Sunday, 18 December 2011

White Wash

The last post was set in Badminton, Gloucestershire, and all the houses in the village there are painted with traditional lime-wash, like this freshly painted house in Corsham, Wiltshire, dating from around 1700.

I love proper lime-washes, and I am pleased to see that the old techniques for making and applying it are coming back into vogue. There have been thousands of old buildings which have been partially destroyed by the plastic, petro-chemical products of ICI over the years. The irony is that these plastic paints cost so much more than a traditional lime-wash, that I am amazed that they became so popular.

Proper slaked (not hydrated) lime is mixed with water and a fixative like tallow or casein to make a white-wash, and the colour is achieved by adding earth pigments like - as in this case - yellow ochre. If you mix artificial, modern pigments with lime, they simply disappear within a couple of hours, but natural earth tints are lime-fast, and will last as long as the base stays stuck to the stonework - many, many years.

Corsham is a strange place - a real mixture of country town classic, and single-mother estate hell. It is a dangerous place to be at night, which you wouldn't think to look at it by daylight.

When I took this photo on friday, I had just left a junk shop where I had seen a poster advertising 'Pear's Soap', dating from about 1903, and it is so astoundingly racist, that I almost posted up the pictures of it here to illustrate how attitudes have - mostly - changed in the last 100 years, but actually I think the advert is so offensive that I cannot show it. That's how bad it really is! You can probably guess the content of it anyway, especially given the title of this post. 'Pear's' still make soap!


  1. And how do you tell the difference between the real and manmade finish, Tom? I'm wondering what it is that's starting to flake off my dilapidated old outbuildings.

  2. I think I know the very poster you mean.

    Lime washes etc have become very popular over here, where the health aspect is stressed. When I recently had the floor tiles laid in the 'tower', they were laid on a simple lime/sand mix. As an exterior finish, coloured lime finishes age beautifully (see the whole ofr Italy).

    Isn't there a good art college in Corsham?

  3. Ireland - like Greece - still digs lime pits (I think, on both counts) for the slaking of it, so if you can scratch it with your beautifully manicured nails, Mise, then that's what it might be. Once seen, never mistaken for anything else - just like poisonous mushrooms.

    Yes Cro, the French also never forgot the use of real, slaked lime, unlike us Brits who invented the 'Portland Cement' in order to build skyscrapers in New York, etc. There are pre-stressed buildings in Basingstoke which are being monitored by the USA for cement 'cancer', being the first ones of their kind to employ those methods.

    There was a good college in Corsham, founded by Lord Methuen, of Corsham Court, then it was disbanded, now vestiges of it have been reinstated, apparently. Lord Methuen batted for both sides.

  4. That's a beautiful little house Tom.

  5. Isn't it, J? On this street, there are many Flemish weaver's houses from the 17th century - big gables, etc. They were fugitives from religious persecution in the Lowlands. Maybe that's why they painted their houses orange?