Roof Robbery

Actually it was not a stolen roof because someone paid to have it taken away, but it might as well have been stolen

I was called in to look at what the client, on the ‘phone, described as a new roof.  He explained that his house had been re-roofed and the body that had lent him the money wanted somebody to certify that the work was complete so they could release the funds to pay for it.  Fortunately, as it turned out, I was relieved that they did not also want a certification that a good job had been done.

I found the house alongside a main road through a small town, not far from its centre with its square and twelfth century church.  From the outside the house was apparently part of a late 19th century red brick two storey terrace, but I became a little suspicious about the dating when I noticed there was some timber framing in the wall at one end of the block.  This was some fairly heavy timbering that suggested the 17th century rather than the 19th.

When I got into the roof space I was shown the shiny new timbers of the replacement rafters with bituminous sarking or underlining felt under the roof coverings of concrete interlocking tiles.  However, sticking up from the top of one of the dividing walls between the first floor rooms were the sawn off stubs of what had been a large oak roof truss – and they were big section timbers that had been cut off by chain saw.  Along the eaves line with the junction with the ceiling there were the ends of 150 x 100 mm (6” x 4”) oak rafters that again had been cut off with a chain saw.  All the roof timbers looked black, being more than just age darkened they were probably smoke blackened from many years of open fires.

I asked why the roof had been reconstructed and was told that it had to be done because his ‘builder‘ had told him that the roof was dangerous.  Apparently this was the rafters were laid the wrong way, being flat instead of on edge, and so did not comply with ‘Regulations‘.  As a result the removal of the old and ‘dangerous’ timbers the roof was now safe!!

There was then a very surprised, if not shocked house owner, when I explained that he had just wasted a considerable sum of money in having the work done and had also destroyed a very historic roof in the process.  He just did not understand that in very old roofs rafters were laid flat and not on edge as they are in modern ones.

By looking at the back of the house that also contained timber framing I was reasonably happy that the structure was probably mid 16th century and may have been one of the last open halls built in this part of the country.  It had evidently had a complete ‘make over’ sometime in the late 19th century and so that was all people saw, they looked no deeper or behind the façade.

So rather than improving his house the client had very effectively devalued it because of the vandalism he had commissioned and now instead of having a hidden late medieval gem he had part of a ruin.  He was not best pleased with I told him, more through embarrassment than anything else.  However I did send him a confirmation that the new roof was complete and he eventually paid my account.

I reported what I had seen and discovered to the conservation officer at the local planning council’s department, but there was not a regular officer in post, the duties apparently being shared around in the department.  As the people who did the listing evidently ignored the bland and dirty brick frontage as they drove past doing their work the block was not listed.  Therefore there was no way any action could be taken had there been the interest to do anything about it.  My further suggestion that the building should be spot listed to protect what survived was greeted with the observation that it was evidently ruined so not worth it.

How does this relate to a stolen roof, well apparently the ‘builder‘ took great care when taking away the timber he cut out.  There must have been several tonnes of rafters and roof truss timber that evidently went to an eager buyer.  A cynical view would see it being built into a modern property to make it look old.