Cornwall Living 2018

Keeping In Character

Court Design & Conservation can help to maintain the character of your traditional Cornish home.

Traditional Cornish cottages dotted throughout the county are instantly recognisable by characterful stone walls and slate roofs. But this landscape exists simply as a result of using beautiful local materials available to hand. The arrival of the railways and improvement in the roads allowed the import of more mass-produced building materials and methods into the county. While the most important traditional buildings are protected as Listed Buildings, to ensure that their character is not lost, the vast majority are not. One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Cornish cottage is its roof covering. The local slate, from quarries such a Delabole in the north of the county, is particularly well known. While the colours and hues of this slate give the roofs their local character, the way that the slates are laid itself is equally important.

We’re all used to seeing the neat regimented slate covered roofs of Victorian and 20th century houses, created by the use of standardised slates of the same size and coursing. But what makes traditional Cornish roofs stand out is the use of slates of differing sizes, born out of necessity to minimise waste. The result is the scantle slate roof. The slates are set out according to size, with the largest laid at the eaves of the roof, decreasing in size towards the ridge. As the size diminishes the lines of slate (courses) get smaller, creating an optical illusion of making the roof appear larger than it is. The result is an extremely attractive roof covering which gives the buildings their distinctive appearance. Originally, the slates were hung over the supporting battens with small oak pegs and the slates were bedded in lime mortar and plastered internally to assist in weather-proofing.

There are local variations, including wide slates, in diminished coursing fixed directly to the roof structure without battens, which gives a very different look to the small scantle slate roofs. These vernacular roof coverings are becoming more rare due to their replacement with modern standard roof materials. This is a great pity as it has a large impact on the character of the building and is lost forever. Fortunately, there are still skilled craftspeople around today who have the knowledge and experience to repair and recover these special roofs in the correct way, to ensure their survival and preserve this distinctive Cornish character.

It’s important that the first approach when assessing a tired scantle roof is not to throw it away and replace it with a modern material, but rather to stop and ask yourself why your cottage is so attractive and what gives it its special character.  The correct identification of the particular roof type and method is important and Court Design & Conservation has the knowledge and experience to assist you with your repair and refurbishment.

By retaining these traditional roofs, not only will your cottage keep its character, the local area will also keep its distinctiveness. The traditional skills will also be kept alive for further generations to appreciate.

Court Design & Conservation The Power House

Trevissome, Flushing, Falmouth TR11 5TA

01326 376000

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