SLM team begin salvage of Beulah farm cottage


On the first visit of staff to Beulah in the new year it was discovered that the farm manager’s cottage had collapsed.

The two-room timber-framed weatherboard cottage was built sometime in the early 1900s with an additional two room structure added to the southern side at a later date. The later structure collapsed some time between 2004 - when it was documented by Clive Lucas - and 2010 when SLM purchased Beulah but the original section was still standing, albeit with sections of missing roofing and an exposed southern face where the secondary structure had fallen away.

SLM had been conscious of the fragility of the building and were planning stabilisation works but we were caught off-guard by the structure’s premature collapse in high winds. A work team comprising Building Facility Officers from three of the SLM Portfolios, Heritage team staff and the consultant heritage architect/builder, Nick Powell, was quickly arranged to assess, document and salvage the collapsed structure before it was further damaged.

The cottage had evidently been hit by a significant wind gust, as what had been the southern face of the roof had been flipped over and was now lying on the ground to the north of all of the rest of the wreckage. The walls and ceiling had all collapsed with half of the structure hidden under the old ceiling and verandah roofing. The good news was that the walls and ceiling panels had remained largely intact as they had fallen and much of the material is salvageable. While there was evidence of some insect and rot damage most of the building timbers were in suprisingly good condition. It has been speculated by SLM staff that the cottage may have originally been fabricated off-site as a factory built kit-set building, this being a common form of construction for rural buildings in the early 19th century. Some of the details that were uncovered during the dismantling of the building support this theory. It was evident from the corner junctions that the wall panels had each been constructed separately and then stood up and fixed to each other. Some of the timbers, including the fretwork barge boards and eaves boards under on the gable ends are also very precisely machine cut. The details that were discovered will be checked against 20th century kit-set home catalogues held by SLM’s Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection.

The corrugated iron from the roof and verandah were removed and stacked to allow easier access to the material below. The timber framing for the roof and ceiling was documented, numbered and dismantled. The north, west and east wall panels and gables were all relatively intact and were lifted off as full sections. The southern wall which had lost its cladding with the collapse of the secondary addition was documented and dismantled. Most of the flooring framing and some of the floor boards remain intact on the stone footings and have been left in place.

The team were briefed on the risk of disturbing snakes during the dismantling and all work was undertaken very cautiously. Movement was detected in the wreckage at one stage and the area around the disturbance was very carefully cleared away. The cause was found to be a large blue-tongue lizard that was gently caught and moved away from the building area.

A strategy for the reconstruction of the cottage is now being developed. The remains of the secondary structure are still lying on the ground, grown through with blackberry. Once the blackberry has been cleared away the process of assessment and documentation will be repeated on this structure. Nick Powell is preparing measured drawings of the original structure and plans will then be developed for the reinstatement of the building showing where existing fabric can be reinstated and/or new material is required. The original structure was fairly flimsy and additional framing may be incorporated to strengthen the building.

About the Author

Portrait view of man in black long sleeved shirt with arms crossed against background of old building.
Richard Taylor
Former Project Manager
Heritage Team
Richard Taylor was a project manager in the heritage team at Sydney Living Museums.

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