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Drain repair at England's oldest pubs highlights pitch fibre problems

20 January 2015

Lanes Group has completed urgent drainage pipe renewal work at England's oldest inns - carrying out a repair that illustrates ongoing problems caused by past widespread use of pitch fibre pipes

The fault at the Old Ferry Boat, near St Ives, Cambridgeshire, which dates back to the early Middle Ages, was identified during routine maintenance carried out on behalf of the inn's owners Greene King.

A detailed CCTV drainage survey found a pitch fibre pipe beneath the pub's kitchen had disintegrated, and had to be replaced.

Lanes Regional Manager Graham Hadley said: "From the 1950s to 1970s, a lot of drainage pipes were made from a product called pitch fibre, which is wood cellulose impregnated with inert coal tar. "Pitch fibre pipes were cheap to make, light and easy to handle. The problem is, they can rot and disintegrate much more quickly than clay, cast iron or plastic pipes.
"In this case, the foul water pipe had decomposed. The only answer was to replace it."

To keep disruption to a minimum, the Lanes Group engineers, based at St Neots in Cambridgeshire, carried out the drain replacement work in just four days, so the kitchen could reopen on Friday, ready for the weekend.

The Lanes team enclosed all kitchen equipment and furniture that could not be moved behind a temporary wall made with tough plastic sheeting. The elevated concrete floor was then opened up, and around 10 tonnes of hardcore, which had been packed around the old pipe, was dug out.

The pitch fibre pipe was removed, and replaced with a 100mm diameter plastic pipe. The new pipe was joined to existing pipes, at either end, with patch liners. These are 500mm felt tubes, impregnated with resin. They were placed across the pipe joints, then inflated using rubber air bags called packers. The resin was left to set, creating a hard-wearing, waterproof join.

The floor was then reinstated and a new watertight and airtight manhole installed, so if there were any future blockage problems, the kitchen would not be affected. During the project, seven more patch liners were installed in an existing pipe underneath the bar. The only other method of repair would have involved digging up the whole bar area.

Graham Hadley said: "We started the works on Monday and completed them Thursday afternoon, so the pub could reopen its kitchen and serve food on Friday evening. "The landlord and landlady were very pleased with the quality and speed of the work. It meant the impact on their trade was kept to a minimum and the new pipe should remain in good working order for many years to come. We can all drink to that."

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