Nothing to lath about

DOCTOR ON THE HOUSE; It was an intricate plastering job, lovingly done by a professional. But the amateurs thought they knew better, writes Jeff Howell

Bethnal Green Eddie is not a happy man. He has put himself out to do someone a favour, and then been told he has done the job wrong.

The job was a lath-and-plaster ceiling, cracked and sagging, but still worth trying to save, not least for the intricately moulded Victorian cornices still in place around the edges. Your average builder or plasterer would rip the whole lot down, tack up a few sheets of plasterboard and skim them with a pink gypsum finish coat. If you wanted to keep the cornicing it would have to be copied, at great expense, in new fibrous plaster or replaced by some tacky modern imitation.

The new plasterboard ceiling would look dead flat, changing the period feel and the acoustics of the room, and in time would crack along the joints of the boards - and yet another little piece of our dwindling building heritage would be lost forever.

But Eddie gave up his weekend to remove the damaged sections of plaster, clean and renail the riven chestnut laths and apply a fresh coat of lime plaster. It was a fiddly, time-consuming but ultimately rewarding job, a simple but worthwhile bit of building conservation in a world of ripping- out. The owner didn't know how lucky he was - just you try getting a specialist conservation plasterer to come and do your ceiling. You'll have to take out a second mortgage just to get one round to look at it; they're all working at Windsor Castle and being photographed for fancy interiors magazines.

So when, after the weekend, Eddie got a call from the owner of the new ceiling, he thought it would mean at least a few words of thanks. The last thing he was expecting was to be bawled out for ruining the house and endangering the lives of everyone in it. Seems the punter had been told by his mates that you aren't allowed to have lath-and-plaster ceilings any more, that they're not up to modern fire safety standards, and that it would all have to come down again and be replaced - with plasterboard.

Two questions here: why do people always believe what their mates at work tell them, and whence came the idea that traditional building materials, tried and tested over hundreds of years, should suddenly become unsafe? I can't answer the first one; office people seem to spend most of their time moaning about their colleagues - who they think are inefficient, misguided or just plain ignorant - until it comes to advice about building, when the colleagues suddenly become fascinating purveyors of the latest expert knowledge.

The answer to the second question lies, I believe, in a misunderstanding of the Building Regulations, the guidelines which lay down minimum standards for new building work. Now, 99.9 per cent of the population have never clapped eyes on the Building Regs. But they have heard them referred to, usually accompanied by a sucking-through-the-teeth noise, when some cowboy builder has been trying to cover up his lack of craft skills by using some ghastly new gadget or wonder material: "You don't want all this old rubbish, you want to get rid of that and put up some plasterboard - it's the Building Regulations, innit?"

For once the manufacturers are not to blame; they don't have to tell you to tear down your Victorian ceilings; they've got your mates at work to do it for them.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - Financial Services - OTE £65,000

£15000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Loan Underwriter

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future