Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

House interior wall linings

"Where's My Hairy Horse"

In old Victorian houses the walls were lined in a rather peculiar way.

It all went back to a little known man called Ebenezer Ogilthwaite. One day his wife Penelope was sweeping the parlour.

"Hey you!" she said using her usual term of endearment in a way that suggested he would be rather advised to pay attention.

"Yes my sweet"

"These old stone walls are a bit rough, it's like living in a cave, can't you do something about it."

Old Ebenezer noticed there was no question mark used. This was obviously more of an order than a request.

"Yes my sweet, I'll see what I can do"

The long suffering Ebenezer went down to his shed to see what he could find. Some large pieces of 2 by 4 (lengths of wood two inches thick by four inches wide) and some lathes (strips of wood one inch wide by a quarter of an inch thick).

Inches? They were all very imperial in those days you know, they still had chains and furlongs, knots and fathoms, gills and pecks (and to Queen Victoria a peck was not something you saw on Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Talking of old measures I had a friend call me this week very confused. He has been working with lobsters (don't ask) and was baffled by the usual measure for lobsters which is, as everyone knows, the "ons".

"Ons?" I hear you say, "what the flippin' heck is an ons?"

The first thought is a bastardised ounce. It is possible, the Americans bastardised the gallon didn't they but of course that was to keep the cost of their petrol down - don't want to put the price up so we'll make the gallon smaller. No wonder Wall Street is in trouble. You know if our Pilgrim brothers and sisters were to reinstate the real gallon, cars in America would do more miles to the gallon, the big 3 wouldn't be making gas guzzlers any more, people would start buying cars again and the whole economic crisis would be solved. I'll ring Barak.......

Sorry back to the ons, I am sure you are by now on the edge of your seat. I'll give you a clue, there are 10 ons in a kilogram. Doesn't sound very imperial at all does it. Well it isn't, the ons is in fact a Dutch measure and is 100 grams. A very useful size if you are handling lobsters, pretty useless if you aren't.

(Language has changed somewhat hasn't it. When I was a boy I always had a rubber in my pocket. You were issued one at school at the start of the year you know. You had to write your name on it so someone wouldn't pinch it. You had to make it last all year.)

Ebenezer took the wood and plaster to the parlour and scratched his head for a while. He started off by nailing the 2 by 4s vertically on the wall about 18 inches apart. He then nailed the lathes onto the 2 by 4s across the wall. He didn't have a lot so he nailed them each an inch apart. He stepped back to admire his work. Hmm, the gaps don't look too good he thought, I need something to fill them in.

Back to the shed and there in a corner he found a bag of plaster of Paris left over from the time Penelope was teaching him how to arm wrestle.

He mixed some plaster and daubed it onto the lathes. Bother, it kept falling through. What a mess he thought but he couldn't give up now. He peered out the window to see if Penelope was around. No, but there directly across the street a horse was parked with a beautiful flowing mane and a long tail. There was no one around.

An germ of a thought planted itself and sort of "fermented" in Ebenezer's mind until it became a full blown idea. He crept across the road with a pair of scissors. A couple of minutes later the horse had a short back, sides and rear end.

Ebenezer mixed the horse hair with the plaster, it worked like a charm holding the plaster together on the lathes. A final smoothing and the wall looked great.

Penelope was so impressed she let Ebenezer have a nice cup of tea before he had to peal the spuds. Penelope's friends were also impressed, word got around and soon it became the fashion in Victorian houses that the walls and ceilings were lined with wooden lathes and plaster mixed with horse hair. To this day many old buildings across Europe have walls and ceilings built in this way.

Time went on. Soon there were no trees left and all the horses were bald. People got lazy. One day someone found that by making the stone walls smoother in the first place the plaster could be put directly onto the wall. Unfortunately damp came through the walls to say nothing of condensation.

Then some clever dick found that by building two walls with a narrow air gap between them houses became drier and warmer. The "cavity" provided insulation and stopped the dampness from getting from the outer wall to the inner wall. Standard practice in many parts of the world is to build houses with cavity walls.

Builders are constantly seeking ways of reducing house building costs and there have been many developments. By far the most sweeping change has been the development of

plasterboard which is also known as gypsum board, drywall (America) and Gyprock (Australia).

Plasterboard is a 12mm thick sandwich of gypsum plaster between two pieces of cardboard. Wood fibre is mixed with the plaster to increase its strength (they ran out of horse hair a long time ago). Sheets are usually 1.2 metres by 2.4 metres. These are nailed onto a wooden or light steel frame and then finished by plastering over the joints and nail holes. The nails used are large diameter flathead nails that are galvanised so they won't rust.

Plasterboard is quick and easy and gives a very smooth flat surface. In days past plastering was a real artform. A team of men would be able to plaster a room, 4 walls and a ceiling, in a couple of hours literally throwing the plaster at the walls and with great skill skimming it very smooth and flat. Plasterboard is changing all that and plastering is now a dying trade.

Plasterboard is now being used widely in Bali particularly for ceilings. The locals know it simply as gypsum. It is a very useful material but has two weaknesses.

Firstly it breaks easily so when old misery guts stumbles back from the pub and falls against the wall he can easily put an elbow through it.

Secondly it does not like water and has a tendency to fall apart if it gets wet. Check your walls and particularly ceilings. If you see any signs of water drips on plasterboard ceilings from leaks in your roof, get the roof leaks fixed quickly or you will end up wearing your ceiling. Also note that dampness will often leave mildew patches on plasterboard.

Most walls in Bali are still built the traditional local way which goes back to methods introduced by the Dutch. Walls are built without a cavity using light concrete blocks known as "batako". These are then "rendered" with a thin layer of concrete. The surface is finished off with a final skim of high density cement. The original Dutch method produced a high quality very stable finish. Sadly their skill has been lost and many external walls these days end up with a hard skin of cement that cracks and falls away from the concrete beneath.

You will probably find your walls are finished in this way. The high density cement is very hard as anyone who has tried to hammer picture hooks into their walls will have found.

In outside areas you may find the surface of the walls (and also flat concrete roofs) are "crazed" with a network of fine cracks through the thin concrete skim. This is due to the differential expansion and contraction between the skim and the concrete beneath and are the first signs that the cement is delaminating. Expect the cement skim to start chipping away or falling off.

We have come a long way since the days of horsehair and lathes. Building walls is a lot easier than it used to be and life has become far more relaxed for horses although they do tend to get a bit nervous around violinists wielding pairs of scissors.

Phil Wilson

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2009
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

9 December 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
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