the culvert, and once this ran freely again the basement was once again being drained as it was at the time of construction some 500 years before.
Having witnessed the successful transformation of the basement, the householder was keen to make the ice house usable as a wine cellar. The problem was that there was no access, so we dug a huge hole to expose one of the walls of the ice house and broke through forming a doorway. We then proceeded to construct a spiral staircase using reclaimed bricks and lime mortar, with York stone used for the steps themselves.
The materials used for this build were the same as would have been used in the 18th century when the ice house was first formed. With the staircase at patio level, we arranged for a highly skilled blacksmith to create a wrought iron fence and gate to surround the new staircase.
The final product speaks for itself, as can be seen in the photographs.
This entire project, basement and ice house, was a joy to be part of, and yet again underlines the fact that when working on properties of this age, the methods and materials of the time should always be used. The use of modern materials will lead to certain failure.
RJM Heritage Limited
4 High Street
Company No. 08707541