Friday, 19 June 2015

Ending Up in the Workhouse

It's a phrase you still hear to this day - 'we'll end up in the workhouse!' - despite the fact that they were finally abolished in 1948.  And now it turns out that, although we thought we were reviving an old rectory, we have actually and literally ended up in the workhouse.

It all started to emerge on Friday when we met with an architect, who had been recommended by friends.  Since we bought this property, we've had the idea of making money from it.  Not because we are particularly money motivated but because we think it will give us an opportunity to slow down and enjoy life a bit more (or, more likely, give us more money to spend on this money-pit of a house!), whilst offering other people a home.  A win-win in terms of both personal desires and public conscience.  So, the meeting with the architect was to discuss how we might discretely and sympathetically segregate or partition part of the house to create a secluded apartment for two.

The issue has been how to create access that would not be separate (as this creates all sorts of legal issues and, I have to admit it, tax penalties) but that would, nevertheless, not impact on us too much.  Initially, we had thought that we would use the top floor for this.  It seemed most logical but would mean that 'strangers' would be tramping up the main stairs, past our bedroom, to reach their flat, as the back stairs only go up one floor and are in the wrong part of the house for this anyway.

It's taken two or more years to realise that, actually, there are four rooms within the house that we can close off and that can be reached via the backstairs.  These stairs back on to Cuffer's lobby, as we call it, which is on the north side of the house. If we could turn the stairs round (or would a lift be cheaper than having a bespoke staircase made?), then the lodgers could enter via the lobby, go up the stairs and cause us, and them, no disruption.

Up the backstairs
Up, up, up
To the door at the top
We wanted to run these ideas past the architect but we also wanted to walk her round the house and test our other ideas.  The plan is that we will then treat the apartment as the next major project but, related to that and before it can happen, we will have to create further bathrooms, as we would lose our one and only bathroom to the lodgers.

The architect arrived on time, clutching a document in her hand.  She had found this on the local Council website (and, despite her having given us the link to it, we still can't access it ourselves).  It was a report on the context, history and evolution of the Old Rectory.  We couldn't believe it.  We had searched high and low for this kind of information and had even thought of commissioning the relevant department of the Council to undertake such an investigation for us.  But it has already happened and the report already exists.

This blew apart the plans for the apartment because the staircase that we were thinking of taking out turns out to be the original staircase.  In an earlier blog this year, I noted that, according to the Parish Register, the building of a new vicarage house began in 1809 and  that it was completed in the autumn of 1810, making the building 50 years younger than we had thought.  However, we now have a story that takes us back to around 1681.  

17th century door to 17th century stairs
This is what we have learned from this document.

The Old Rectory originated as a parochial workhouse, probably dating from 1681, which was set up to provide food and shelter for its less fortunate parishioners.  The entrance to this building was not at the front as it is now but was at the back.  You can just make out what was the porch, sitting between two chimney stacks, one of which is adorned with the corbels and a plaque.

The original porch (the bit above the lower flat roof with the white window), photo taken from the original courtyard
Corbels and plaque to the side of the original porch (just visible on the left)
The devoted reader may remember a much earlier blog where I talked about how these corbels are located in what would have been a fairly prominent position, clearly seen by passers-by.  The plaque, I said, supposedly bears the year '1581' along with initials, reputedly OG, the vicar at that time, and a craft or trade sign.  This needs further investigation now.  Perhaps the year is actually 1681 and not 1581 as this would have been right by the main entrance to the workhouse.  And the sign looks like a fish, which may have some religious significance in relation to workhouses - who knows?

The establishment of a workhouse was a legal requirement for each parish following the passing of the Poor Law of 1601.  This original building was an L-shape, consisting of the East and North wings, flanking two sides of a central courtyard.  The East Wing is currently the grand Georgian part of the house and the north has more of a cottage feel to it. At first I thought there must be some confusion as the report claimed that the grand East Wing probably accommodated the poor, while the North Wing is likely to have housed the warden but this theory takes shape as the report continues.

The East Wing
The North Wing (the green door leads into Cuffer's Lobby)
The central porch that formed the entrance to the workhouse led into a lobby outside my mum's sitting room and from there to two principal rooms on the ground floor, now our dining room and living room.  It is likely that the accommodation was divided into male and female rooms with dining hall on the ground floor and dormitories on the first and second.

This would have been the view to the courtyard from the previous front entrance
And this was the main entrance to the workhouse, cellar door to the right
The warden's wing had a central entrance, which was via what is now the pantry, which now has no external doorway.  This would have led to the spiral staircase (our back stairs), dividing the two main rooms on the ground floor (our breakfast room and mum's sitting room).

The entrance to the Warden's House in the pantry, which is a work in progress - but that's another blog!
The report confirms that the building was converted into a rectory in the early decades of the 19th century and it owes much of its present character and style to this conversion.  However, it also states that the work was financed by the Reverend William Jones who was in residency at this time.  This is incorrect according to my research.  It was in fact the Reverend Edward Rowden, who was in residence at this time and he took a mortgage of £850 to carry out the renovation.

Apparently, the work to the East Wing is typical of Regency fashions.  The window shutters, doors, main staircase, fireplaces, plasterwork and ironmongery are all Regency in style.  However, the North Wing which, if you remember, was where the warden probably lived, still retains a number of earlier fittings, including 17th century dormer windows, doors, cupboards and ironmongery.  The window on the top floor in the L-shaped room has interested all the visiting window companies.  This is, apparently, because it is a splendid example of a late 17th/early 18th century sash window.

A splendid example of a late 17th/Early 18th century sash window...apparently
The theory that the northern wing belonged to the warden is strengthened by the fact that these fixtures and fitting survived.  It was the lower status workhouse accommodation that had to be completely remodelled and this extensive remodelling left its scars, which meant that it had to be rendered.

So, the old rear of the house, the East Wing, became the new front with its facade remodelled in a 'polite' style to include the Venetian window, entrance porch and central gable adored with urns, whilst window openings were repositioned and resized.  In addition, a two storey extension was added at the back and a further two storey extension to the rear of the house, containing the new kitchen (currently still the kitchen) and service quarters.

In 1871, the house became a school run by husband and wife, John and Eliza Southwell.  By the time of the 1881 census, it was owned by the brewer, Francis Hambidge and his family, who lived here for 30 years.  Then called the Limes, in honour of the trees that line the boundary wall to the lane, the remainder of the courtyard was then filled in with a double storey, flat roofed extension with mock Tudor leaded winows - yes, the very windows that we have just had refurbished.  A number of sash windows were refurbished at this time.

And this is as far back and as far forward as we have so far.  There may be more of this document available; we need to follow that up with the architect.  However, the good news from all of this is that much of the 19th century character of this house has survived, despite its change of use to commercial offices.  We look forward to ensuring that it remains intact whilst it is in our care.  So you can breathe again if you were worrying.  The back stairs will stay.

Original 17th Century panelling at the bottom of the backstairs

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