for People with a Passion for Period Property
Ask an Agony Uncle!
Stephen Boniface - Stephen Boniface specialises in building conservation providing multi-disciplinary consulting services. He is Chairman of the Building Surveying Faculty and member of the Residential faculty. He serves on the RICS Building Conservation Forum Board and is the 'Agony Uncle' on the Period Property UK website (www.periodproperty.co.uk).

Ask our Agony Uncles ...

You can write to our panel of experts free of charge on any subject, providing it's got something to do with Period Properties.

Our experts are all specialists in matters directly involved with older properties. So, if you have a problem with an older building - or if you think you might have a problem - ask an Agony Uncle...

 

SUBJECT: Soil pipes - inside or outside?
FROM: David Gould (Northumberland)
We live in an old property and intend moving the downstairs bathroom and toilet upstairs, our architect wants to run the new soil pipe down through the kitchen which will be directly below the bathroom. Even though this will be boxed in and hidden I would prefer it to run down the outside wall but the architect tells me that building regulations forbid this. What do you think?

David Gould

If the building is listed you will need consent anyway and this may be a matter for the CO & BCO to sort out.

If there is an existing external SVP you may have an argument for an external replacement. Regardless, you should consider the visual impact if external, or the loss of space and impact on existing fabric if internal.

There are pros and cons either way.

As for regulations, the present situation is that wastes should be boxed internally, but with access for rodding. However, as this is an existing building a more relaxed view may be taken. You should discuss with your Architect and BCO..

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Is the damage caused my responsiblity?
FROM: Micheal McAuliffe (East Sussex)
My detached property (an old Baptist chapel) was built in the nineteenth century and is situated in an elevated position at the top of a residential street, which runs up the side of a hill. The other houses running down the street are all terraced properties and are probably of the same period or perhaps a little later. I have recently removed some old and badly cracked concrete paving from my patio area at the front of the property to expose a clay sub base. The general thickness of the old concrete was only about 2 inches and I understand that it was about 30 years old. Unfortunately a recent downpour of persistent rain has soaked into the exposed clay and would appear to have penetrated into the basement of my neighbour's property (sopping wet carpet etc) which is some 26-ft away from the exposed clay. My neighbour's property is in a lower position due to the gradient of the hill and their basement is below ground level relative to my paved areas. Despite the considerable distance, I suspect that the rainwater has probably found its way to their basement by soaking down through the clay and perhaps hitting a level of sandstone below ground, which has directed the water towards my neighbour's house. I understand that there were water leakage problems in my neighbour's property some 25 years ago but until these recent works were undertaken by me no further leakage had occurred during that time.

The exposed clay is currently covered with plastic and tarpaulin and a new concrete paving base will soon be reinstated. Is the damage caused by this incident my responsibility?

Micheal McAuliffe

A question more for a solicitor than surveyor. Generally, if your neighbour can prove that by specific action, or neglect, you have positively caused the problem he/she may have some comeback on you. However, as I understand it the problem is more to do with the lie of the land and subsoil than anything you have done. Yes, you have taken up paving but is there any evidence that it was put down to help the neighbour (e.g. did the neighbour pay for it)?

From what you say it seems coincidental, but there may be a link.

Before anyone does anything the matter needs proper investigation and you need legal advice about your liability anyway.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Did the installation of wall ties cause the damp?
FROM: Stephen Murr (West Sussex)
I have a grade II listed cottage that I moved into recently.

There had been movement by one of the walls away from the building that had been picked up in the survey and followed up by a structural engineer's report. Last week I had wall tie installation works. On the day the builders started the weather was terrible and surprise, surprise that evening there were large damp patches all over the wall. I have raised this and they have said that it is penetrating damp and not their doing?

Could this really be the case? Prior to the works there was no sign of damp at all.

Stephen Murr

Perhaps too late, but it is always sensible to prepare a schedule of condition before major works. This helps to reduce the risk of such disputes.

From your question it would seem that the builder may be responsible. It is the builder's responsibility to take reasonable steps to protect the building. Failure to do so could result in the builder having to carry out additional work at his cost.

If you have a proper contract it should help in such situations - if not, why not? If the engineer or surveyor is involved get one of them to sort this out.

In any event it is not too late to get an independent surveyor to inspect and advise. The same surveyor could then inspect periodically, particularly before you pay.

 

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Has my 100+year old wood still got moisture in it?
FROM: Richard Wolferstan-Bannister (Bristol)

I have recently had my house redecorated on the outside, the specification being rub down, or burn off, spot prime, 2 undercoats and one gloss. Before the snagging list was complete the paint started blistering. The paint manufacturer states "the problem was with the original coating, the paint adhered to it but moisture in the wood pushed off the top coating with the original coating". I find it difficult to accept that the 100+ year old wood still had moisture in it. On some of the paint the gloss has come away from the undercoat!. Is there another explanation? In 40 years of period property ownership this has never happened.

Richard Wolferstan-Bannister

There are a number of explanations, including the one given.

If the joinery needed painting it was deteriorating and there is every possibility that moisture got into the wood. The wood could have got wet during the present work, between preparation and painting. In either event it does sound as if the builder did not prepare properly and could therefore be liable. As for what needs to happen next, it seems likely that the gloss coat needs rubbing down. Before re-painting the decorator must ensure a dry substrate. Now is probably not a good time to do the work - wait for dryer weather.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Is the tarmac public path causing damp to my wall?
FROM: Richard Bailie (Lancashire)
I live in a Victorian end of terraced property and have evidence of damp in the rear reception room. Wall paper is peeling off the lower areas as well as flaking plaster and a cold/damp feel to the wall. I have observed the tarmac public path, which joins the gable wall, is rather high and is likely to be contributing to the problem. Where do I stand legally? Any ideas? If the council footpath is causing damp/structural problems to my wall are they liable or responsible to correct it. We also get the occasional damp musty smell in the rooms more so after periods of rain. The under floor soil level does feel damp to touch but I would guess that's normal to some degree? Am I looking at an expensive project to remedy the problems?

Richard Bailie

This sort of problem typically requires inspection and your last question depends on the required remedial works, which cannot be determined from your question.

It is quite likely that the high ground level, but it is extremely unlikely that you could get the Council to do anything (seek legal advice). It is more likely that you have to accept that the lowest section of the wall will have damp contained within it. In such circumstances you will probably need to consider an internal system that allows the internal wall surface to remain dry, regardless of moisture in the wall. I favour a drained/ventilated cavity system, but a tanking render might be appropriate. As dpc injections rely heavily on tanking I doubt if an injected dpc would be of any assistance in combating the problem.

In addition to the above you should ensure the sub floor void is well ventilated and any timbers in the wall isolated or protected from the damp.

These comments are a general guide - you should seek specific advice from an independent building surveyor, or other suitable professional, who has no vested interest in the outcome of his/her recommendations.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Turps and Linseed Oil
FROM: David Morrow (Somerset)
The cross passage hall in our 16th century farmhouse has an old flagstone floor. The floor is flaking and needs to be treated to add some protection and seal the floor. I have heard that a mix of Turps and Linseed Oil is a good option. Please could you let me know if this is correct and if so what proportions to use.

David Morrow

Personally I would not bother treating them with anything. What ever you put on will come off very quickly with foot traffic, and if you go for something which seeps in, it will do the stone no good and be very difficult to remove if it goes wrong or darkens the colour, as well it might. Neither will it stop the floor from flaking. The only thing which will do that is a masonry adhesive such as the "Akemi" range, not that use of such would necessarily be appropriate in this instance. A nice beeswax and turps polish will restore the shine for a while but do nothing to prevent it decaying.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Filling the space where the timber meets the lowest row of bricks
FROM: Stuart Cox (West Sussex)
I have a 1478 timber framed house, which has been infilled with bricks. Some movement has created cracks at the base of the house where the timber meets the lowest rows of bricks and water is seeping through these cracks causing damp. I would like some advice on what I could use to fill these spaces to prevent any further damage.

Stuart Cox

You have not provided enough information to provide a definitive answer.

The cracks could indeed be a source of water ingress. However, if the structure has breathable finishes (e.g. pointing) you should not have a serious problem. In such circumstances you should be able to fill cracks with lime mortar. Whilst lime mortar absorbs water it does not allow water ingress. Any water that does get in can escape without causing too much (if any) damage. It also has flexibility so that cracks are less likely to happen.

If the render is cement based you probably have more serious problems. The cracks will allow water in, but not out. Water becomes trapped and will rot timber. In such situations the cracks can be filled with lime mortar on a temporary basis. In the longer term you will need to consider changing finishes to traditional lime, etc.

Until the timber is exposed it is difficult to advise on the repairs that might be necessary.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: 'Find the root cause of damp
FROM: Sue Woodville (Greater London)
My early 1900's basement flat is riddled with damp - I have damp walls, paint coming off, salts coming through, spores and damp rising above tiles. All of which has appeared in the last 18mths since I bought it. I don't think there is a DPC, but someone told me I should find the root cause, and look to do other building works such as tanking, retaining wall, drainage before even thinking about chemical injecting, as the chemical injection may not be needed! Is this true? I'm confused!

Sue Woodville

I answer this as I travel back from inspecting a property with what sounds to be similar problems. It is important to establish the cause of damp before you undertake work, otherwise you could be wasting money. Chemical damp treatment should be regarded as a last resort. In principle I believe allowing a building to breathe is important for most buildings, particularly older buildings. However, one must deal with the situation presented, which is not often an ideal scenario.

What you describe sounds as if it was never appropriately provided with a damp-proofing system, or the system has broken down. Whether you have any comeback on anyone depends on what guarantees exist (if any), whether you had a survey, etc.

The problem should be thoroughly investigated by an independent professional who does not have any vested interest in the outcome of his/her advice.

There are two basic forms of damp proofing used for basements when converting to habitable areas: a waterproof render or a proprietary membrane creating a drained/ventilated cavity behind it. I generally prefer the latter, but in some instances the former is acceptable and may indeed be preferable if the situation demands. The investigation of your problem will require an assessment of the type of damp proofing and whether it is working.

It is possible that your problem is more to do with the finishing plaster used, an isolated problem or perhaps the system being punctured. However, the problem could be more extensive e.g. failure to properly form continuity between the wall and floor systems.

I earlier suggested I prefer a drained cavity system, but this will require somewhere for the water to drain, etc. It is generally best used where installing at the outset. Where there is an existing system in place and/or the property is occupied it may be more appropriate to use a damp proofing render. In some instances the ground conditions around a basement allow for a breathable system because the walls are not sufficiently affected by ground water to pose a serious damp problem. That said this situation is rare. If a habitable room is to be created it is most likely that some form of system will need to be installed.

Remember that wherever you put a barrier to damp it will try to find an alternative route. It is primarily for this reason that I prefer a drained cavity system, because it does not usually affect the passage of water, merely controls it. A render system creates a barrier and it is more likely that the water will be diverted to another route out. If the walls in question are party walls this could create problems for your neighbours. With terraced properties the approach taken to basements should always bear in mind the affect on neighbouring properties.

On the matter of chemical treatments of walls, these are intended to prevent the movement of damp in one direction and are usually ineffective at helping with a lateral damp penetration problem. In a basement it is unlikely that a chemical dpc would be of any real benefit. Concentrate on sorting out the tanking and there should be no need for the additional cost and hassle of a chemical treatment system.

Ventilation is another essential aspect of this. A little fresh air will make a big difference. In case you are wondering, in the case I am dealing with I shall be advising that the floor to wall junction be investigated (and the continuity improved if necessary) and the bottom section of the walls re-tanked with a damp proof render and re-plastered. Whilst perhaps not the solution I would recommend if converting in the first instance, it is a pragmatic approach to an existing situation.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Both the plaster and the paint are falling off the wall in chunks!
FROM: Ken Bell (Somerset)
I am in the process of renovating the inside surface of a soft brick exterior wall in our kitchen --- no DPC, of course, and the original lime mortar and limewash surface has suffered over the years from being patched up with modern gypsum plaster and painted with emulsion paint, both being non-porous. So both the plaster and the paint are falling off the wall in chunks. The cure is not to attempt to tank the wall, but to renew the missing lime mortar (which I am doing. My problem is the re-decoration. Most of the other walls in the room are fine, as is the emulsion paint. SPAB have advised me that I must paint the newly lime mortared areas in limewash

Ken Bell

I assume your question is whether you really do need to use limewash. The simple answer is yes. Modern paints will prevent the breathability of the lime render and what you have done will have been a waste of effort, etc. With the other walls where emulsion paint remains you can continue using emulsion paint on those areas. You can use limewash on modern plasters, etc but it does not always hold well. Nonetheless, you could experiment if you are redecorating anyway. You can colour limewash with pigments (such as those used by artists). Alternatively, St Astier do a lime paint which has a binder in it which prevents the limewash from coming off on clothes. Hendys at Foulsham might be able to get it for you.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Once central heating is introduced will the damp rise?
FROM: Christine Sage (Somerset)
I am in the process of buying an old Farmhouse, which is in need of restoration. On the ground floor are original flags and our architect's feels that these need to be lifted so that a damp course is put in place. He feels that once central heating is introduced the damp will rise. Is this correct as our builder feels that they do not need to be lifted and the damp will not rise through stone? The walls are about 18 inches thick; do I assume the same? Could you advise on the best place to get information relating to renovating an old property, as we would like to carry out a lot of the work ourselves?

Christine Sage

Without inspection I would not like to provide definitive comment, but my inclination is that your builder is correct. Generally, if there is no apparent ongoing problem with a serious damp problem in the floor there is no reason for changing what is clearly working.

Most historic buildings work by allowing moisture to move through the fabric and escape without hindrance, what I often call "moisture management". The modern approach is to exclude water by creating barriers. This is a very different approach and is not usually compatible with historic buildings.

I am not convinced that the installation of heating will cause a damp problem. It is true that heating internally will dry the face of the fabric and moisture behind could move into the now dry fabric, but it is rarely a serious problem. If this were the case the underfloor heating in limecrete floors (see the discussion forum) would have serious problems with it, which is not the case as far as I am aware. There are several threads on this subject in the discussion forum on this web site; I therefore suggest you do a search and read what others have found and have to say on this.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Resale adversely affected by past structural movement
FROM: Ruth Blay (Greater London)
My fiancée and I are looking for our first home, and have had an offer accepted on a 1900 purpose built maisonette (semi detached we are purchasing the ground floor maisonette) in SE23 (Forest Hill)

We had a home buyers survey performed that highlights major areas of concern, in summary it says "this property is severely disadvantaged by past structural movement that may have an adverse effect on resale. You should seriously consider you decision to proceed with the purchase". I think you'll agree these are stern words!

We love this place, it has two generous bedrooms, and a very well proportioned garden. All very difficult to find at an affordable price in London.

The report goes on to state that the movement is evident from gaps in skirting, sloped ceilings, and wall and door openings being out of vertical.

I presume there has been some treatment as the report states that there is a "tie plate on the flank wall at first floor joist level towards the rear of the flank wall" It also notes that numbers 89 and 91 (we are 85) have tie plates in their bays. (as the name suggests, forest hill is hilly, and the road in question is on a hill, the property being about 3/4 of the way to the top) it is, of course, built on London Clay, and to make matters worse there is a large Sycamore tree (pollarded) in the garden (7 metres from the rear wall of the property).

On a more positive note the survey reports that this "disadvantage is reflected in the agreed price" and that "the movement is long standing and is not expected to progress beyond tolerances." From this I understand it is historic, and will not become so bad as to compromise the structure...

But long standing, could this mean it is progressive? Should we worry about the stability of the building? Will this really be such a disadvantage on resale? Will it scare every purchaser off? We plan to sell again in 5-7 years to move to a larger family home, and by then I believe that the seller's property information pack will be in force and I presume we will have to disclose this issue?

I have almost reached the conclusion that if we love and can afford the place then the decision on resale is a commercial risk for us to decide on, but not really understanding how serious the problem is, and how worrying it should be to us or another purchaser, I do not know how to evaluate this risk.

Any assistance you can provide so as I can better understand the risks highlighted in the survey, and an opinion on the resale issue would be very much appreciated. I am, of course, making enquiries of the seller as to what they know of this movement, whether it occurred in their ownership, and who did the work.... this may help us understand what is meant by "historical movement" - but again, how recent is too recent?

Ruth Blay

Remember that a Homebuyers report is not a full building survey and often identifies problems without developing any discussion on them. That said it seems your report has some detail in it. The problem is that one comment "You should seriously consider you decision to proceed with the purchase" does not tally with the other comments. You really need to speak to the surveyor. Without inspecting the property I cannot provide definitive advice but in answer to your specific questions:

"But long standing, could this mean it is progressive?"

No. Longstanding means it has been there a long time and did not occur recently. A longstanding problem could be inactive, or progressive.

"Should we worry about the stability of the building?"

From what you described I would say no, but I cannot be certain without inspection. The surveyor does seem to say that there is no recent or ongoing problem; this indicates that it is historic and not something that need cause concern. You will need to notify insurers and if they are concerned you could always have an engineer or building surveyor look specifically at the movement issue. Provided you can get full insurance cover I do not see a problem.

"Will this really be such a disadvantage on resale?"

Not necessarily. The longer a property stands without a problem the greater the assurance that it is stable with no problem. Therefore by the time you sell on it would have gone another x years without a problem and the issue of movement will fade as a major issue. However, if movement does occur you will have insurance cover to deal with it. Properties in London are vulnerable to movement due to the clay sub soils, many trees, shallow foundations to Victorian and older properties, etc. An additional problem in London is the effect of bombing 60 years ago. Even if no direct bomb damage occurred drains were often damaged and even today some of these problems are only now becoming apparent by causing movement in buildings. As you can see there are various possible causes of historic movement (and here I have only touched on a few). This property may be in a particularly vulnerable location, but I do not see any reason for an old problem putting you off.

"Will it scare every purchaser off? We plan to sell again in 5-7 years to move to a larger family home, and by then I believe that the seller's property information pack will be in force and I presume we will have to disclose this issue?"

The Home Information Pack comes into being on 1st January 2007. It will include a Home Condition Report carried out by a licensed Home Inspector. It is not a choice of whether you disclose or not. All relevant documentation will be included in the pack and the HCR will report on all observable defects and categorise them. The HCR will NOT recommend repairs or specific actions. However, it will highlight areas where the seller or purchaser may wish to make further investigations and/or carry out work. If the HCR raises issues when you go to sell you can deal with them at that time, or reflect the issues in the price you ask - much the same as seems to be the case now.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Left with a house, which we can't sell or remortgage
FROM: Helen Middlemas (Peterhead)
We purchased a Grade C listed building last year. Our surveyor failed to pick up on any alterations on the survey. Including the addition of UPVC double glazed windows and also an alteration to a wall. He said the only alterations were done circa 1969. This is untrue. Some windows were granted permission in 1994 under the old town council. But some were done in 2000. These do not have permission. The house sale should never have gone through. We are now left with a house, which we can't sell or remortgage. So the surveyor has let us down big style. And he has also lied on the survey. We can apply in retrospect to the council for permission, but this will take about 1 1/2 years, and the council can tell us to take them out and put sash and casement windows in.

We are going to have to sue our surveyor. Can anyone help that has any knowledge about surveyors and how to sue them? I do have a copy of our survey. We bought into the survey and it was emailed to myself. The Scottish way being that you get the survey done before you make the offer.

Helen Middlemas

You are facing action by the Council because of a past owner's unauthorized works. Understandably you are looking for someone to blame. The surveyor may be the obvious target but may not be the only, or even the correct, target. Other targets for blame could include the vendor and/or solicitor and perhaps even you.

You do not say what level of survey you had undertaken, but for the purpose of this answer I shall assume a full building survey. If anything less the chances of taking action against the surveyor diminish. The surveyor can only have lied to you if they knew the truth about the property and withheld it from you. They simply not have been able to tell when the windows were put in. I would argue that a surveyor should identify alterations to a property. Where a building is listed a surveyor should identify whether any alterations have been undertaken that may not have been authorized (plastic DG being an obvious example). However, it is not necessarily the case that the surveyor will have the information available to state categorically whether an actual contravention has taken place. This is perhaps more a job for the solicitor and/or you based on information from both surveyor and solicitor.

Your allegation that the surveyor lied is not substantiated by anything else in your question. I doubt very much that the surveyor lied - what had the surveyor to gain by lying? It is perhaps the case that the surveyor got it wrong, that the vendor misled the surveyor (perhaps the surveyor was gullible in accepting what he was told), etc. It seems more likely that the vendor lied and if so you may have some comeback on the vendor.

Whilst I do not know the Council for your area I doubt very much that retrospective approval will take 18 months. Nowadays Councils are under a great deal of pressure to make decisions on applications quickly. Of course, if you refer to pre-application negotiation, going to appeal if you lose, etc then of course the matter could take 18 months with no guarantee of success, but this is for the whole process not simply an application for retrospective approval.

Is the Council threatening action? If so, why now and not before? What action are they threatening? It is not necessarily true that you cannot sell or re-mortgage, simply that the value of the property will be diminished by the unauthorised works and the possibility of a cost to an owner in changing the windows.

Your situation seems complex and I suspect there are several courses of action. On what you say I suspect you have been badly served by the surveyor and may have a case against him. However, you will need to show that the surveyor got it wrong (when he could have easily got it right) and that you have suffered diminution in value.

You may have a case against the solicitor for not properly advising on the legal issues once all information was to hand. Perhaps the solicitor should have noted inconsistency in what was being said, etc?

You may have a case against the vendor is he/she lied.

I recommend that you seek independent legal advice (don't use the original solicitor because that solicitor could be in the firing line). You will probably need to get an independent surveyor to inspect and advise on whether there is a case to answer for the original surveyor. If the surveyor was a member of the RICS there is a helpline for the public:

"Just call T +44 (0)870 333 1600 and you will be put in touch with an RICS member local to you, willing to provide a free 30 minute initial consultation. Lines are open 0830 - 1730 (GMT), Monday to Friday."

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Strange chimney breast
FROM: John Downe (West Sussex)
I am working on a bedroom and have found a rather strange chimney breast arrangement which I can't understand. It is in a first floor room in a house, which is believed to have been original built around 1700 although there have been many changes no doubt since then. The fireplace in question is immediately above a large inglenook fireplace in the room below which has a bread oven to one side. The part I can't understand is that there are two wide brick-built "pillars" making up the chimney breast which don't reach the ceiling and end with just flat tops - one is sort of understandable as the flue from the fireplace must be in some of it - but the other appears to have no purpose at all. Also, between the pillars there is a dip with what could be intended to take some sort of bowl-shaped receptacle. This is all quite difficult to explain in words so I have put a picture here:

 

Any ideas on why all these bricks are here and why are they in this sort of shape?

John Downe

Fascinating, but I do not have any answers.

Find a local architectural historian to see if someone can throw light on this. You could go to the Weald and Downland museum to see if they have anyone who could come out and advise. The conservation officer may know of someone who can help.

From what I can see in the photo it does appear to be the case that something is missing, something that was once here but is no more. The brickwork was never intended to be seen and the chimney would have been covered by plaster, paneling, etc. It could be that this was a cupboard or recess behind paneling. However, I am simply guessing and you really do need someone to come out to look and investigate. When you have more information post it on the discussion forum.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.