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  • Writer's pictureRon Common

3 years, 170 days and 7000 hours later...

How time flies when you're having fun! The restoration of Aqueduct Cottage reached its 3 year anniversary on the 28th of October 2022.

On this date in 2019, our freshly recruited team of volunteers started clearing the derelict cottage. Our team shifted over 25 tons of debris, which was up to 1 metre thick, from the inside of the roofless building. Using just hand tools, the tree roots were removed, the fallen masonry carried out and the soil bagged and barrowed 250 yards to skips at the Wharf Shed.

It took 12 weeks to get this first stage completed, but it enabled our builder, Andrew Churchman, to make a start on the stonework repairs. What followed was a long, but very rewarding journey to save the cottage.

3 years, 170 days and 7000 volunteer hours later, we marked our 3rd anniversary with a social event for our volunteers (past and present). It was held on 5th November and the cottage’s activity room was used as a social venue for the first time.

The free cake went down a treat and it was great to meet co-volunteers and their partners and to share stories about the project. Its been a highly rewarding experience for all involved.

One of the most gratifying aspects, in addition to the amazing dedication of our volunteers, has been the generosity of the public, local businesses and other organisations towards the project.

A couple of recent examples which can now be seen in all their glory is the lime plastering which was completed at the end of October. Mike Wye Ltd donated the lime plaster (in addition to the NHL5 lime for the kitchen floor) and the labour was provided FOC by local plasterer, Johnny Burton. 3 coats had to be applied over a period of several weeks.

The third and final coat was completed in October and the finish is beautiful. Its made a tremendous difference to the interior of the cottage. As someone commented, it now looks like a home.

The other important job we managed to complete was laying a limecrete floor in the kitchen. Previously, this floor had a mixture of a stone flags, red and blue quarry tiles (mostly broken) plus a large patch of concrete, all laid on a soil base.

The concrete and quarry tiles were removed and the floor excavated to allow a 100mm thick limecrete base to be installed. By mid-November, this more stable breathable base was ready for the replacement quarry tiles to be fitted, as per the original kitchen floor.

Since the cottage is being re-purposed as a visitor information and activity centre, fire regulations have to be complied with and one of the stipulations is for the ground floor ceilings to be coated with intumescent paint.

Basically, this provides 30 minutes fire protection, assuming the correct thickness is applied. In our case seven coats! (five base coats and two top coats). You can imagine the joy our volunteers had on this task, especially given the 24 hour drying time between coats, but it was essential in order to obtain the fire certificate.

Once completed, the rooms were noticeably lighter thanks too the white pigment of the top coat. When the plaster has dried on the walls, they be painted with Earthborn “clay white” paint which will form a good basis for the interpretation panels due to be installed in both ground floor rooms at a later date.

Outside, the plan for the yard is to lay a stone path from the front door to the concrete footbridge. We purchased a quantity of reclaimed stone flags several months ago which is a good colour match to the existing stone on site. The issue is that the flags are all different sizes and thicknesses which makes the laying process more challenging. To overcome this, all the stones were measured and numbered and scaled-down cardboard cut-outs made. This made it possible to design the path without having to repeatedly move the heavy stones.

At the time of writing, the first few stones were laid out to test the theory and the process of laying was about to begin.

On the south gable end of the cottage the reconstruction of the lean to pantry is underway.

The first few courses of stonework have been laid and very soon, the timber roof frame will be added. This will provide a guide for the stonework. Once this is complete, reclaimed slate tiles will be fitted. To complete the job, a fixed window will be installed plus an internal door to provide access from the kitchen.

The cottage will be a fitting “gateway” to the Leawood Nature Reserve and one of the enhancements recently made in and around the wood is the installation of 10 wildlife sculptures. One of these attractive sculptures has been attached to the fingerpost opposite the cottage. The aim is to help inform and engage the public on the wonderful wildlife in the Lower Derwent Valley. They are certainly making a great impression with visitors.

Continuing the artistic theme, some photos with a unique perspective were posted recently on the Friends of Aqueduct Cottage Facebook page. The creators have kindly agreed for them to be shared here. They are yet another reminder of how inspirational this beautiful place is and we look forward to sharing the fruits of our labours very soon.

Ron Common

18th November , 2022

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