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Edinburgh World Heritage/News/Traditional Building Festival 2016 – highlights

Traditional Building Festival 2016 – highlights


31st August 2016

Edinburgh World Heritage

We passionately believe in the importance of preserving and nurturing these crucial building skills. Without them we will not be able to maintain or enhance the World Heritage Site here in Edinburgh. And beyond the World Heritage Site, the use of these traditional skills and methods contributes to the unique character and appeal of our Scottish built environment.

In the short video we filmed at the event, five traditional building skills are featured. In the first, Hutton Stone from Swinton in the Borders gave a demonstration of sandstone being dressed in the traditional way – with mallet and chisel. Scotland is a nation of stone. It gives our cities their character and builds a unique sense of place. The stonemasons art therefore remains at the core of a traditional building industry.

The Scottish Lime Centre Trust then demonstrated quicklime being ‘slaked’ in a process that will produce lime plaster with its putty-like consistency. This produces considerable heat which made it popular work for builders during the winter months when building sites were often closed. Lime is a crucial ingredient in many traditional construction materials, for example when mixed with sand and water to form a flexible and breathable mortar. Lime mortar is essential to use in the repair and repointing of traditional stone buildings whereas cement-based mortar is inappropriate and should not be used.

The foundry was once the engine of the Scottish economy, accounting for more employment and revenue than any other industry. At one point at the end of the 19th century, Edinburgh alone boasted more than 30 foundries in and around the city. The cast iron produced was used extensively in the building industry for railings, fireplaces, boot scrapers, as well as street lights and letter boxes, and these skills are still needed. In the next demonstration, Andrew Laing of the Charles Laing Foundry gave a demonstration of casting processes, and specifically the complex and skilful process of making a mould.

Scotch slate is the traditional roofing material in Scotland. It is weatherproof and extremely long-lasting. Unfortunately, the last commercial quarries closed many years ago – so today we recycle slate from demolitions, or from the old roof that needs replacing or repairing. As with any part of the building, the roof requires regular maintenance. In the next section of the film, Compass Roofing demonstrate how easy it is to replace a slate if the courses have been attached correctly. Slate from Spain is often used as an alternative to Scotch slate. It has a bright and even look which is modern and appropriate to certain buildings. However, we believe in spending a little extra and using our traditional and beautiful local material.

Next to Scotch Slate, lead roofing is the other key to a traditional wind and water-tight roof. The material is malleable, weatherproof and long-lasting. But it can be capricious, and expands and contracts according to the external temperature. If the lead roofing sections are fitted correctly, using both welded (fixed), and welted (flexible) joints, then costly nurgling (splitting) can be avoided. The final demonstration of lead roofing skills was from Greyfriars Roofing.

When it comes to maintaining or repairing your home, please bear in mind Scotland’s traditional building skills. And next August – please make a note of visiting the Traditional Buidling Festival.