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Royal approval for ancient craft

PUBLISHED: 05:34 10 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:17 24 February 2010

THE Prince of Wales has found a kindred sprit in Suffolk.

And so impressed was Prince Charles with Paula Harber's passion for environmentally-friendly timber-framed buildings he has recognised her dedication to ancient crafts and her determination to pass her skills on to future generations.

THE Prince of Wales has found a kindred sprit in Suffolk.

And so impressed was Prince Charles with Paula Harber's passion for environmentally-friendly timber-framed buildings he has recognised her dedication to ancient crafts and her determination to pass her skills on to future generations.

Mrs Harber, of Lawshall, near Bury St Edmunds, said she was delighted to receive the prestigious award and said that without his support she would not have developed such expertise.

The craftswoman was handed a £1,000 grant by the Prince's Foundation, which Prince Charles set up to lead his Craft Scholarship Scheme designed to ease an acute shortage in traditionally skilled craftspeople facing the building trade.

It paid for her to employ an expert to teach her more about the art of lime plastering – a crucial part of the construction of timber-framed buildings.

Prince Charles selected Mrs Harber as this year's Prince's Foundation Craft Scholarship student judged to have excelled during her programme – putting her forward to receive the coveted Hancocks Medal.

Mrs Harber, who with husband, Barry, is now teaching the techniques she has learned to others, said the award ceremony in London last month was a real treat – not least because she got the chance to have a long talk with the Prince of Wales.

"We chatted for a long while. He is really so enthusiastic about traditional building skills and loves traditional buildings. But he is particularly passionate about their repair and care so we did have a lot to talk about."

She said: "Without the support and encouragement of The Prince's Foundation, together with HRH The Prince of Wales, I might never have travelled this far with traditional building skills, nor have so much inspiration for the future."

She said learning more about lime plastering has added to her knowledge of the separate techniques used in the construction of timber-framed buildings.

Mrs Harber said lime played a crucial part in the construction of timber-framed homes – used in external render, internal plaster and the brickwork for chimneystacks.

Although most people question her about its strength, she says its "softness is its strength". Unlike cement, it hardens slowly allowing for initial movement in the wood of the main structure.

Unlike cement, lime "breathes" allowing moisture in and out instead of blocking its path.

Mrs Harber is also skilled with wattle and daub – the clay and straw mixture packed around tiny hazel rods which provides the structure between the beams of a timber-framed building.

With her husband, she recently completed a green oak extension to her 16th century home and mixed the wattle and daub with her feet.

She stressed: "It's quite a messy process and I think in the 16th Century they would have got the cattle to trample it together. But it's clay so it washes off and it's very good for building big thigh muscles."

Mrs Harber and her husband run courses teaching about traditional methods of care and repair and this summer she will work with youngsters at a Berkshire school on a timber-framed building they are constructing in the grounds.

"It's a project designed to get the children to learn more about traditional building skills and I will be advising them on lime plastering and wattle and daub. That's great as it's passing on information to future generations.

"A lot of these 10 or 12-year-olds will eventually own timber-framed buildings and will know how to care for them. I hope I'm teaching others to do this for themselves rather than just doing it for them. That's part of the joy – being able to share my knowledge and skills with others."

For more information about the courses run by Mrs Harber and her husband telephone her on 01284 830492 or write to her at Hill's Farm, Bury Road, Lawshall, IP29 4PJ.


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