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A Squirrel in the Thatch and a Defence against Witches

Posted By paddy

This is perhaps the most unusual thatched animal I have found so far, and is on a thatched cottage at the bottom of Roman Road in Radwinter. Although grey squirrels might be considered by some to be vermin and therefore worth shooting, I don’t think for one minute that shooting grey squirrels would in any way constitute field sport. So bang goes my theory about thatched animals being all about hunting and shooting themes! Perhaps after all this squirrel is a indigenous red squirrel, although North West Essex does not have any natural habitat for such creatures. I think that red squirrels are far more attractive than grey squirrels, they are native to the UK and they are far less destructive of the environment than their grey counterparts. So I would like to think that this is an example of a red squirrel in thatch!

In the photograph you can also see a sloping end to the ridge of the roof a feature which is frequently found on thatch properties. Myth and folk law has it that these sloping ends are a defence measure to prevent witches landing on the roof. Other witch defences found on thatched roves around East Anglia include sharp pointed stick on top of the roof. Other thatch folk law indicates that it was quite common for people to hide coins and pieces of bread in the thatching in order to ward off poverty.

A Happy Christmas to all my Customers

Posted By paddy

May I wish all my customers and FaceBook followers a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year!

On a festive note I took a picture of this unusual stove pipe chimney recently following the fall of snow we had. I thought it looked vey festive?

On a more serious note, many people might believe that a stove pipe chimney, like this one does not need sweeping, because it is made of cast metal and forms part of a sealed system, attached to a stove at one end and a cowl at the other. However, they would be wrong, a stove pipe like this can just as easily become blocked with soot and tar in the same way as any other chimney. Additionally, the soot that builds up in any flue reacts with water vapor that condenses on the cold metal surface of the liner to form a strong acid that can over time eat away at the flue. This is true for any lined chimney, whether attached to a wood-burning stove, Aga or Rayburn for example. The best thing to do is to sweep out that soot at the earliest opportunity; which would in effect mean sweeping the chimney at the end of the burning season, i.e. sometime in the spring once the appliance is no longer being used. In that way the chimney and appliance are then ready for use in the following winter season. Just something to think about!

And a Happy Christmas to one and all!

A Bad Smell up the Chimney – What Could it Be?

Posted By paddy

A customer recently contacted me to say that there was a really bad smell coming from an unused chimney in an upstairs bedroom. She went on to say that the smell had started when they had lit a wood burning stove in the room below. My immediate thought was that an animal had got into the chimney somehow and had died, perhaps a squirrel or bird and had begun to decay causing the terrible smell. I reassured the customer that everything would be ok and that the way forward was to make a CCTV examination of the chimney in order to identify the problem and then deal with what every might be identified as causing the issue.

Having said all this, when I attended the address and examined the chimney I found that some time previously the chimney had been blocked to prevent drafts. Someone had used a number of small hessian sacks stuffed with newspaper to block the chimney and that behind these a quantity of building material from the lining of the chimney, dirt, dust, leaves, twigs and feathers had built on the top of the sacks. One of the sacks in particular had become moldy and smelly. I looked at the newspaper filling the sacks and found it was from the Daily Mail dated 4th December 1956, so this stuffing had obviously been there a long time. Well perhaps up to 62 years! I examined the chimney with CCTV and found it to be completely clear of any other suspicious material and that it was not linked with the lined stove in the room below. So the rotten sacking proved to be the offending items after all! Job done and another satisfied customer.

Two Pheasants in the Thatch and Some Ancient History

Posted By paddy

More pheasants, I spotted these two on a roof in Water Lane, Radwinter at the Ashdon Road end. Pheasants would appear to be a popular animal to have on a thatched roof, which is perhaps not so surprising when you think just how many of them there are in the countryside! The pheasant is not a native bird to the UK, they originally come from Asia; the ones introduced into this country probably came from British India. The pheasant’s Latin family name is Phasianinae and they exhibit what is known as strong sexual dimorphism, in that male and female birds look entirely different, with the males being highly decorated and colourful and the females being very drab. Their Latin species name is colchicus is Latin for “of Colchis” a country on the Black Sea where pheasants became known to Europeans. Some of you might know that Colchis was also mythically where the golden fleece was supposed to have come from and where Jason and the Argonaughts went to find it!

Are They Bees or are They Wasps?

Posted By paddy

I recently swept a chimney in an upstairs bedroom in a house in Hempstead and was surprised to find that the chimney contained an old insect nest. In the photograph it is possible to clearly see the honeycomb structure of the nest as it came out of the chimney. This led me to believe that it was a bees rather than a wasps nest, although when it came out there was no evidence of any honey, which made me think that the nest was somewhat old? Additionally, I don’t think wasp’s nests have a honeycomb structure? But I’m no expert so I could be wrong? When I spoke to the customer, he said that he had observed what he thought were bees coming in and out of the chimney over the summer. At least in the end a good sweeping of the chimney gave it a good clean ready for winter as well as removing the nest which would have caused a nasty blockage!

The hunting, shooting Theme continues with a Pheasant in the Thatch

Posted By paddy

I saw this pheasant on a newly thatched roof in Wimbish Green the other day; is this further proof that thatched animals are all about hunting and shooting? Or are they just themed on animals found in the countryside? What is for sure is that there are certainly a lot of them about, particularly around the time of the shooting season. The pheasant shooting season in England and Wales lasts from the 1st of October to 1st February each year. I often think that as many of them are run over on the roads as are shot every year. They seem to be particularly stupid, lazy birds, with little or no road sense who take to the air and fly only as a last resort and often when it is much too late!

Another Biomass Boiler Chimney Swept

Posted By paddy

Here is another example of industrial scale sweeping that I have undertaken! I recently swept the chimney of this large biomass boiler that is on an estate in the Linton area. The boiler is used to supply heat and hot water to the rather large main residence, some industrial buildings on the site and to a number of estate cottages. This biomass boiler runs by burning specially made wood pellets; they are a small pellet of compressed wood shavings. Apparently they are designed in such a way to optimize the burn and efficiency of the biomass boiler. Again, as in the previous blog to do with biomass boiler sweeping, the wood chips are stored in a hopper in a very large barn, which is directly adjacent to the shed that houses the biomass boiler. The pellets are gradually fed into the biomass boiler by a large Archimedes screw and the hopper is periodically topped up by fresh deliveries of pellets. The boiler chimney was rather large eight meters in height and had a diameter of 38cm; I swept it using manual rods and brushes; somewhat surprisingly the chimney was not particularly dirty, probably due to the very efficient operation of the biomass boiler. Fascinating stuff!

An Unusual Thatched Family – Roadrunner Ducks?

Posted By paddy

More thatched animals; a family example this time, a mother duck and her chicks that I noticed on a roof in Water Lane, Radwinter. I think these are roadrunner ducks, because of their long necks, but I could be wrong and stand to be corrected? If any of my customers have a view on this please do let me know as I would be interested to learn their correct taxonomy!

I must admit that I’m beginning to suspect that the majority of these thatchamals have a hunting or shooting aspect to them? All the examples I have discovered so far are of animals that are hunted or shot or associated with these field sports as in the case of the Labrador which is as everyone knows is a gun dog! Although, the fact that there is a family of small chicks might suggest otherwise, as who would want to shoot some little fluffy chicks? Not many people I would suggest? Perhaps once I have found some more examples I will be able to take a more definitive view on this point. But it would not be a surprise to find that country pursuits like hunting or shooting would be reflected in thatch in country areas. But surely the personal taste of the owners must also play a part in the decision as to what thatched animal they have on the roof of their home?

Installation of Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Posted By paddy

Something I do rather a lot of is fitting carbon monoxide alarms. Unfortunately, I find that many people are simply not aware of the dangers associated with carbon monoxide and consequently do not have a carbon monoxide alarm fitted in the room where they regularly use a solid fuel appliance. This is highly dangerous as carbon monoxide is a killer, often referred to as ‘the silent killer in the home’. It is a little known fact that up to 50 people die annually in the UK from carbon monoxide poisoning and that numerous people attend hospital A & E units everyday with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. Checkout http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/625807/Silent-home-killer-NHS-reveals-actual-dangers

Building regulations (Document J – Combustion Appliances and fuel storage systems, Building Regulations 2010), now stipulate that all new or replacement installations of a solid fuel appliance have to be accompanied by the installation of a carbon monoxide alarm. The alarm should be fitted in the same room as the appliance, between one to three meters horizontally from the appliance, on the ceiling at least 300mm from any wall or, if it is located on a wall, as high up as possible (above any doors and windows), but not within 150mm of the ceiling.

I supply and fit the Fireangel carbon monoxide alarms which is recommended by Which Magazine, I do this at a cost of £30. A small price to pay to keep you and yours alive.

A Bird in the Chimney!

Posted By paddy

I had to deal with one of the more bizarre occurrences you might come across as a chimney sweep just the other day – A lady customer called me to say that she could hear a bird flapping around in her chimney. She was completely perplexed as to how the bird had got in there and was concerned that it might die in the chimney and start to smell, particularly as the was rather warm at the time. I made this job a priority and attended the address immediately. The mystery was immediately solved when I attended the address a large Victorian villa in Saffron Walden; I looked up at the chimney stack and noticed that it had a number of rather large pots, none of which were fitted with anti-bird cowls. Inside the premises I found that the chimney concerned was fitted with an integral, Jetmaster open fire configuration. The customer told me that the bird had not been making any noise for a few hours. I simply placed my hand through the appliance and into the chimney where I was able to feel the bird, take a firm hold of it and draw it out the chimney. It was not quite dead, it was no more, he had ceased to be, kicked the bucket, shuffled off his mortal coil, etc, etc! It turned out to be a rather large pigeon (not a parrot) – The customer was very relieved to have it removed from the chimney and disposed of!