Wednesday 25 February 2015

The surroundings

I thought I should give The Lodge a little bit of geographical context before we get into the nitty gritty of the renovations further along the line.

One of the criteria we set ourselves while we were looking at houses was that we wanted a rural property - trees, wildlife, stars, silence - while at the same time not leaving ourselves stranded miles from civilisation in the middle of winter when that one day of heavy snow arrives.
We looked at barn conversions, derelict buildings, an old windmill and various other things, but for one reason or another none were suitable. That's why, when we first found The Lodge in the summer of 2014, we set our hearts on it only for our hopes to be dashed when the sale went to someone else. Lesson learnt - don't obsess about something that isn't in the bag. I say 'learnt', but we still haven't dotted all the Ts and crossed the Is on The Lodge now that it's 'ours', so we could still get bitten...

As you can see in the first picture, The Lodge fits the bill: it's in the countryside; it's surrounded by fields and trees; the closest neighbour is a five-minute walk along a track through the woods and there's a nice village with local produce suppliers, a butcher and a couple of pubs a mile-or-so away. So it's fairly isolated without being totally cut off.

The managed woods to the west aren't ours, of course, but they're literally on the doorstep, meaning we can go for walks and, if the inclination takes me, I can shoot rabbits and buffalo for tea.
The only real compromise is that we're on a road with a junction to the east, but although it's a through-road between villages it's not particularly heavily-used and the gated boundary wall shields us from the majority of traffic noise anyway. Traffic at the property itself is limited to comings and goings from the neighbour along the track (and maybe some arborialists now and then), so that shouldn't be a problem.

We still need to investigate this properly, but the estate seems to issue permits for horse riders and game hunters on the land to the west (which stretches a loooong way), but it's not terribly busy and that kind of thing is all part and parcel of the rural lifestyle anyway. The fact that The Lodge is no longer a gamekeeper's lodge probably means that things will be quieter than previous decades anyway, although the occasional gunshot in the distance isn't unusual. As long as nobody shoots our cat.

This second picture shows The Lodge itself and general associated areas.

The buildings in the rear garden area are all gone now, leaving hard standing in various states of disrepair, so that'll take a bit of work to make garden-y, and even then I'm suspicious about the condition of the earth beneath. Being shielded from the environment for so long (at least 16 years according to Google Earth - but probably much longer because a blurry 1945 image also shows something there) means it will be severely deprived of nutrients and we have no idea what kind of chemicals and harmful materials will have been used there in the past. So it's possible that this will only ever be grass and sheds rather than spring onions and the like.

The front garden is a moot point and something we've asked our solicitor to take a look at.
As things currently stand, although we can use it as part of the property, we have to lease it from the estate we bought The Lodge from, which is a bit silly. Nevertheless, this is more useable land. As you can see in the picture there have been allotment patches in the past and although it is unkempt and overgrown nowadays, there are signs that poultry was also kept in a large enclosed area - so at least it'll be fertilised!
This is where we'll probably grow some veg and, at some point in the future, house free-range chickens or ducks which will no doubt wander in to the road and get squished (our friends at Renovating an Old Stone Cottage recently lost a cockrel to a cement truck) or get eaten by foxes or our cat. We'll see. Oh, and I'd like to build a bee hive or two at some point, but that's a long way away and well beyond my current DIY abilities.

Finally, and back on the subject of the wider geography, this is where you might be able to help with something.
We discovered this abandoned machinery deep in the woods a couple of weeks ago when we went for a walk, but we don't know what it was used for or when. Close to agricultural land and housed in a sunken (brick walled) rectangular pit it comprises what appears to be wheels, pulleys and some kind of rig that rocked from side-to-side on metal half gears/cogs, presumably sifting grain or something.
Any suggestions? Drop us a line at or leave a comment. Ta!

Unearthing the past - and Monsters

Today has been an historic day, but not like that.

Keen to find out as much as possible about The Lodge’s past I called to make an appointment with the local Records Office and found that they could sort me out today, rather than wait 48 hours as I thought they might.
Digging around online has turned up little information over the last couple of weeks and I’m still waiting to hear back from the secretary of the local history group in the actual village, so Dawn and I figured proper documents would be the way to go.

And boy, were we wrong.

I was greeted at the Records Office by a young man who was almost as sickeningly helpful as such people are when faced with perma-smiley George Clarke offof the telly – he already had a Tithe Map out and a selection of catalogues for me to pour through. Except The Lodge wasn’t on the Tithe Map (the one it should have been on doesn’t exist) and the catalogues held no references to the property at all.
There were lots of references to the estate’s manor house and quite a few other prominent buildings on the land, but not one mention of ours. Not even close. And “unnamed building/not described” didn’t help either.
Also, the theory is that most of the records for this particular parish are missing, presumed swiped in days of yore by previous landowners or other dastardly ruffians. There are still quite a lot, but nowhere near as many as neighbouring parishes.

So, with the able assistance of my bearded manservant, I broke out the microfiche files for the censuses and went digging around in there instead.
And there were no direct references to The Lodge there either. Bugger.
There was something similar with the word ‘House’ instead of ‘Lodge’ and a Keeper’s Lodge – ours is a former gamekeeper’s lodge – but nothing exact. Now I know that names morph gently into others over the years and sometimes get lost in translation, so all I can do is assume that ours is one of those, because both were listed on the same census.

That being the case, it seems that the alpha male occupants of The Lodge in the late 1800s were probably labourers, and the families were pretty large considering the size of the property. Sadly, three of the five children recorded as living at the ‘House’ in 1881 were “imbeciles from birth”. They didn’t pull their punches, these Victorians.

Microfichery - I wasn't supposed to take photos but I live life on the edge, me

This tends to fit in with most of the more minor properties around and about at the time - agricultural labourer and 'unemployed' being the main job titles - and there were a hell of a lot of servants for the lord of the manor nearby, most of who travelled from right across the country to answer to his beck and call.

Overall, my general feeling is that The Lodge didn’t play a particularly important role on the estate during the era – to the point where it was barely acknowledged, and it was likely inhabited by manual workers such as agricultural labourers, dress makers and their numerous offspring. At Keeper’s Lodge there’s reference to a 55-year-old Thomas Wilson who was a ‘Deer Park Keeper’ in 1891, so he’s the best bet so far given what we know about The Lodge. Nothing concrete, though.
Still, I didn’t go through all of the microfiches so there might be more to find, but to be honest I didn’t really know what I was doing and I was a bit demoralised by that point.

Disappointed with the uncertainty of my meagre findings, I decided after two-and-a-half hours of being out of my depth that not only had my parking ticket expired, but my mother-in-law (who is deeply involved in local history where we live now) might have more hope of getting some real results if I could persuade her to drive for an hour to get there.

There's also the hope that the local history people could deliver the goods, and there's still whatever our solicitor might unearth from the current estate owners. All is not lost.

So with my tail between my legs, and armed
with only a photocopy of the 1884 OS map and a bag of beefy Monster Munch, I went home.

Friday 20 February 2015

Survey day

Today we had the specialist period property survey on The Lodge, and because this was the point where The Mill fell apart (not literally, but almost – see the About page if you don’t know what we’re talking about) we were pretty nervy about it.

The estate agent selling the property told us that we weren’t allowed to be present when the survey was done, but because that was silly bollocks we skulked up the road and rocked up when he dropped the keys off for our surveyor and left.

We spent about five hours with Pete (check out - this man really knows his historic onions… and then some) and the upshot is that from our perspective the survey went really, really well.

Lime torched loft with damp-causing fibreglass insulation
Everything appears to be structurally sound and the entire building has been left pretty much untouched since it came into being in the 1800s – lots of lime plaster and mortar (including original penny-struck mortar); original quarry tile and elm flooring; lath and plaster ceilings; a “perfect” lime torched loft space; original (albeit hidden beneath many layers of gloss paint) doors… etc. There are a few relatively minor question marks about an historic crack in the west elevation, which seems to be the result of old movement and nothing more; the (possible) void below seven inches of solid concrete floor in the dining room; why there’s an RSJ (steel beam) in the dining room that has been disguised as a wooden beam and the dogleg in the living room which, along with the downstairs loo, was obviously a different room altogether some time ago. But overall it’s pretty promising.

Original elm floorboards in Bedroom 3
There’s a bit of doubleplusungood gypsum plaster here and there; a small amount of cement pointing outside; waterproof paint on the external window lintels; the odd wobbly roof tile; condensation-based surface damp on some of the internal walls; non-breathable rubber carpet underlay adding to the general dampness and the condensation forming on the fibreglass insulation in the loft is causing an ugly damp patch on the ceiling just outside the bathroom door, but it’s all cosmetic and fairly easy to resolve. In fact we’ve already cracked the uPVC windows open to get some airflow going (some of the vents had been Sellotaped-up!), so that’ll help with the surface condensation.

Then there’s an issue of rats chewing through some of the electrics beneath the floorboards, so that’ll have to be looked at sharpish.
Surface mould in Bedroom 1
One thing we’d already noticed, but was confirmed by Pete, is that the chimneys are in a bit of a state. Neither have been blessed with a flue during the last 130+ years, so the brickwork has absorbed all manner of poisonous crap and damaging salts, which are leaching out both internally and externally. The unfortunate solution is that they’ll have to be swept thoroughly and, once the wallpaper has been stripped off the chimney breasts, left to breathe and dry for an as-yet unknown amount of time. This will probably be measured in years, although once they are flued they can be used as normal. Meanwhile the stack closest to the road on the east side needs to be repaired and we need to source a second Victorian crown chimney pot from a reclamation yard to make up for the one that’s missing. The lead flashing also needs to be looked at around both stacks because there’s a small amount of internal water ingress.

And then came the small matter of working out the age of The Lodge. A little while ago we found it on the 1884 Ordinance Survey map (pigsties and all), but there might be more to it than that – looking at the brickwork on the east side where it forms part of a boundary wall relating to a much larger estate, it seems that it could have been a rebuild or add-on to an older property.
The Lodge itself is constructed using sandstone on its lower half on the north, south and west sides and brick on the upper half, but on the east wall the brick is in two halves – the lower half that marries-up with the stone is constructed with Georgian brickwork (1714 - 1830), while above those, and in line with the brick on the other three sides of the house, the bricks are Victorian-era (1837 - 1901). It’s a little difficult to explain having spent around four hours in the pub with Pete after the survey…
The east side is part of a much longer estate boundary wall

One possibility is that the bottom sandstone part was an original one-storey Georgian property, and the upper part of The Lodge as it stands today was a Victorian addition. Another is that the boundary wall was built in the Georgian era and then in the Victorian era the house was built making use of part of the existing wall. We plan to dig around in the local records office to see if they have any more information, and given the fact that the larger estate is steeped in history, we’re hoping to get lucky.

So what’s next?
Well, we heard yesterday that the seller wants to complete on March 17, which is no time at all, so it’s full steam ahead.
There are lists to be made, decisions to be taken, things to be organised and worrying to be done. Solicitors need to be contacted, mortgage surveys need to be arranged and virgins simply must be sacrificed without delay.

Hectic times await.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Incubator... what?

As you can see on our header image, there’s a sign on the side door of The Lodge’s garage that reads ‘Incubator More’, but we have absolutely no idea what it means.
We know that this has been a gamekeeper's lodge since the 1800s and that the garage was built in 1986 (the date was written in the wet concrete floor when it was laid), so it’s no doubt connected, but the meaning is a bit of a mystery.

‘Incubator’, yes. It's a baby pheasant thing, innit.
But ‘more’?
Nope. No clue.
Even our black belt Google-fu has failed us, so if anyone has any idea then please let us know.

Had someone made a mis-spelled sign saying ‘Incubater Room’ and the letters were later rearranged in an attempt to confuddle people in 2015? Hmmm. It’s our best theory so far but it certainly sounds possible.

Naturally, although we’ll probably be replacing the door at some point we’ll be keeping the sign and, because it’s too small to make a breath-taking feature out of, putting it on another door somewhere. Maybe the loo.

One potato, two potato, incubator more.
We just can’t stop ourselves, even though it makes no sense.

Thanks to the power of that evil soul-sapping time-drain Facebook, it turns out that Incubator Moreni is a type of Romanian egg incubator. We'd link to a page, but we can't find anything that's not written in foreignese.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Something Quirky

That was our house shopping criteria: something quirky. Months passed. Nothing appealed to us. 

Then we saw an old gamekeeper's lodge. We went to view it and hated it. There were slug trails on the carpets, black mould on the walls, and it felt like somebody had died there. Murdered, probably.

Over the next few weeks we kept looking at it online. A few weeks later we went back and had another look. It felt so much better second time round. It had potential. We changed our minds, we wanted it.

Then somebody else decided the same thing. We went to best and final offers, and they won. We went back to the drawing board.

Five months later and we still hadn't found anything. Then last week the estate agent rang us up and told us that the sale was on the brink of falling through - were we still interested?

We said yes. And now we're in the process of buying The Lodge after all...