Speaking to anyone who is passionate about what they do is always an inspiring experience, and that’s certainly the case when discussing building conservation with Nigel Copsey, Founder of the Earth, Stone and Lime Company in Thornton le Dale.
Nigel discovered his love for his craft through dry stone walling and the repair of ‘Cornish hedges’ (stone and earth constructions familiar to anyone who has visited the county). Despite living and working across the UK and abroad, a twist of fate brought him to the North York Moors, which he has since discovered to be his ancestral home. Nigel is a world-expert in the use of hot-mixed lime and traditional mortars in historic buildings. Moreover, he has contributed to the rediscovery and revival of these materials, which at one point were overlooked as a vestige of times past. He says:
“Every traditional stone building in the North York Moors was built with either earth mortars in association with hot-mixed lime mortars, or with hot-mixed lime mortars throughout. Yes, they let moisture in - although not nearly as much as most people think - but importantly they also let it out. This was a dynamic system that allowed for capillary movement of water that prevented issues with damp. It’s only since 1900 that we started building houses as sealed boxes, which prevent any exchange of either moisture or air.”
“For too long, people have attempted to ‘fix’ old properties with modern materials, believing them to be superior. But the use of cement mortars, damp-proofing or impermeable insulation materials completely disrupts the natural performance of these buildings and will only ever exacerbate problems. We must let buildings perform as their builders intended.”
One of Nigel’s concerns is that lime has been given a bad name by the use of hydraulic lime. He believes that, if builders could learn the skills and benefits of hot-mixed air lime, then they’d take no persuading when it comes to its use. For this reason, Nigel dedicates significant time to the training of others.
“I want everyone to be an expert and for this knowledge to be shared as widely as possible. If that can be my legacy, I’d be extremely satisfied.”
One of Nigel’s projects in the North York Moors is Spout House, the 16th century former-inn in Bilsdale. In 2021. the building was re-thatched (by local thatcher Jonathan Botterell) with Nigel removing cement mortar and replacing it with traditional materials.
To find out more about Nigel and his work, visit hotmixedmortars.com.