Tuesday, 28 December 2010


Now that I've had some time to relax over Christmas, I have now set up a Flickr account with all the photos from the initial clearing out week at Portnahaven Primary School.

As one might imagine, there has not been much more work done in recent times, because of the bad weather here. I was hoping to out there in this time, but it's a tad touch and go; maybe in the new year at some point. 

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

What's Next?

Well I've come home and I'm just getting a few more details from my Dad as to what happened and what is happening.

It transpires that the building was occupied when four of the windows blew in. Apologies for that, I've altered the post (Nineteen Eighty Four style) to make it look like I knew that all along.

A few updates regarding the windows:
  • We have had a joiner out to look at the remaining windows; his verdict that all but two (gable end in the classroom) are beyond repair.
  • Historic Scotland generally request that original windows be restored, but clearly since we lost four of them in one go, many of the rest have no glass, and the vast majority of the wood across all of them is rotten.
  • It turns out that the four windows which fell inwards fell because of the wind, but their stability was weakened by the removal of plaster around the windows. In other words, the plaster was in fact holding the windows in; making it even more astonishing that no one was injured.
Jim, our roofer is going out next Monday to try to make the roof watertight again. The tasks are:
  • To fix the lead flashings in the joins on the roof, which are currently cracked.
  • To completely replace all of the buildings gutters in cast iron, replacing the plastic ones fitted by Argyll and Bute Council.
  • To replace the unconvincing roof tiles which the council fitted as a temporary repair with proper slate from Ballachulish. An interesting note on the roof slates is that the originals came from Kilchoman, now known for its new distillery.
Another interesting fact: the amount removed by the skips totalled to approximately 8 tonnes! And that is not including the five bonfires which were held daily to get rid of rotten timber, ply and MDF. So it can be fair to say that quite a lot has been achieved thus far.

I'm considering linking a Flickr account to the blog, so that I can upload all of the photos taken; not just the ones relevant to each of my posts.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

And so the work begins

Well, I'm a bit tired to be perfectly frank; since I was up until 4.30 this morning after a day-trip to Leeds and back to see Low (don't knock Mum and I - they were worth it). So therefore I'm updating this thing.

Iain Snr. collected the key to the school (yes, there is only one key to the whole building) on either the 5th or 6th of November (I can't remember, and I can't be bothered calling him to confirm). All I remember is that him and our willing helpers below got up at 4 am to catch the early ferry across to the island.
Our most willing helpers: Callum, Iain Snr. Jack, Fraser, Keith
Fast forward to Sunday and I'm still not finished writing this thing, so I'd best just grit my teeth and get on with it.

Anyway, the school was in quite a state before work began; so the main aim of this first week spent up there was to clear away all the debris, and take it all back to the bare minimum. The first task was to get a skip into the school grounds, which was in fact far from easy, since most cars could barely fit in the entrance. Therefore part of the wall had to be knocked down (Don't worry, we have permission to do this).
The part of the wall sacrificed for the cause.
Since obtaining a skip on Islay is not the easiest of jobs, a bonfire was lit on most days for things which could be burnt; saving a bit of space.

As I mentioned in the previous post, it would appear that the school was simply abandoned when it closed in December 1998. (This document from a council meeting shows how they voted mere days before the closing date to decide its fate. Quite shocking, really.) All the blackboards were still there, along with books, arts and crafts, bits of pupils' work; all of which had to be gotten rid of. This is of course before we even mention the crumbling plaster, algae covered lino, damp carpets and dead mice which also had to be removed. Also to come down were the petition walls in the toilet block, as you can see in the slightly inaccurate floor plan below.
This drawing has the windows missing from the front right and left. Other than that, it's fairly accurate. It was drawn for some prospective buyers of the property a couple of years back.
Anyway: the bit I'm making you wait for. The progress. Well, everything was stripped right back. All of the fireplaces were located. All of the furniture left behind was removed, apart from the piano (that's mine) and a wooden cabinet which was in the school office. All of the internal doors were removed to be taken for treatment to remove the horrid red paint off them; they will be refitted on the next visit. And all of the flooring was taken up and all of the plaster was taken off the walls. Remember the classroom?

This is unfortunately the best before picture I have of the whole Classroom. Apologies.
Unfortunately, curiously the carpet seems to be welded to the floor. It will need some more effort to get it up.
And the bathroom block?
Mmmm Algae. It's hard to get a photo of the whole area, because it was split up into separate (and sometimes dark) rooms.

Unfortunately a somewhat major incident did happen at some point during the week (though it was lucky someone was there to fix it - Argyll and Bute Council were not going to come and fix it anymore), in that very heavy winds blew in no fewer than four of the windows on the front of the building. Thankfully, no one was injured.
Our window blow-out catastrophe.
Anyway, that concludes the first week of work. I'll be going up on the next visit (most likely), so I'll take some more photos then. My task will be to repoint the internal brickwork (of which there is quite a lot, so I'm told). In the interim, I'm told that a roofer will be assessing the roof, and trying to make the place watertight.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The History Of Portnahaven Primary School

Portnahaven Primary School was built in 1878, making it a somewhat staggering 132 years old! It was designed by William Railton of Kilmarnock, and became a listed building (category B) in 1981 as a building of historical and architectural interest.

The front apex of the building, with the year of construction. This was originally a classroom, but now houses the toilets.
The building's layout is fairly typical for a school at that time. Externally, it looks very symmetrical, with two sets of doors on either side, one for each boys and girls. This was in accordance with the newly passed Education Act, which made elementary education compulsory. The schoolhouse stands next to it, and is adjoined by the school's boiler house. The schoolhouse is currently occupied, but the school has been left untouched since its closure in 1999.

And what a difference a decade makes. In the intervening eleven years, windows have been blown in, damp has crept through, algae has formed on the linoleum. In fact, don't take my word for it:

This is the main classroom. Note that all of the desks are still there, along with even a piano.
Boys Toilets. After it became law that indoor toilets had to be the norm, the second classroom was converted.
Kitchen. Currently not suitable for domestic goddesses.
So, as you can see, quite a bit of work to be done here. I have the layout of the building somewhere, I'll put that up too at some stage.

As another little bit of history, it turns out that Valerie Thomson, the former Home Economics teacher at my secondary school, who was tragically killed in a hit and run incident in 2009, attended this school as a child. There are not many pictures from the school when it was in use, but I have found one from Betsy West's photo gallery. She too attended this school, as documented below.
A photo of the class at Portnahaven Primary School circa 1915.
I have to give some credit here to Armin at IslayBlog.com, since otherwise I wouldn't have found this one.

Before We Start...

A little background information for you. This is a project which was started by a somewhat snap decision. My Father, Iain Snr, spotted that Portnahaven Primary School was for sale in The Herald. We viewed the place, saw that it was in a very sorry state, and yet somehow we still bought the place. Why? Because this building could be so much more than its current state. We wanted to contribute to the construction of this ourselves. This blog is intended to keep the world informed as to how we are getting on (as a somewhat less glamorous variation on Grand Designs - Kevin McCloud couldn't be bothered).

Introducing the team:

Iain Jnr. (me) and Iain Snr.
Barbara (my Mum), and Iain Snr. again (just in case you needed reminding).