Lime mortared garden walls

“Private residence, Eden Valley, Cumbria”

In Spring 2020, I was asked do build a series of decorative mortared walls as part of a landscaped garden design in the Eden Valley. The scheme called for several rather tired – but fundamentally sound – late Victorian walls to be modified to provide a vista from the kitchen window. The works were done with stone from within the property and with hot-mixed mortars and lime pointing.

lime mortared garden wall Eden Valley Cumbria

↣ Completed garden design with mortared rubble walling and dressed sandstone copings.

Victorian mortared rubble walling

Compared to the wholesale rebuilding of rural communities that occurred during the 18th & early 19th Centuries, the late Victorian architectural legacy often seems quite understated. In fact their impact was quite extensive (as at this property), and the craftsmanship no less impressive or durable. In this instance, the existing walls were soundly built, but – as often transpires – had been hastily slobbered with cement during the post-war period, and were rapidly becoming an eyesore.

retaining wall of rubble stone and lime mortar under construction

↣ The original retaining wall (crudely cement rendered in the late 20th C.) was paired back to form the basis of the new wall.

A design was drawn up to landscape the garden which would allow for a vista opening up from the kitchen window. This meant modifying some of the existing walls, which were rebuilt using the same methods and with the same level of care. The use of lime mortars and reclaimed stone from within the property ensure that the new additions will complement the original structures.

The tendency amongst modern builders using rubble is to over mortar the joints to compensate for the random nature of the stone. This rarely looks convincing and is inappropriate when using traditional lime mortars. Victorian craftspeople, and all previous masons, understood that strength came from a balance of frequent stone contact and a yielding, workable mortar. Replicating these principals is guaranteed to produce a sympathetic and durable structure.

rubble and sandstone wall with lime bedding mortars and lime pointing

↣ The basic wall structure taking shape, with the original wall below (with the later cement render still in place).

Mortared boundary wall

Mortared boundary walls seem to have been a speciality of the Victorian era in the Eden Valley (whereas previously dry built structures were more usual). The walls were remarkably narrow – often little more than a foot wide – and flush pointed to virtually obscure the rather rudimentary rubble stonework. The walls often look precarious, but with sensible maintenance are perfectly durable. My personal view is that they were likely limewashed, but the evidence for this is sketchy.

↣ In this instance a new gateway was inserted with oak posts, to open the view into the adjacent woodland.

The view up through the garden and into the woodland beyond is now nicely framed from the kitchen window. The lime mortars are initially quite prominent, but will soften in appearance over the first few winters.

lime mortared retaining wall and rubble boundary wall

↣ View from inside of the completed retaining wall and new gateway.

General Specifications: Hot-mixed quicklime mortars with limestone and sharp sand aggregates, and brick dust pozzolan.