Three Elephants In Northgate Street
OR: Three Elephants and the Building Inspector
Ben Saunders RIP
A friend has been having a few issues with the building inspector on his house renovation, and my mind wanders back to the early 1990s and one of my previous lives - renovating run-down properties in Great Yarmouth.
We were transforming a disused attic space above a shop in Northgate Street into a spacious 2-bedroomed maisonette. The property being in a designated conservation area, we were in regular discussions with both the conservation officer and the building inspector.
I’d had reservations about the potential problems – and potential cost – of having to individually construct new sash windows to fit the existing openings with period-appropriate profiles. I’m not sure those reservations were completely banished when I was introduced to ‘Mad’ Ben Saunders, an almost-retired carpenter and builder from Gorleston.
Ben had a large lean-to workshop in Bulls Lane. This workshop was filled to the rafters with timber of every conceivable type, size and shape. Crammed precariously in the middle was an array of woodworking machinery with electrical cables snaking in every direction, and perched behind what passed as a workbench Ben would proclaim, perennial cigarette in hand, that ‘they don’t make ‘em like this anymore, boy!’ Health and Safety legislation was never foremost in Ben’s mind.
But Ben took to the project with a relish. He would turn up regularly onsite with his latest creation and it was with some sense of wonder that we found everything to be precisely to size, design and specification. And a lifetime spent in the building trade meant that Ben was always able to come up with practical advice when some aspect of the project threw up an unexpected difficulty, as so often happens with renovations…
We needed to install a substantial support across the hallway to take the weight of the floor above. Due to the restricted access and irregular shape we were becoming stumped as to exactly how we were going to achieve it – Ben to the rescue! He studied the plans for about 30 seconds and proceeded to saw up some plywood sheets to make a former, ready to cast the required support in concrete in situ.
Very specific as to the concrete mix and with the insertion of some reinforcement rods, Ben supervised the task throughout and a couple of days later the plywood former was removed to reveal a wonderful custom-made concrete supporting lintel. Just the job. Can’t wait to show the building inspector...
At his next visit, the building inspector studied the support with a slightly bemused look. Luckily, Ben happened to be onsite and began to explain the reasoning and process. The inspector then asked Ben exactly what weight and forces the construction would support. He probably knew that no precise scientific calculation had been made, but was clearly unprepared when Ben replied “Three elephants”.
Perhaps some agile mental arithmetic was taking place, perhaps not. There was an awkward pause. Then, without even querying the type (African? Indian?) or physical size of the theoretical pachyderms the building inspector half-smiled and responded “That will be OK then”
Ben passed away many years ago, and we were never able to determine the veracity of his science -
but the building is still standing.
See Also: Three Elephants and the Police Officer (Not the same elephants)