At some point during the lifetime of this house, someone replaced the stairs up to the attic. If I understand the scars on the wall and the position of the original hole into the attic, there was a very steep staircase originally. The replacement stairs are alright in themselves. However, the balustrade leaves much to be desired and seems in part to be made of old fence posts, I'm sure there's still mud on the end of one of them.
Because the top newel post needs replacing before the lower landing ceiling can be replastered, I finally got up the nerve to remove the offending fence posts. Even though I've been assured that the newel post played no part in holding up the stairs, I wasn't taking any chances and propped up the stairs with acrow props. Happy to report there was no sudden sagging as I cut through the six-inch nails that held the fence/newel post in place.
Now all I've got to do is figure out a more elegant method of interfacing the new newel post, various lengths of timber trim and all the new plastering.