An Englishman’s home really is his castle now thanks to the creative thinking and expert skills of master bricklayer Lawrence Bates
Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and the recent shortages of key materials being experienced within the construction industry has clearly required some creative thinking by exponents of their various trades. One of those who was quick to swap his hard hat for a thinking cap was the contractor on a project master bricklayer, Lawrence Bates, was plying his trade. He then sent us some intriguing images, highlighting how the team kept a major renovation project moving forward when the original plans were put on hold as a result of supply chain issues.
We caught up with 35-year-old Lawrence, who has been running his own company for five years on site, in the quaintly named village of Tarrant Gunville near Blandford, north Dorset where an old unloved bungalow had been demolished to make way for an idyllic rural new build. He told us more: “It’s obviously a lovely part of the world to be plying my trade and throws up some really interesting challenges from time to time but, like everyone else of late, we have been experiencing our fair share of material shortages and significant price hikes.
“The project here had initially been progressing well and an outstanding feature of the property is a new medieval style turret with an attractively tiled dome roof. The construction required some 600 Celcon Aircrete blocks and 600 aggregate blocks, with each one cut in half to create a circular tube rising more than twenty feet. With my bit successfully completed, I got a call from the main contractor explaining that the original plan to construct the internal staircase in timber was on hold because he couldn’t access the raw materials for the carpenter and the original price had rocketed. He came up with the idea of a masonry replacement and asked if it was something I could do?”
Continues Lawrence: “My immediate thoughts turned to the castles of old and how stonemasons had employed their traditional skills to construct intricate staircases within the castle walls and towers, which had clearly stood the test of time over centuries of heavy footfall and no doubt the odd cannonball here and there! Obviously, there were no plans or drawings to work from on this project, but I was confident a similar outcome could be achieved using modern aggregate blocks. The key starting point was establishing a plumb line in the centre of the turret. Using a scaffold pole as a guide, I somewhat tentatively started laying out the first blocks. It was a journey into the dark in many ways but once the first blocks were in place the rest sort of fell naturally into place.
“It was the most labour-intensive job I have ever undertaken, simply because of the sheer number and precise nature of the multitude of cuts. And, of course, aggregate blocks are a lot more difficult to cut than the Aircrete ones. I went through several blades during the process but, after a couple of days of hard graft, I was starting to establish a real sense that on so many levels this approach to the staircase was actually much more in keeping with the concrete turret than a wooden option. The whole job took about seven full days but, crucially, it meant the other trades could begin to access the upstairs for the second fix. The contractor was really delighted with the overall effect and the new owners have a feature which has already become a real talking point both inside and out now.”
Muses Lawrence: “It’s fair to say that my additional input into the project probably wouldn’t have materialised in this unexpected way if the original timber components had been available but it shows what can be achieved if you think outside of the box. Time will tell whether it’s a one off for me, but it’s a good one to have on my CV and I now have the confidence to take on other projects in the future which may require a more creative use of the blocks,” he enthuses.
Like his new staircase, Lawrence is clearly destined to step up his game on so many levels!