Thursday, 27 December 2012

Crossing the Rubicon

It's been over a month now since we moved and my blogging has fallen well behind as we've struggled to combine two houses into one.  The move from No 7 began at one o'clock on Friday 26th October.  We knew from our solicitor that we would be first off the blocks that morning but didn't expect to get the call until after lunch.  As it happened, it all worked like clockwork and the estate agent rang at about 11 o'clock to say that the money had changed hands and that we could collect the key.

The first thing that I did was to move the cat.  Getting him into his cat basket is usually no mean feat.  However, he was very obliging, followed a trail of tuna and he was in.  I prepared the lobby at the back of the Old Rectory for him to settle in for the day, covering the floor with strips of the two foot wide sellotape roll that I'd got to save the newly cleaned carpets from the removal men's boots, then covering that with tarpaulin.  With the cat safely moved, the rest could follow.

I'd had quotes from two removal companies that were practically the same as the quotes for the removal from Staverton, which is a round trip of three hours.  And this was a move of fifty yards.  So I decided to do it myself.  Well, at least with the help of the builder's apprentice and three of his chums.  Then, of course, I had to buy boxes.  I had begun packing on about Tuesday but had run out of boxes and the plan was to empty them, then refill them on the day.  The removal boys had the builder's van but decided that it was easier to just walk things over the road instead of loading, driving and unloading.

I joined in and we worked until about five o'clock when we were all completely exhausted.  They'd moved the piano and some really heavy pots from the garden.  The kitchen was yet to be done but I decided to call it a day and finish that off myself.  The idea of repacking the boxes had obviously completely failed.  I was far too busy moving stuff and trying to direct the boys to the right rooms.  Of course, finding the rooms was no mean feat and it took some time for them to get their bearings.

I can't complain about those boys as they worked their socks off but I have now remembered why, when I left my last house, I swore that I would never move myself again.  Must remember that next time.  It took about ten trips in a packed car along with numerous walks across the road with boxes to finally clear the house and I was still moving stuff out on the Tuesday.  And, for anyone else about to move and thinking of doing it in this way, just paying some people to help out, it is a real false economy.  If I had paid up, it would have been done in a day and I would have had a cleared house.

Of course, with his usual immaculate timing, S arrived when it was just about over.  He had to be at work that day.  (Sorry, do I sound cynical?  Not intentionally, obviously.)  We then spent time sorting out my mum's sitting room and getting her settled.  Then making her bedroom comfortable.

Then it was fish and chips all round before bed, reflecting that we had indeed just passed a point of no return.  One house moved and one to go before then turning our attention to moving S's mum.

(Except, of course, one house hadn't been moved at all and, by the time it had been, I was too exhausted to clean it myself and ended up paying an extortionate amount to have it cleaned to a standard that wasn't anywhere near what I would have achieved.  And, despite all that moving of stuff,  the cleaners still found a kitchen cupboard that had not been emptied.  On top of which, I am still trying to find certain key belongings, not least the library book that has been recalled but is sitting somewhere in a box that is yet to be found.  See note above about the benefits of paying for a professional removal company.)

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down...

It was the Saturday evening before Christmas and a scene of domestic bliss.  I was making mince pies in the kitchen at the back of the house.  (Paul Hollywood's recipe using an enriched sweet pastry and adding chopped apples and satsumas to the mince meat mix, which came out well - lovely pastry, if I say so myself!  See:  I'm not sure my effort does the recipe justice though!).

The Finished Product
S was in his study.  Grandma was reminding H how to knit in the sitting room in front of a roaring log fire.  I didn't hear it in the kitchen, which is at the back of the house but, according to those at the front, there was a noise that sounded like my friend, B, doing a handbrake turn in her Mercedes on the gravel drive.  I think S knew what it was instantly.  We had been warned of it in the survey.

The garden wall on the church yard side had fallen down.  It was dark.  But from what we could see by the light of the torch, it was bad.

We went out first thing next morning to witness the worst.  An area of about eight square feet (Or is it more than that?  Answers on a postcard please!) had fallen.  A double skinned wall that retains the churchyard, it left a jumble of stones, of rubble that had been thrown inbetween the two walls - and, yes, a gravestone!  Luckily, there were no bodies and the wall to the side of the house, which encloses the gate and which is not too secure itself, seems to be acting as a brace on one side of the gaping hole and, on the other, the ivy appears to be holding the rest of the wall up.  However, we are very nervous as the church shed is about ten feet away and we certainly don't want that tumbling into the garden.  With the rain still pouring down, we aren't sure how much further the wall will be weakened and how much more might collapse.

The Damage - A View From Our Garden

Of course, Saturday evening and the Saturday before  Christmas on a Tuesday is no time for something like this to happen.  We tried to contact the insurance company on the Sunday with no joy.  They may, of course, have been tied up with the flooding that was going on in most of the rest of the country.  We tried to contact builders.  However, we all know that it is never a good time to contact builders but this is especially true on a Sunday before Christmas on a Tuesday.  In the end, our neighbour rallied round and we raided our other neighbour's garden (with his permission, I should add, for those thinking of trying this at home!) where his builders had left some planks, which we used to shore up the remaining wall.  The result is not exactly acro props but so far so good.  There has been no further landslide.

The View From the Church

In the meantime, we're waiting to see what the insurance company has to say.  I don't mean to be pessimistic or unkind to insurance companies but I've never yet managed to claim for anything from my buildings and contents insurance so I'm not entirely sure that this will be very different.  And the cost?  We suspect thousands.  Looks like my makeshift kitchen (see the first picture above for evidence) will have to do for just a little bit longer.

Finally, yes, it's been ages since I wrote my blog.  We moved on Friday, 26th October and it's been chaos ever since.  It took two weeks to get the internet sorted out.  More on that in a later blog as I still have plenty of spleen to vent about BT.  Then I couldn't find the camera.  Then it was Christmas.  Thank you to my one reader, who was worried about what might have happened - had we already forestalled on the mortgage?  No, not yet - but the heating bill might end our dreams of living in an Old Rectory.  So, apologies to my devoted reader (you know who you are, NL!) and I will try to get back on track.  I had thought about trying to write up what has happened over the past few weeks in chronological order but my memory is so useless that I think it will be easier to simply reflect back as appropriate as we forge onwards with this 'project'.  Perhaps just one last picture to inspire us all...

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Bathroom Evolves

We'd planned the bathroom carefully with the builder and plumber.  What would become the bathroom consisted of a narrow room with a single toilet and a small window.  This was next door to a larger room to the right of it with two cubicles, dividing a lovely old casement window.  We would take down the partition walls, making one space, keep the door to the single loo, make the other door a cupboard by blocking it in and moving the door further into the room.  The shower would go in the corner, the bath under the big window, the loo under the small window and the sink between the shower and cupboard.

Once the massive cast iron bath arrived, we went back to the drawing board, worried that it wouldn't fit.  And changed the plan completely, drawing the sanitary ware on the floor, to scale and writing instructions to the builders on every available surface.  The bath and shower stayed as planned.  We scrapped the cupboard and made that door the main entrance, blocking in the other door.  That blocked in wall would then screen the sink and loo.  The first sight for the lucky bathroom entrant would be the bath in all its cast iron glory.

Surely now the plan was set in stone...

Once the floor was down and it was a black porcelain floor and not stone or even a gnarled, old pitch pine floor waxed to a lovely deep shine, our ideas had to change.  It all looked too sharp now for the rustic, wood panelled look that I'd had in mind. 

Black Porcelain Tiles with Black Tiled Skirting

The tiles on the floor were laid in a brickwork formation.  The white 'public toilet' tiles in the shower will be similarly arranged.  The discussion turned to the boxing in of the pipes.  Did we want wooden skirting or tiling?  I took a random sample of five views: three males and two females.  Interestingly, all the males went for tiles and the females for skirting.  This despite the fact that the torus type of skirting that we had in mind is a dust trap and, as we all know, it will be the females who deal with it.  I think there might be a research project in this but, sadly, I'm too busy making decisions about bathrooms to pursue it.

So, a black floor and black tile skirtings.  It's a very sharp look.  Is it too contemporary?  Does it fit with the spirit of the building or, as Kevin would say, is it true to the integrity of the building?  The bath, sink and loo are very traditional and there are old casement windows. 

Casement Windows

The plan now is to keep it simple.  White walls (although I have a Linda Snell-ish hankering for eau-de-nil), probably the same Jim Lawrence towel rings that we have at present.

Jim Lawrence Towel Rings

Hopefully, it will work.  Hopefully.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Toilet Training

Hopefully, we will have more planning time for future stages of this renovation.  Then we will be able to identify flooring, lighting and other materials at our leisure, making sure that it results in a look that we are happy is sympathetic to the house.  And that's the first lesson: to take our time.  Of course, for this first bathroom, this hasn't been possible as the imperative was to get a bathroom together asap, to have it inspected and to make completion on 26th October.

The next lesson is to insist that the builders cover the flooring.  I asked for this on Day One but, when the junior builder said that he would have to go to the builder's merchants to get plastic sheeting, I relented and provided some of my mum's old sheets.  Probably a death trap on floors (especially when carrying a cast-iron bath!), these were quickly dispensed with.  The stair carpet is not lovely; it's industrial.  But we are going to have to live with it for some time to come as we can't afford another.  The carpet cleaner has said that he will see what he can do with it.  Let's hope he can make it look reasonably decent.  Next time, I won't take pity on the junior.  Second lesson: insist that the carpets are covered.

Watching the plasterer plastering with the sanitary ware in situ was nerve wracking.  The floor was covered in sheeting and rubble.  I have yet to inspect the tiles and whether they have been scatched or damaged in some other way.  The plasterer wasn't happy; I wasn't happy.  Third lesson: make sure that things are done in the correct order.

Once the excitement of the first week was over, the builders seemed to wander off and lose interest.  I think we might have retained the impetus if we had everything absolutely organised and materials in place from the word go.  Then we could have capitalised on their enthusiasm.  Fourth lesson: strike while the iron is hot.

An Inspector Calls

The surveyor arrived on Friday, just before one.  I met him at the gates.  He looked benign enough.  We went into the house and I took him into the room containing the sanitary ware.  And he confirmed that it is, in fact, a bathroom.  What a relief!

He said he was going to write his report that afternoon.  So, hopefully, it is with the Halifax now and we are on for completion on Friday.

It's going to be an interesting week.

The builders returned from wherever it is that builders mysteriously disappear to during the course of a job.  There was some tidying up and the plumber and his aged apprentice fitted the shower, which had been tiled that morning.  I'm sure that in any other business the apprentice would have grounds for a harassment case as he was cursed, beaten and generally abused for the fact that shower doors are apparently difficult to fit.

Plumber Being Sightly More Polite to Builder

So, the plan for Monday is that yet another skip arrives and the final piles of rubbish left by the marketing company will be removed.  The pipes in the bathroom need to be boxed in and then the only thing left is the radiator, which we are yet to order.  The carpet cleaner is arriving on Monday afternoon and will begin working down through the house so I guess that I'm going to have to hoover ahead of him and get rid of the piles of twigs in some of the fireplaces.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Strange Incident of the Plasterer in the Garden

A frantic knocking on the door of No.7.  It was Tuesday morning.  My mum answered it and the plasterer was standing outside.  He'd gone out to his van and the door to the house had slammed shut behind him.  The keys were inside.  And also a full bucket of plaster that he'd just mixed. 

Bucket of Plaster Under Threat!

Did I have a key?  He needed to get back in before the plaster went off.  I didn't.  But the Estate Agent did.  I ran to the High Street, burst into the office.  The plasterers locked himself out and his plaster's at risk, I cried, have you got a key?  M, the estate agent, coolly picked up a bunch from his desk (how did he know and why were they there?) and handed them to me.  Thanks, I cried and ran off.  A bucket of plaster saved.

Plasterer Back Inside - Phew!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012


Will anything to do with this house purchase ever go to plan?  No surveyor between 0900hrs and 1100hrs as planned.  By 1530hrs, I contacted the Estate Agent and the Financial Adviser.  No response from either so walked up to the Estate Agent's.  They kindly rang the surveying firm to find that the survey was booked in for next Monday, 22nd, because we were on holiday apparently.  Not sure how that happened as I have email evidence from the Estate Agent talking about this Tuesday, S took a call on Saturday talking about this Tuesday but the Financial Adviser has an email from the building society that clearly talks about 22nd.  Chinese whispers and too many cooks, I think.  Anyhow, we're on for Friday so back to slaughtering goats and carrying around cockerel's feet .

Of course, everyone knows their Von Moltke and the fact that no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.  And so it is when bathrooms meet builders.  The plan was simple: replicate the bathroom that we already have.  So the red rubber tiles would be removed, followed by the plywood, to reveal the old Georgian floor, which we would lovingly restore with wax and elbow grease.  Then we would put a dado round and panel with butt 'n' bead.

Red Rubber Tiles...

The tiles and plywood came up to reveal not very nice, fairly modern, narrow planks which were covered in staples.  We could remove them, they said, in a tone designed to make me say no.  And then see how the boards look.  But it will take ages.

...Not Nice Floorboards

...Still Not Nice Floorboards When Close Up...

We could paint them white, I thought, like in the Heritage Bathrooms brochure.  That might look OK.  It might also look cheap and nasty, not giving the wow factor that we are seeking.

...Everyone Agree That This Hasn't Got the Wow Factor So That I Don't Have to Suffer Weeks of Self-Doubt...

Then the plumber suggested that we go to the nearby reclamation yard to see what they had on offer.  They had some older pine boards with a good grain and they were 7" wide.  I tried to 'phone S.  The plan was to ring once, if no answer, ring again and he would endeavour to answer.  It didn't work.  The plumber texted him the photos, which meant that they exchanged messages for a while with S thinking it was me at the other end.  Luckily, S manfully retained his focus and didn't send any billet doux to the plumber. 

It was almost closing time at the reclamation yard so the plumber and I decided that I would go back to No.7 and phone S.  We decided that the pine boards were the solution.  I texted the plumber and asked him to pick up the boards in the morning.  The next day, I was just about to head up to the cashpoint to withdraw wads when the builder rang.  He was in the reclamation yard with the plumber.  In his view, the boards were no good.

Spot the Reclamation Yard Competition

Back to the drawing board.  There was another reclamation yard near Cirencester.  Or there were some nice old boards at the one in Devizes, according to the electrician.  Stress levels rising, I went to call S but had decided by the time I got back to to No.7 that I have a day job too and didn't have the time to drive around Wiltshire and Gloucestershire looking for the right floor.  It would have to be tiles.

So, after work, to B&Q to buy the tiles that we had identified as a contingency on Sunday.  Grey marble.  I'll have 20 boxes, my man.  Luckily, they only had the ten boxes under the display as, while he was gone to the storeroom, I noticed the price.  It would have cost £1000.  I phoned S.

A new plan.  He would go to his local B&Q.  I would hang around my B&Q until he phoned.  You quickly get bored.  Then, for the second time in my life, my mobile phone came into its own.  (The first was to help a poor lady whose car had broken down on a busy roundabout.)  S marched round his B&Q and I marched round mine, phones in hands.  After about fifteen minutes and a process of elimination, I bought the black porcelain and headed home.

...Black Porcelain Tiles...

But this, of course, would now dictate the look of the bathroom and it wouldn't be like our current one, that's for sure.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Where is the Bathroom?

Monday evening, 15th October.  Tension is rising because the surveyor is due tomorrow to make his pronouncement on whether the bathroom is in fact a bathroom and whether that means that we are now eligible for a mortgage. 

I took no photographs of progress today as we seem to have stepped back in time to last Monday when the room was covered in rubble.  Perhaps my expectations have been raised too high as progress has been so rapid.  In reality, there has been progress today as the second doorway into what was the single cubicle loo has been blocked in and the room is being prepared for plastering. 

But with the floor covered in rubble and apparent rack and ruin everywhere, things felt a bit flat.  The plasterer has been muttering darkly about the fact that the plastering should have been done first.  I've tried to explain the urgent requirement to have a working bathroom before tomorrow and hence the rather back-to-front (not the term he used...) approach.

The surveyor's definition of a bathroom is, apparently, a room with a sink, loo and a bath or a shower.  Well, we're nearly there.  We have a sink and a loo. 

Onde é a casa-de-banho?

 We have a bath. 

где туалет?

And we have the pipes for a shower. 

Ble mae`r ty bach?

And, since today, we have both hot and cold running water for the sink, the bath and the showerpipes. 

Despite our promises to each other that this was going to be an enjoyable project, it hasn't been so far.  The issues over the mortgage, trying to sell, then rent the other two houses and then trying to get a bathroom in situ in little over a week have all been pretty stressful.  Kevin McCloud cautions that you need a full time project manager and he is right. 

As soon as we knew that we were going to exchange on Friday 5th October, we ordered the bathroom.  As mentioned previously, we'd decided to simply replicate our current bathroom so off we went to the BC Sanitan website, where the relevant items (or sanitary ware, to use the technical term) were selected and then ordered via a local supplier. 

On Wednesday 3rd, I rang to see how the order was going.  Everything but the shower doors had arrived and it was all taking up too much space in the showroom so could they deliver?  But was there anyone to help me as the bath was very heavy?  But it's only fibreglass, I thought.  A horrible feeling of doubt began to grow.  I went back to the BC Sanitan website.  It was cast iron. 

Πού είναι η τουαλέτα?

A long chat with one of the salesman followed.  He gave me a quick physics lesson and reassured me that it would be fine.  The floors could take it.  The bath arrived on Thursday.  Luckily, there was a driver and a helper.  The three of us managed to get it into the hallway.  Just.  But how on earth would the builders get it up the stairs and how could the floor possibly be strong enough to take the weight?  Would someone end up in the pantry, sitting in the bath?

Tuvalet nerede?

And it was battleship grey...

Bathroom kidhar hay?
The builders, as builders do, reassured me that it would be no problem.  And then the painter came...

Gdje je kupaonica?

Hvor er badeværelset/toilettet?  (The feet for the bath, in case you're wondering...?)

Kur ir tualete?

So now it's my favourite Laura Ashley Creamware (or, at least, a metallic version made to match) and the feet are matt, not shiny (they'd just been painted in the photo) black. 

Well, so far so good, the bath is in situ and can take the weight of S and the plumber.  For long enough for them to have their photograph taken anyway.

Dov'è il bagno?

There's more to blog about the bathroom.  And I'm sure the avid bathroom afficianado will be much relieved to hear that.  There's the saga of the flooring - see the Fun Tile Facts website (no, really: to whet your appetite.  There's the way the bathroom evolved and took on a life of its own, growing into something that it was never intended to be.  And then there are the lessons learned.  Thankfully, we have more bathrooms to create and so we will have every opportunity to apply these lessons.

But, for now, there is the surveyor and that burning question: where is the bathroom?

Sunday, 30 September 2012

What's in a Name?

I was just about to get into the car to take mum to the doctor's when I was beckoned over by our next door neighbour, Mr M.  "I think you should change your name", he said.  This was before the Grant Shapps/Michael Green story broke so he obviously wasn't referring to that.  "My name?"  I questioned him, trying to work out if this was some bizarre marriage proposal.  "No, the name of the Old Rectory.  It's never been a rectory.  It's always been the vicarage."

So, this is interesting food for thought.  I rushed back to peruse the information that I received from the Historical Society.  It is indeed referred to as the Vicarage.  Title deeds mentioning it as such date back to 20th October 1626 and relate to a cottage and barn that once stood on the grounds of the property.  The Vicarage is also mentioned in title deeds dated 20th February 1664; 12th October 1665; 6th April 1692; 27/28th June 1701; and 11th April 1870.

The 1841 Census refers to Vicarage House and then it becomes simply the Vicarage in the returns for 1851, 1861 and 1871.  However, in 1847, Highworth Workhouse was sold and changed its use to become the Vicarage.  The Old Rectory then technically became the Old Vicarage.  (The Workhouse moved to larger premises at Stratton St Margaret, which I suspect became the geriatric hospital where my mum worked when we came to Swindon.)

By the 1881 Census, however, the Old Vicarage had been bought by Francis Hambidge, the brewer, and became known as The Limes.  This refers, of course, to the lime trees that line the left hand side of Vicarage Lane as you walk down from the market place.  A bit confusingly, it was also listed in that census as No.12, even though it is now No. 8.  It continued to appear as The Limes in the 1891, 1901 and 1911 census returns.  Then, in the 1930s, it was returned to the Church and became the Vicarage again.  The information that I have suggest that it was given back by the Miss Hambidges, Minnie and Amelia.  However, the 1911 Census seems to refer to the Misses Williams living there, Eliza and Margaret, single sisters in their late fifties attended by their servant, Clara, and from Hartlepool in County Durham.  Something to be investigated here, I think, and my chance to delve into the archives.

Lime Trees (But Not Vicarage Lane Lime Trees
...Must Get a Camera!

The change in the street number of the Old Rectory from 12 to 8 may be due to the fact that three cottages once stood on the open ground to the east of the Church Room at the market square end of the Lane.  When the cottages were being demolished, some skeletons were found under the flagstones.  Apparently, suicides were often buried to the north of the church and just outside its boundary.

So, the Old Rectory, the Vicarage, the Old Vicarage or the Limes?  It seems evident from the available evidence that the Old Rectory is a more recent moniker and that we should toy with changing it to one of the others.  And for those of you of a technical disposition, we would need to make a written request to the Council's Highways or Engineers Department, including an alternative suggestion in case there's already a house locally with the first choice name. They then tell the Royal Mail.  We would then also need to register the change with Land Registry, the local Council Tax Department, the Electoral Roll, BT, utility providers, mortgage lender, doctor and everyone else who writes to us.  So, probably the best time for someone to make such a change is when they first move into the house and are doing all that anyway.

Thank you, Mr M!  An interesting suggestion.  We'll let you know.

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

A Toilet...But Not Just Any Toilet:
A Victorian Close Coupled Closet and Cistern

I know that I've been very quiet on the blogging front lately.  It's been a difficult summer for a variety of reasons and not least of these has been our attempt to get a mortgage offer on the Old Rectory.  I'm reluctant, if not a bit scared, to go into too much detail in public or to name names, just in case the mortgage that has finally been offered to us is taken away again.  Suffice to say that everything that you read in the papers is true: it is not easy to get a mortgage.  Of course, I thought that wouldn't apply to us, that it only happened to other people.  Well, it did and it doesn't.  Be warned.

Victorian White Basin and Pedestal
 We signed the original mortgage application papers back in June just after Andy Murray had failed to win Wimbledon.  We should have taken that as an omen.  However, following a false start last Monday when I thought we'd been given an unconditional offer and we hadn't, the papers are now with the solicitors and our fingers are firmly crossed in the hope of exchanging very soon.  Dare I even be so bold as to suggest this week?  I'll let you know.

The conditional bit of the offer is that we have to install a bathroom before we can complete.  In other words, before we actually own the property.  This condition may be slightly difficult to comprehend, given that the property currently has five toilets and five sinks, which would seem sufficient to keep clean for a short time until a bathroom is installed.  However, it's not considered habitable and, therefore, mortgageable, without a bath or a shower.  My mind goes back to the house that my grandma lived in and in which my mum grew up.  The only sink I remember was in the scullery.  The toilet was out of the scullery door, down a flight of stairs and into a brick-built netty at the back of the yard.  But I guess we've moved on since then and no one can now be expected to live with only five loos and five sinks, even for a few weeks.  And, ultimately, it is to our advantage as it means that we'll be moving into a house with the necessary mod cons.

The Mark Anthony Bath
Our first bathroom will go on the first floor through a door at the top of the stairs and then turn left.  It's currently two rooms: one with a loo and a sink and the other with two cubicles, two loos and two sinks.  The plan is to remove the partition walls and to make it one big space into which we plan to fit a pedestal sink, a free standing bath, a loo and a corner shower.  And for the sake of speed, we've decided to simply replicate what we already have at the Horseblock.  I've got no access to pictures of that at the moment so you will have to content yourselves with the illustrative images scattered throughout this blog, especially for the benefit of those of you who struggle to imagine what any of those bathroom items might look like!  And if BC Sanitan would like to sponsor these pages, then I'd be very happy to hear from them.

So, I'm hoping, hoping that we will exchange this week so that the builders can move in on 8th October and the journey can begin.  And then I can start to show you real pictures of the real house!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

It's Official...

Being an academic, I have to acknowledge my sources.  The title of this post was supplied by the ever inventive Mr M, my neighbour, who sent me this photograph at 0612hrs this morning.  As the street's very own vigilante, I suspect he'd spent the night lurking under the lime trees waiting to accost unsavoury looking youths, drunks or unsuspecting elderly ladies who have the misfortune to look like methodists.  It's a long story and, no, he doesn't get out much.  Other than to hang about under the lime trees obviously.  Anyhow, we'll leave him viewing his streaming CCTV on his computer and move on.  And talking of moving...

(Photograph Courtesy of Le Mas Enterprises Inc.)

So, it's happening.

Since I last posted, we have reverted to Plan B (or was it Plan E?), which is to rent both No.7 and The Horseblock.  All a bit scary but no one seems to want to buy either (the nerve!) and I guess that the national economic growth figures published last week will probably finish the house market off completely for the foreseeable future.  We are assured that the rental market is vibrant but The Horseblock has been on the market since last Monday with no interest yet.  "July and August are notoriously quiet", they tell us, "Everyone is on holiday".  All a bit like the excuses for the lack of growth - it's the jubilee, the wet weather, the Olympics, leaves on the line, the wrong kind of snow etc.

We met with the Planning Officer on Friday.  She was brilliant, very knowledgeable and very happy with everything that we proposed.  Although we're not really planning anything more outlandish than bathrooms and a kitchen.  However, she was full of bright ideas about things like conservation glazing and French drains.  I really can't wait! We talked about the possibility of ground source heating and she warned us that if we start digging up the garden to any depth, then we will have to call in the archaeologists. 

We went back into the house on Saturday morning.  We've only visited it in the afternoon before and it was lovely to experience the sun streaming into what will be the dining room and living room at the front of the house.  The house faces east so we will get the sun on the front in the morning and on the back G&T terrace in the late afternoon.  I think the Church tower will be our new yard arm!  We measured up what will be the first bathroom and tried out the boiler.  Delighted to say that the heating is very efficient.  Particularly on a hot July day.  However, the potential cost of heating the place is terrifying (hence the ground source).  We took WD40 with us - I know, does life get more exciting? - and managed to get into the sheds at the back.  Two huge sheds.  One with power and one with lots and lots of shelves.  S is thrilled.  With his love of gadgets, he has a tool for every occasion (which sounds a bit 'Fifty Shades of Grey' but I'm talking Maplin and Screwfix here) and they will be displayed in all their glory once we move in.    

We spent Saturday afternoon in a bathroom store in Oxford trying to find the right kind of bath.  Back at the Old Rectory, there is a single toilet (male, I think) on the first floor next door to a room with two cubicles (female, I think).  This is where the first bathroom will go.  We're hoping to have that ready to install by the time we move in and we're aiming for the first week of October for the move, only because I'm so busy at work during September and this will be my first chance to take leave.

Before I sign off for this post, my thanks to my dear friend, Diana, who is in the Highworth Historical Society and put me in touch with the Chair, Jo, who has sent me some fascinating material about the house and its history.  I'll feed bits and pieces in as I blog over the coming months.  But, for starters, the listed building entry for the house describes it as follows:

Loosely planned courtyard house of C18 with grander front fixed to north wing.  Two and a half storeys.  Roughcast.  Hipped stone tile roof, half hipped to north.  East front 1+3 windows.  Small pediment with urn-finials in centre of three window bay, contains attic occulus.  Venetian window below.  Late glazing in sash windows, flush framed.  Projecting central porch, mostly glazed, with slender fluted Doric colonettes to moulded cornice hoods.  Two and a half storey extension to west.  Three bays with attached brick wing.

The document also indicates that the former coach house (the Church Hall at the top of Vicarage Lane) and the stable cottages that were once next to it were also possibly attached to the Old Rectory. Oh, and the garden wall has a separate listing:

Probably early C19th.  Only that section facing Vicarage Lane.  About 90 yards.  

 And will probably cost a fortune to maintain!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Setting the Foundations

The Old Rectory: Front View

 It was around Easter time that we heard it was on the market.  The home of a marketing company for many years, the partners had been trying to let it as a business but with no success.  My friend, B, emailed me on a Thursday morning to say it was up for sale.  I emailed S: 'The Old Rectory is on the market.  Should we get the details?'  His answer was almost immediate.  I went straight to the estate agents and looked around the house that afternoon.  It needs about £150k spent on it, I was advised.  But to my untrained eyes, it seemed reasonably sound, just in need of some patching up and decorating in places.  Of course, there was no bathroom but, being a business, it had five loos.  There was a sort of kitchen at the back with a dishwasher but no cooker.  The window sills looked in need of replacement in places and who knows what the roof was like.

The Old Rectory: North Wing
And it wasn't just one house but three.  With this to the right hand side.  And another similar building to the left.  But the rooms at the front (Georgian?) were beautifully proportioned, light and bright, with tall ceilings and simple elegance.  A flagstone corridor bisects the two 'houses' at the back with a series of rooms on the left and a future kitchen on the right.  Upstairs was a confusing jumble of staircases and rooms, fireplaces and cupboards.

S came down to see it the next day and we put in a bid.  However, we had two houses to sell.  My house, over the road from the Old Rectory, where my mother lives and S's house in Staverton, Northamptonshire, a beautiful 17th Century cottage that it will break our hearts to leave.  But we could see the Old Rectory being our grand design and, perhaps, an eventual exit route from the stressful working world that we both inhabit.  We had thoughts of B&B, a rented top floor, small weddings, letting the house out for TV and cinema, cookery evenings.  Our imaginations ran riot.

But there was another bid in the frame.  And this bidder had a buyer.  We graciously shrugged and moved on.

A month or so later, the estate agent rang.  By a quirk of fate, S was at home and took the call.  The bidder had lost their buyer, were we still interested?  We were.  But then there was another buyer, who was bidding and then the original buyer reappeared with another bid.  We moved hastily, secured the money by remortgaging both properties and our bid was accepted.  And that's the start of the story.  We hope.  Solicitors are on stand-by, mortgage applications are going through, houses are yet to sell or be let, permission is awaited for the Old Rectory to become a home once again.

And this blog will be my record of our renovation project, detailing the ups and downs, the triumphs, the rows and, hopefully, the revitalisation of this building into a much loved home.  I hope you'll join me on this journey.  There is lots to discover about the house, about renovation and about ourselves.