Monday, 18 May 2015

Piper at the Gates of Dawn

We were rudely awoken over the Easter break by someone shouting.  With all the walls around here, sound travels very oddly so it is often not entirely clear where it is coming from.  It seemed to be from the Lane.  Or was it someone at our gates?

S pulled back the shutters and looked out.  It was a man.  Dressed as Grayson Perry.  Holding the railings of the gate and shouting 'Christian Racists!'  Cheek!  We are neither.

At seven o'clock in the morning.


Monday, 4 May 2015

Bed Making

It's been ages since I blogged about our goings on.  And lots has gone on, I think.  We have sloughs of despondency, despair and hopelessness as we meander along this unending journey with the only deadline being the demise or infirmity of one or other of us (or both, simultaneously!) or some catastrophic financial failure.  At times such as these, this blog comes into its own.  Scrolling back over the posts since those early days, which seem far in the past now, puts everything into perspective and shows how far we have come and how much we have done.  We're invigorated at the moment, just as the Spring is enticing the garden to burst into activity, we are simultaneously leaping about with paint brushes, spades, hammer and tongs.  And making progress.

So, let's start with the thrill that is my new asparagus bed.  I have hankered after such a bed for some time and now that hankering has come to fruition.  I have read about what to do, watched Youtube videos and then I took the plunge and ordered 20 asparagus crowns from Sarah Raven.  Far too many as it turned out but half have gone to a good home so I don't feel too guilty.  We have Millennium for the main season and Gijnlim, an earlier cropping variety.  They are the vegetable garden caviar, according to Sarah, so much sweeter and lovelier if freshly picked.  But you need to be a patient gardener (exit S, stage left) as the roots need time to develop so you have to leave the plants to shoot and flower, not picking until year three.

The instructions said to soak the asparagus well before planting.  I left it in this bucket for a good couple of days, having forgotten about it once I'd put it in.  However, it doesn't seem to have come to any harm.

This was the selected bed, which is the one that we got last year to add to the two that we already had.  A fourth has now arrived to make up the set.

Each asparagus crown looks like an octopus with long dangling roots like legs.  You make a ridge in the soil, lay the asparagus on top and then spread out its legs.

I planted ten, five per row, 30cms apart.  The white stuff is GrowMore or something, just to help it along.

And while I was busy making my asparagus bed, someone else was making his own bed.  And lying in it.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Glazing Over

The title of this blog refers of course to you, dear reader, who must be glazing over at the very thought of yet again hearing about our casement windows.  They left us last year and are yet to return, having been away for something like nine months.  And, no, this isn't due to the fact that our windows are being crafted to the standard of those that grace Sainte-Chapelle in France.  It means that they got left in a corner of the workroom, we suspect, and forgotten.  We have had an 'exchange' with the company in question and are now negotiating a date for their return home.  Of course, if the windows are wonderful, then all will be forgiven and forgotten.

Sainte-Chappelle Windows and NOT the Pantry Windows - Just in Case of Confusion!

Needless to say, having waited all this time, before the windows can actually be refitted, we have discovered that some work needs to be done.  Firstly, to one of the windows in what we call the 'Long Room' - actually two rooms, which are on the top floor.  Secondly, we need to repaint the outside of the windows on the gin terrace.

You can get to the window on the top floor by going by ladder to the flat roof above my mum's downstairs loo and then going up another ladder so that you are standing on the flat roof above the bathroom.  We went up this morning to inspect our trusty builder's work in progress.

The 'Long Room' Window Undergoing Repair
And Another Bit of Roof in Need of Repair

I do love our roof tiles.  Here's a picture just of them in close up.  But I worry greatly at the thought that they might ever need to be replaced or repaired.  Think of the cost!

Lovely Old Roof Tiles

S has spent the past week preparing the windows and has done a pretty good job, if I say so myself.  We are particularly pleased that the lintels are in such good condition and no, we won't be painting them.  However, you might note that the pointing above the lintel is terrible so we intend to scrape it out and have our first go at re-pointing under the supervision of our trusty builder.

This is the middle of the three lower windows.  The frame is not bad, although the sill is not great, as you can see from the second photo.  Again, very happy with the lintel.  (Easily pleased nowadays!)  I should point out that the glass that you see here is temporary and sprayed over because this is my mum's downstairs loo!

The sill of the pantry window has had it and will be replaced.  You don't have to be an expert to work this out, as you will see from the following photographs.

However, the rest of the window seems to be in pretty good nick.  Thankfully.

It was a glorious day on Sunday.  Cold but spring-like with a wonderful blue sky.  I took some pictures of the chimneys while we were up on the roof.  It is very sheltered on the flat roofs as they are in the middle of the u-shape of the house, sheltered on three sides and facing south.  It made us contemplate whether, after all this trouble, we should change the window in the long room to a door and have a roof terrace up there.  However, it's not an immediate priority...

There are some big holes in the walls, which become more apparent from up high.  I dread to think what is getting into them, although I have seen birds flying in and out on the west-side and goodness knows where the squirrels go when they head up the front of the house to the third floor.  All very worrying.  Best not to come up here really!

However, as well as excellent chimney views, there were also good views of the plaque (or datestone) and the three corbels.  All of which are still in need of restoration.  I've read somewhere that the date is 1581 and the initials 'OC', the vicar at that time.  But now can't seem to find my source for that. And is the sign a fish as in the Christian symbol?  More information on this to follow, I think.  Note that you can make out the faces on two of the corbels.

But back to the windows.  How could we get distracted by roof views!  They are now primed and awaiting a decision from our Conservation Officer about what colour we can use.  We are hoping to paint them a Cotswold green or cream.  I am hoping that brilliant white will be unacceptable, given the age of the property.  However, I have to admit that I quite like this battleship grey.

They look better already, don't you think?

When I'd finished painting, S looked at the instructions.  'Do not paint at temperatures less that 8C', it said.  Oh.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Who Lives in a House Like This?

...or rather who lived in a house like this?  

The local Historical Society provided me with some information about the Old Rectory and its inhabitants over the years. It's so interesting - well, for me, it is! - and I’ve been meaning to write about it for some time.  I finally sat down to do so and turned to the first of the census returns that they had given me, which is for 1841.  I then paid to access the UK census online and found some discrepancies in the data.  But other things about the information that I found aroused my curiosity and I started to do some detective work. 

As background, censuses have taken place in the UK every ten years since 1801 apart, that is, from 1941 when the country was in the midst of the Second World War.  I may be wrong and they may be out there somewhere, but I’ve only been able to find 1841 onwards online.  Up until that particular census, they were used principally as a head count.  But then the purpose changed slightly and people were asked to state the name, age, occupation and whether they were UK born or not for everyone resident in each house on the day of the census. 

The return for the Old Rectory for 1841 shows that it was then known as Vicarage House and that the vicar at that time was Edward Rowden, aged 60.  Further investigation revealed that Edward was born in 1781 (although the information below suggests 1780) in Cuxham, near Watlington, South Oxfordshire.  He died in 1869 at the age of 88, having been the Vicar of this parish for 64 years.  There is a board on the Church wall that lists the incumbent vicars over time.  Francis Rowden, presumably Edward's father, was vicar from 1785, which must have been when the family moved from Cuxham.  Another Edward, presumably son of the Edward in question, took over the reins after his father's 64-year stint, although the exact date of his succession isn’t clear from the board.  I don’t know anything about how this worked but it seems that the parish living was passed from father to son.

If Edward took over as vicar from his father in 1804 and if he was then the vicar for 64 years, he presumably stood down in 1868 when he was 87, a year before he died.  According to the Parish Register, the building of a new vicarage house began in 1809 and was completed in the autumn of 1810.  (Interestingly, this required a mortgage of £850, which was to be paid back over a period of 20 years.  Needless to say, rather less than we paid for it.)  

This means that this building is 50 years younger than we thought and this also brings into question the graffiti etched on the side of the house, which seems to clearly say ‘1801’.  However, if these dates from the Parish Register are correct (and presumably they are) then it means that Edward Rowden and his family were the main inhabitant of this house from when it was first built until he died in 1869.  So that's three quarters of a century sorted out!

A carte-de-visite portrait of Reverend Edward Rowden (1780-1869), photographed by "Merrick" at Joseph Langridge's photographic studio, 33 Western Road, Brighton (1862). Inscribed in ink on the reverse "Revd Edward Rowden, 81 years of age - Dec 2nd 1862." The headstone to Reverend Rowden's grave in St Michael's churchyard reads "Rev Edward Rowden M.A. For 65 years vicar of this parish. Died March 27 1869 aged 88 years.

So, turning back to the 1841 census, it shows that, on the date of the return, Edward Rowden was living here with five servants (which might explain why the place is currently covered in cobwebs and dust with only me acting as housekeeper, lady's maid, house maid, parlour maid, scullery maid, laundry maid, cook, gardener, dog groom and general hand servant!) and four other Rowdens: 25 year old John, eight year old Ellen, seven year old Elizabeth and six month old Margaret.  So were these Edward's son and daughters?  If so, why such a large age gap, 17 years, between John and Ellen?  But, most interesting, why is there no mention of Mrs Edward Rowden?  What has happened to her?  Why is this 60-year-old man left alone with such young children?  I was desperate to know more and so I turned to the 1851 and 1861 census returns.

To be continued...

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Curiouser and Curiouser

Someone asked me yesterday if we had found anything interesting in the Old Rectory since we moved in.  This reminded me that I have had this blog post in draft form for some while, awaiting photographs, and it highlights some oddities that we have discovered around the house.  The first is in the room where the computer server was when this was offices.  It is now H's 'wardrobe' but is destined to be a wet room (perhaps) in time.  It took us ages to realise that there are hinges on the windowsill and that, therefore, you can lift up the top to find this.  It must have been for a washbasin and tumblers perhaps.

The second thing is graffiti on the wall where we park the cars.  I was reversing out one evening and, with the sun in a certain direction, I could see the numbers '1801'.  I went back the next morning to investigate.  There were initials and a date.  But it is hard to see what it reads.  THARRIS?  THARRIP?  THAR RIP?  

We were clearing out a cupboard under the stairs that leads to the so-called mezzanine bedroom.  This is where the new water tank will go.  Then we discovered that there is a blocked up window in there.  At floor level.  We had thought that the wall was originally an outside wall as it is so very thick.  But we have yet to work out where the window would have been in relation to the rest of the house.  In the photo, you can just see the brick lintel for the window above the pink section where the window has been infilled.

The other oddity that we've yet to investigate is the window in one of the back bedrooms.  The suspicion is that there are shutters in the panelled area below the window that are intended to pull up on the tracks that you can see in the side of the window.  This is according to one of the window specialists who visited but a quick search of Google hasn't revealed anything about this type of shutter.  To be investigated further.

And while we're wandering around the house in this way, we have done some work on trying to complete the bathroom.  S has been working on the floor in the small lobby outside the bathroom.  The plan is to put this back to floorboard (it did have coir on it but massively stained) and then varnish it.

We'll paint the lobby off white and have bought this picture to hang there.  It is a railway poster for Bath, advertising the spa obviously.  Very apt.  We may well hang some shelves here as well.  If you remember, we didn't plan well for storage space in the bathroom.  (It was done in a rush to secure the mortgage, in our defence.)

I've also finally sanded the windows and they are ready to be painted.  A job for next weekend, I hope.

We spent the morning stacking logs, clearing one huge pile before the lumberjacks come back to do the rest.

And the good news is that the bulbs are sprouting so spring must be on its way.  Here's a picture of our most tamed flowerbed at the front of the house to the left of the gates.  A sunny spot usually.  But not today.

Finally, and in answer to the complaints from my reader that he doesn't feature enough, here's a picture of Sprocket in the windy garden.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Review of the Year: 2014

It’s Christmas Eve tomorrow, heralding our third Christmas at the Old Rectory.  It doesn’t seem possible.  The year has flown by.  On a personal level, it’s not been the best and I will be glad to see the back of it.  But luckily for you, dear reader, this blog is about the Rectory and not about me.  So I thought I’d take a moment, sit back on my heels, easing my back after all that scrubbing at the flagstone floors, and reflect on where this year has taken us on our revival journey.

First up, in May, we saw the pruning of the privet by S’s shed.  Well, when I say pruning, it was decimation.  However, I am pleased to report that the bush has now recovered (and looks all the better for being cut to the ground!) and the backyard now looks slightly less like Belgium in 1914.  

Agent Orange
In June, our casement windows went for repair.  In December, they are yet to return.  We are preparing a sharp letter to the company in question, which will be there to welcome them back to work after their Christmas festivities.  I reserve the right to name and shame them on this blog if our complaint remains unheard. 

Lost - Casement Windows.  If Found, Return to the Old Rectory
Internal View to Aid Identification
We also had the lintel to one of the back bedroom windows repaired, which involved scaffolding and a long delay while a baby blue tit grew big enough to leave the nest.  At the same time, more dog proof fencing was added at the end of the garden.  (I’ll add a quiet note here that I have just found a bit of a gap where a small white dog might make his escape.  More dog-proofing to follow, I fear.)

New Lintel
Scaffolding for Lintel Replacement
"Call This Dog Proof...?"
We had a kitchen designed and are still mulling over the options.  Such a lot of money involved and we want to get it right.  On the cheaper side, S started work on repairing the windows, turning out to be a bit of a master craftsman and potentially saving us thousands.  And the Leylandii trees came down, leaving us enough logs to see us through the next couple of years at least.  The garden is gradually being tamed. 

A Proper Kitchen.  Longing Sigh.
Master Craftsman at Work
Something Lovely in the Wood Shed
Preparing to Shred
Tamed Garden with Wild Beast at the Gates of Hell
Tame Dahlias
Many of the jobs that we have tackled have been dull, dull, dull – in fact, some too dull to report but all very necessary in terms of the house renovation.  The water tank leaked and had to be replaced.  The process of replacing the heating has begun and 32 very heavy cast-iron radiators have been emptied, taken off walls, carried downstairs and flushed out.  There is nothing to see, so just move on.  But how important is it for us to be warm and to have hot water – and for the system that delivers that comfort to be efficient and effective?  Very, I can tell you.  Ceilings have been repaired.  Boring.  Not worth photographing.  But necessary.

Defunct Tank.  Boring.  Dull.
We have yet to finish decorating the bathroom or the dining room.  So, it made obvious sense to start on my mum’s bedroom (completed!) and her sitting room (embarrassed silence...).  But, you must understand, that there is a leak in the corner caused by wiring on the outside of the house that needs to be removed before we can repair the water damage.  And so it goes on.  We start a job and we find another job.
Painting Mum's Bedroom
Job Done!
We went on the road a little bit too.  A sojourn at a cottage in Suffolk without the aid of electricity but with a leaking wood burning stove that filled the rooms with smoke that smelled like old tyres.  We only narrowly avoided carbon monoxide poisoning.   This was followed at the end of the year by a weekend in Barcelona.  This time with the aid of electricity and much more comfort.

Without Electricity...

...And With Electricity!
And, finally, I can’t let a review of the year pass without again mentioning (aka rubbing in) our success in the Produce Show: a FIRST for the dahlias in a vase and S receiving a third for his bread.  Not to mention my mum and her plum jam.  S is already booked on to an artisan baker’s course as part of his training plan for this year's event and I am doing a six-week cookery course starting in April.   Produce Show 2015...HERE WE COME!
The People's Choice - Third from Right
Modesty Prevents Me From Commenting...
And looking ahead, what do we want to achieve in 2015?  For me, I’d like the heating completed.  This will mean sorting out the pantry where the boiler is destined to go and fitting another water tank in a cupboard on the first floor.  I’d like to repair the chimney where the jackdaws roost and, while the scaffolding is up, get the roofers in to do a quick once over.  I live in terror of major roof repairs, which I think will cost a small fortune.  

I'd like the rotten pillars that prop up the porch repaired.  I’d like the sitting room chimney lined and a wood-burning stove installed.  I'd like to decorate the sitting room and S's study.  And, dare I suggest, another bathroom for my mum or (whispers) a new kitchen? 

What Rot!
How much of this will we achieve?  Tune in over the year for further instalments of Reviving the Old Rectory…