Friday 14 August 2015

Oh, rats!

An unlikely combination of our weekend shenannigans in the loft and SausageTheCat has caused us a little bit of concern today.

As I mentioned a few days ago, Dawn and I ventured into the loft on Sunday and dragged out all of the fibre glass insulation to help with moisture problems.
At the time we noticed what we thought were mouse droppings as well as a couple of empty poison sachets, but we didn't hear or see anything else to suggest there was an ongoing issue.

In retrospect this may or may not be related, but less than 24 hours later my dad and I twice heard clattering downstairs in the house that we couldn't quite place, but as it was raining pretty heavily at the time I assumed it was chunks of cement throwing themselves down the drainpipes from the gutters (which hadn't been cleaned out by Roofer #1 despite him promising to do so).

But SausageTheCat's latest rain-soaked gift to us today has raised some questions.

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Kids these days - too much pocket money

It's not a vole, it's not a shrew and despite its humongous ears it's definitely not an elephant... so what is it?
Although I have recorded it on the StC Killboard as a mouse he's yet to actually present one to us after four months here - so could it be a baby black rat? A ratlet?*

The Rentokill website says that black rats (Rattus Rattus - imaginative) have tails that are longer than their bodies, and with our little thing here measuring-in at 5.5" in total with a 2.5" body it certainly fits the bill. They also, apparently, have big old ears going on and as you can see in the picture these are like yacht sails, although they look a lot bigger than any of those I've seen on Google Images. Perhaps his mum said he'd grow in to them...

The main reason for our concern is that Rentokill also says that black rats are known commonly as 'roof rats' because they're climbers and can easily get up there. And as The Lodge doesn't have cavity walls to provide an escape route, did my dad and I hear one abseiling down the inside of a drainpipe?

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Have we disturbed a nest in the loft?
Could it just be coincidence?
If I scrub that pound coin with Swarfega will I still get bubonic plague?

Dawn wants to chuck more poison in the loft whereas I'd rather they didn't expire up there and stink the place out (flies, too) so I want to set some traps before we get replacement insulation so we can know for sure.
It's likely that we'll do a mixture of both, so watch this space...

* Yes, I know they're called kittens but I didn't want to confuse anyone.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

It's a dirty job but someone has to do it... Dawn

The creepy crawlies here are a regular source of fear for me as well as occasional (but rare... in fact, only once) amusement.

In the latter category, one night last week after I finished a bag of Marmite crisps while in bed I tied a knot in it and threw it at the bin, missing by a country mile. At about 2am next morning I was woken by a tiny insistent clicking sound and put the light on only to find a black beetle carrying it aloft to an unknown destination. It was struggling, admittedly, but it was making impressive progress nonetheless.

In the former category was the rather pretty but utterly terrifying black-and-orange sexton beetle that Dawn and I spotted on Saturday afternoon as it literally rolled the corpse of a vole around on the owl perch. I like to think it was checking the unfortunate rodent's pockets rather than dining on its squishy insides because that's what nightmares are made of and The Lodge is giving me enough of those already.

And then, in a category all of their own, are spiders.
I've mentioned before that I don't get on with spiders, and I'm not kidding. At best they're accomplished and powerful pugilists and at the other end of the spectrum they are lightening-quick insatiable carnivores which will attempt to swallow you whole given half a chance.
I've even been known to scream and throw a laptop computer at such a beast in our old house when it caught me by surprise as it scuttled across the carpet by my foot. It was so big that I heard it before I saw it. The spider lived whereas my Sony Vaio didn't.

So that's why I was more than delighted for Dawn to venture into the loft on Sunday to pull out all of the fibreglass lagging while I played the role of trembling wing-man below the hatch in Bedroom 1.

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My folks half-way through a 500-mile round trip... to paint a shed.
At least it keeps them off the roads.

My parents (who live a couple of hundred miles away and haven't been here since March, before we got the keys) were over for the weekend, and they can't do much in the way of heavy manual labour so we put them to work painting the shed to keep them out of mischief.

Meanwhile, in order to support my fragile ego, I was determined to spend at least a few minutes in the loft with Dawn - who was much more eager to get up there than she should have been - so whereas we both dressed sensibly in thick disposable hooded coveralls, masks and gloves, I added to that a balaclava, goggles, a Bible and gaffa tape around the wrists and ankles. I also asked my folks to check in on us on the hour, every hour in case we were being devoured while encased in giant Temple of Doom-style webs.

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The idea behind the loft incursion goes back to a previous post about managing moisture in the house. Fibreglass is a man-made material that is pretty much impervious to moisture so won't allow it to escape upwards and outwards, and when the weather gets chillier the moisture in the warmer air rising up will condense beneath it and create problems with damp, as evidenced by heavy marking and cracked Artex on the ceiling just outside the bathroom doorway.
Ripping all of the lagging out was one of our priority jobs when we first moved in but we were initially distracted by other things and, because it was going to be thoroughly messy and horrible, we had planned to throw it straight out of the window - a plan thwarted by two months of scaffolding blocking the casements in Bedroom 1.

Our only knowledge of the loft up until this point was from the day of our survey when we poked our heads through the much-too-small hatch and saw formidable darkness, lime-torched laths beneath the roof tiles and the evil insulation, so we were keen to see what surprises lay in store other than certain death.

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Horrible work performed by a lovely lady

Dawn went first, naturally, and I waited below to receive the first installment of what turned out to be two thick layers of lagging. In a house which has seen precious little cash thrown at it over the years, this is one area where no expense seems to have been spared.
After the first few rolls of the filthy stuff came down and went straight out of the window the intrepid explorer came down for a quick breather and to explain what she had seen up there, which amounted to precious little other than cobwebs.
Buoyed by her unlikely survival I ventured up alone and bravely pulled out a few rolls of insulation myself, in the process discovering a fair amount of straw scattered around below it which, as Dawn quite rightly suggested, turned out to be The Lodge's 150-odd-year-old original insulation, great wads of which were still packed tightly beneath some of the harder-to-reach rafters. The irony is that straw is an excellent natural insulator that breathes, so it would have been far more effective overall than the rubbish that replaced it. But hey ho.

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Original straw insulation stuffed under the beams among the filth

Almost at the same time that I spotted large amounts of mouse droppings among the filth on the upper surface of the lagging I also found part of a sachet of poison beneath it, so the message there was pretty clear although there didn't seem to be any evidence of recent rodent activity in terms of nests or... well, I don't really know what else. A tiny kettle still hot to the touch? A miniature smouldering cigar, abandoned in the rush to evacuate? A copy of Good Mousekeeping, complete with date? I'm no pest expert, as you can probably tell, but there were certainly no furry rodents scurrying away in the torch beam and we heard nothing suspicious during the whole time we were up there. There were no bats either which was a blessed relief because, as a protected species, that would have thrown a right old spanner in the works.

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The King Post
Other than two very small abandoned wasp nests, some V and IIII carpenters' marks on the woodwork and a very old piece of honeycomb which had survived remarkably well beneath the fibreglass there wasn't much else to see so, acutely aware that I was being watched from the darkest recesses, I all-but fell out of the loft and let Dawn get on with it, occasionally nipping back up quickly to take a few photographs.

One thing that the wife got excited about was the rediscovery of what our surveyor had described all those months ago as a King Post in the roof, which is a curiously-shaped vertical column that goes from the apex down through the wall between Bedrooms 1 and 3 and does things I don't understand for reasons I understand even less, and as a result I can't get all giddy about it myself, to be honest. But it's a good-looking piece of timber so should we ever knock the two bedrooms through it would be nice to keep that exposed as part of the original fabric of the (extended two-storey) building. Maybe I should look it up.

Anyway, too many hours after we first started we were left with a massive pile of lagging on the ground at the front of The Lodge which we piled onto the old carpet we had removed earlier in the day from Bedroom 2 and dragged around the back. We're finally getting a skip at some point today so that'll be the first thing to go in there.

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The result of many hours of hot, sweaty, dirty work

Which left just one more job.
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The business
Because Dawn hadn't been dicing with death enough in the loft she went back up to run the cables for the CCTV cameras through holes in the torching underneath the rafters.
Up until Thursday the CCTV system we bought in the wake of our unburglary had been temporarily attached to the scaffolding, but its departure meant that we had to sort it out on a more permanent basis which required proper cable routing.
I installed the cameras in their final positions around the house and property yesterday and hooked everything up again so we're back online in that respect, which is nice because I felt naked without them up-and-running. It's surprising how much peace of mind they offer.

So that was it - we're now ready for sheep's wool insulation when we work out if we can get a grant for it or not, which would be helpful, and we can watch the comings and goings of SausageTheCat from the comfort of our camping chairs should we so wish. Lovely.

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Two down, more to go
Meanwhile the shed is looking all fine and dandy with a lick of green paint highlighted with white bits, courtesy of the olds, who left for home yesterday afternoon with the warm glow of satisfaction that can only be earned by a job well done.

So pleased were Dawn and I with the glammed-up shed that we played host and held a mid-point celebratory barbecue on Saturday night, and as all good BBQs should go we warmed home-made lemon and chilli burgers gently for two hours over the tepid coals before chucking them under the grill in the house then ate them reluctantly while very aware of the possibility of food poisoning.

I think we're in the clear now though.

Thursday 6 August 2015

Wood, glorious wood!

We've seen enough TV property shows to know that renovating a house, especially when you've got no relevant experience, is ruddy stressful.

Chimney flues are sharp Incubator More
When this photo was taken I had just learnt
two things: 1) chimney flues are razor sharp,
and 2) I have no idea where the plasters are
And as the busiest period The Lodge has seen since we moved here draws to a close and the scaffolding finally comes down after more than two months, courtesy of a trio of grunting simians in human suits, I can say with certainty that this is true. Not a night has gone by in the past 11 days where I haven't sat bolt upright in bed - still 'asleep' - shouting and screaming about something or other: chimney flues; paint; red-hot metalwork; spiders; rafters; lime pointing, lead flashing, etc.*

But the stress itself is not important, so I've been told. It's how you deal with the stress when it arrives that counts.
So far I'm finding that the best way to deal with it when things get on top of me is to weep gently into my 18th coffee of the day while hiding underneath the hawthorn in the front garden, but I'm already concerned about the long-term effects in terms of both caffeine intake and permanently-puffy eyes. It spoils my charming looks.

So (gate woes aside) I suppose I need to recap a little bit, starting after my post about the bargeboards wot we made.

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The usual suspects (spot the hoverfly).
I used Cuprinol on the purlins to stop any unseen rot
In that post I mentioned that the following days were all about oiling and painting our fancy new creations, and that is exactly what happened. It wasn't a glamorous job - I was balancing rafters, architrave and the bargeboards between two smelly wheelie bins and trying to look like I was having the time of my life whenever the neighbours drove past while listening to a stuttering digital radio app on my phone and picking kamikaze hoverflies off my tacky paintwork. But it got done.

The finer points of the paint job aren't terribly interesting but I'm going to explain them anyway because it took me three mind-numbing 10-hour days so I don't want to gloss over it. Gloss? Geddit? Hmmm?
Well you shouldn't, because not a drop of gloss paint went near the woodwork. Instead we decided to head down a more traditional and environmentally-friendly route with linseed oil-based products which protect (oil repels water, doesn't it) and add colour at the same time while, supposedly, lasting much longer than regular paint.

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One coat down... three to go
First of all I applied a coat of linseed oil mixed with white spirit (3-1 ratio - the white spirit helps it dry and absorb faster) mixed in a former pickled gherkin jar to give the wood one of its five-a-day and a good base coat, ready for the colour later on.
I managed to do about half of the timber within a day of its arrival, which dried nicely during the couple of days it took to make the bargeboards, but unfortunately I had to rush the rest of the oiling a little because time was short.
I should really have let this first coat of oil sit for a good few days before I did anything else, but the joiners and roofers were due to arrive on site soon and as the oil needed time to penetrate the wood rather than air dry a lot of the remaining timber was still a tiny bit sticky when it came to applying the paint because it had only sat for a day or two, tops.
In the end it didn't make a huge amount of noticeable difference but I'm the fastidious type so it made me a bit fidgety.

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Cowboy builder
(not really - it's just a silly hat)
Next came the messy job of painting the things, and for this Dawn chose a company called Linseed Paint Company which is a one-man-band type of affair in which the husband produces his gloopy linseed oil-based concoctions in his poor wife's Aga. It's excellent stuff but it makes a right mess of their Sunday roasts. 

We only bought a litre of the black paint (£40 inc P&P) but we were assured it would go a long way, and by crikey it did. By the time I had given everything a thin first coat (as advised - too thick and it would start to blister) and set it aside underneath a rather nifty 15ft x 15ft glorified gazebo to protect it from the rain, I had used less than a quarter of the tin and although the natural colour of the wood was still showing through in places there was impressive coverage which was well worth the wonga. 

By the time all of that was finished it was time to step-up the pace with the joiners, Roofer #1 and Roofer #2 due to arrive next day and fight-it-out for scaffolding space while removing tiles, whittling woodwork and setting the final two chimney pots in place.
It was all hands on deck and I tend to struggle being in just one place at once, never mind three, so I drafted in Terminator Trevor for help who, true to his unstoppable form, brought along with him a crippling cough that would have had a mere mortal walking towards The Light.

The following few days are all a bit of a blur now but they went something like this:
    chimney flue Incubator More
    Feeling a bit fluey
  • I made roughly 1,623 cups of tea for a grand total of eight people
  • The roof tiles were removed from the gable ends of Bedroom 1 and Bedroom 3
  • Old rotten rafters and laths were removed, allowing me access to sections of original timber that I hadn't been able to reach before so I could scrape and hurriedly repaint them
  • Three new rafters were cut to size, installed and given a second slap of paint by the chippies who went way beyond the call of duty while I was busy elsewhere
  • Two sections of rotten purlin were cut away and replaced with new (painted) timber
  • The bargeboards and architrave were fitted, which were then given a second coat of paint partly by me and partly by the tea-and-cigarette-fuelled chippies
  • The final two chimney pots were set on the west stack
  • The register plate in the Dining Room fireplace, which turned out to be totally over-the-top foot-thick poured concrete reinforced with thick steel bars and cross-hatched metal grilles, was painstaking (and painfully) removed with an angle grinder, uphill sledgehammering and brute force
  • All four flues were dropped in to their respective fireplaces, complete with modified cowls which, incidentally, fit like proverbial mittens
  • The gables were rebuilt with all new tanalised laths above Bedroom 1 while some of the original ones were kept over Bedroom 3. We could paint these black or box them in, but Dawn and I quite like the contrast with the bargeboards, so they're staying as-is (I oiled the original laths to protect them, though)
  • The tiles went back on both gables, this time using 'tile-and-a-halfs' at the edges where a roofer many years ago had simply used roughly-chipped and ugly mismatched half-tiles
  • I oiled and painted the purlin ends on the east side of The Lodge while the scaffolding was still up
  • A handful of damaged roof and valley tiles were replaced, as were a number of incongruous red tiles that had been used around the Bathroom Velux window
  • An ugly sheet of thick corrugated plastic under the Velux window was faced with scalloped lead flashing to hide it
  • The gates were constructed and fitted... then repaired a few days later
  • Everybody on-site, at some point or another, had a minor meltdown about the overabundance of thrips the area is playing host to at the moment
  • I gave all the woodwork that I could get at two more coats of paint... climbing stepladders on top of scaffolding is no fun whatsoever
  • The verges of both gables were re-mortared with a part-lime/part-cement mix
replacing roof tiles and rafters Incubator More
...and suddenly the second roofer disappeared in a puff of smoke...
This final point, much like when the chimney was rebuilt, goes against the pure lime ethos that both Dawn and I have, as inspired by our surveyor Pete from, and I ended up having a tetchy squabble with Roofer #2 about it (he's the main contractor for most of the other work) which involved lots of rude words and almost ended in fisticuffs, hair-pulling and him petulantly walking off the job.

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The Dining Room register plate was a challenge
This is probably the subject of a different blog post altogether, but we're finding it very difficult to find tradesmen who can not only do what we want but also agree to a job that they actually carry out as specified. They start off with "yeah, I can do lime... not a problem" but when it comes to doing the work it's "well, I can put lime in but it needs cement too or I'll be back to repair it all in three months".
And with time constraints and limited options because many specialist tradesmen won't travel far we're being forced into a corner that we don't want to be in. It's very frustrating and probably the main reason I'm hollering in my sleep lately because I feel a little bit like we're being walked-over.

Anyway, Roofer #1 has been back in the last two days to finish off a couple of jobs including looking at the flashing around the chimney and tiling on the porch and bay window roofs, and when his van rolled out of the gates this afternoon I realised that that was it: job done.

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This major phase in The Lodge's history is now complete and we can sit back and relax.

Hahahahahahaha (ad infinitum)... who am I kidding?
I need to get back in the Living Room and Bedroom 1 so we can work towards getting them ready for us to move in to before the cold weather comes. That means gypsum removal, expensive lime plastering, ceilings, floorboards... and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

* All of this really happened, including the spider-based night terror which was prompted by a cellar spider ambling nonchalantly across the quilt cover, past my delicate and vulnerable face, as I was reading my Kindle in bed one night. I didn't move a muscle. I don't think it saw me although it could probably smell my fear. I know I could.
And the lead flashing thing was just last night. Apparently I started getting a bit antsy because Dawn wouldn't measure the lead sheet I was trying to mould around the chimney base. That was probably something to do with the fact that it was 4am and I had neither a lead sheet nor a tape measure.

renovating a Victorian house Incubator More

renovating a Victorian house Incubator More
It might not look like it, but there's a lot going on here

Tuesday 4 August 2015

A prophet's guide to breaking gates

It has been pointed out to me by Dawn that 'prophet' may be over-egging things a little bit, so she has agreed to compromise with Mystical Soothsaying Psychic Wizard, which suits me fine.
So welcome to A Mystical Soothsaying Psychic Wizard's Guide to Breaking Gates.


Dear people of the Internet.
This is what happens if you don't read A beginner's guide to using gates.

Without wishing to go over old ground less than 24 hours after I wrote the above blog post, I shall boil it down to just this: If you open a gate and leave it swinging in the wind it will most likely make a failed attempt at flying, shear its hefty coach bolts, bend its steel hinges and split the wood, dropping one end to the ground and rendering it utterly useless. Just. Like. You.

The Crown Estate will then have to fork out for repairs, money for which will probably come from the Privy Purse or something, then in order to pay The Queen back the Government will increase taxes and cut overseas aid, which means that you'll have to find another penny for your beer and starving little orphans in Africa will suffer even more.

Think of the orphans. Or beer.
Thank you.

Monday 3 August 2015

A beginner's guide to using gates

Gates. They're uncomplicated things when you think about them.
They open and close and in between they kind of just sit there being all... you know... gatey.

The purpose of gates is that they replace a section of wall or fence with a moveable bit that allows ease of access to the mysteries of beyond without leaving an unsightly hole in said wall or fence.
Utilising equally-uncomplicated hinges and sometimes a latch, they might provide a little bit of welcome privacy for people on the other side or, in extreme cases, security against ne'er-do-wells who wish to steal biscuits and other valuable items from their homes, their castles.

But to reiterate, when you boil it all down to a fundamental level, gates open and then they close again. It's not rocket thingummy.

So why is it that now The Lodge has a brand new pair of entrance gates the people who find the need to use them have turned into lazy, dribbling, useless lumps of bone and gristle? I swear that most people encountering these confounding wooden puzzles must have terrible trouble tying their own shoelaces while still remembering to breathe in and out.

I feel I need to explain.
When we first came to view The Lodge many moons ago there was a regular wooden 'garden' gate leading to the front door as well as, a few feet away, a pair of heavy wooden gates across the access road, both of which were set in the boundary wall. Both of these tatty-but-useful constructions were later stolen by someone who presumably wanted to knock up a load of birdhouses and didn't want to pay B&Q prices for the timber.

The net result is that (forgetting the access gate to The Lodge which is neither here nor there) there was a gaping hole in the wall which allowed vehicles to pass through willy-nilly at all times of the day or night. This included our Saturday afternoon burglars, three weeks after we moved in.

The workshop
At the time we first saw the gates they all belonged to The Crown Estate and Her Majesty the Queen so it was up to them to replace them, which they eventually did last Friday, some six or eight months after they vanished into thin air. The people we used to do the rafters and stuff at the front of The Lodge hung around for another couple of days to knock the gates together and kill two pheasants with one stone. They even let me drill and countersink some of the holes. The 'garden' gate now belongs to us whereas the vehicular access gates still belong to The Crown, because the access track is still owned by them.

Marvellous. New gates meant that our home wasn't so obviously visible to passing traffic on the main road outside and anyone who opened them would have their ugly mugs recorded properly on our HD CCTV, giving us and our neighbours down the track extra security if we needed it.
They also meant that I could run from the shed, where we're still sleeping, across to the house for a shower in just my lederhosen and kitten heels if I wanted to without being ogled at by passing cyclists and lecherous dog-walkers. Everyone's a winner.

And yet the gates have been wide open almost permanently ever since because people are ignorant dickheads. Pardon my French.
I had gone to the trouble of mentioning to everyone I could that new gates were imminent and would they mind awfully keeping them closed for security reasons, and all the people I spoke to were more than happy to oblige "because they'd always been kept closed in the past".

I did these! <proud>
But the past appears to have gone and been replaced by a world where getting out of your comfortable car or off your dangerously-unpredictable horse is an energy-draining and traumatic activity that must be avoided at all costs, lest one may find oneself at the mercy of the elements and carnivorous wildlife and who knows what fate awaits such reckless adventurers?
The fact that it has been nice and sunny and the most active meat-eating mammal in the immediate area is usually SausageTheCat doesn't appear to matter. After going to the exhausting bother of opening the gates it's much easier to just let them swing around in the breeze after you drive through, isn't it?

But there's more.
Before managing to summon the energy in the required muscles to heave open the remarkably-light and perfectly-balanced gates, most people have been staring at them as though faced with a giant Rubik's Cube for the first time. I've looked on the CCTV and I've spotted cartoon question marks appearing above their heads while they scratch their chins and phone friends for advice about what to do when faced with such an insurmountable problem.

So here's a quick guide in case you ever find yourself with such a brain-teaser:
  1. Exit your vehicle.
  2. Approach the gate with the latch. It doesn't spook easily so won't rear up and kill you.
  3. Grasp the handle firmly with one hand and turn it so the latch moves upwards by an inch.
  4. Take a deep breath and gently coax the gate open.
  5. Once fully open, secure it with the bucket containing two bricks (provided by me, the Gatekeeper) so it doesn't swing back.
  6. Approach the other gate.
  7. Lift the large floor bolt (which should move easily because the Gatekeeper greased it today).
  8. Gently open the gate.
  9. Once fully open, secure it with a second bucket of bricks (also provided).
  10. Enter your vehicle and drive through the opening you have just created.
  11. Bring your vehicle to a complete stop (away from the gates) and apply the handbrake.
  12. Exit your vehicle.
  13. Approach the second gate and reverse steps 9, 8 and 7.
  14. Approach the first gate and reverse steps 5, 4 and 3.
  15. Enter your vehicle and continue on your journey, happy in the knowledge that you haven't given the Gatekeeper yet more work to do when he's already up to the eyeballs in brick dust, paint or whatever else he's working on today.
Now I know there are lots of steps above, but they're remarkably simple in reality and, with practice, you should be able to complete them all in just a few seconds, having suffered very few injuries in the process.

I'm thinking that I need to print this guide out and pin it to the gates, however, because people seem to be struggling.
On the few occasions where I've been looking at the CCTV monitor as someone attempts to navigate the newly-discovered obstacle I have already seen one car almost written-off by the powerful wind-induced backswing of the first gate and on another occasion I even saw one person dip in to one of the buckets as though it were a brick dispenser, rather than pick it up by the handle. I'm not even kidding.

The rest of the people, at least 80% of them anyway, manage somehow to open the gates but completely fail to either prop them open or close them again and just drive away, leaving them to swing around against the hinges which will eventually bend and render the things pointless (EDIT - I must be some kind of mystic... read this).

Of course I could just let this go and let people do what they like because the gates aren't even ours, but in all seriousness they - if used properly - give The Lodge a lot of privacy from the road and a little extra security, so it's a drum I'm going to have to find a way to bang with tact and diplomacy. Neither of which I'm famed for.

In an ideal world The Crown would pay for some kind of electronic mechanism that closes the gates after 60 seconds-or-so but I can't see that happening in our lifetime, so in the meantime the Gatekeeper might just go on long-term sick leave.

Zuul, the original Gatekeeper.
On the pat and mick.

A house within a house?

Following months of speculation we have finally found irrefutable evidence of something we always thought possible but could never prove - The Lodge started life as a single-storey building.

The main thing that got us thinking about this part of the building's history is pretty obvious from the north, south and west elevations because the lower half was built with sandstone whereas the upper half is brick. That could have been designed into the original structure for some reason though, so it certainly wasn't evidence of later building work.

But during a brief lull in a hectic past week that I'll post about later, dad-in-law Trevor grabbed a set of step ladders and poked his head through the tiny hatch in the kitchen ceiling that we had managed to forget about exploring during the three months we've been here.

And he found a series of what we assume are cast iron Georgian gutter brackets.

Above the kitchen's suspended ceiling, just below the pitched roof, are half a dozen-or-so ancient gutter brackets

But The Lodge is supposedly a Victorian building, so why Georgian?
Well, there's the thing.

The sandstone lower half that I mentioned earlier is visible on three sides, but the east wall forms part of a longer boundary wall to the entire estate that goes on for miles. The house is an integral part of that wall.
But, as we understand it from our surveyor, the bricks used to make that wall are of Georgian origin (1714 - 1830) because many feature stripes running from one end to the other from where they were stacked at angles on top of one another before they were fired and hardened.

But that in itself isn't conclusive either.

It's possible that the Georgian wall was there first and The Lodge was simply tacked on to it at a later date in the Victorian era, with the builders saving money - and bricks - by using what was already available to them. Why build four walls when you can build three?

In Georgian times bricks were stacked at angles on top
of each other before firing, leaving distinctive stripes
When we came to tackle the Living Room recently, stripping off layers of plasterboard and wotnot and taking the walls back to their original condition, we found that the bricks used to build the wall between the Living Room and Toilet 1, which the lavvy and sink currently sit against, are also striped Georgian ones. It also seems that all of the walls in the living room are brick which were later faced externally with sandstone, creating a double-skinned wall across, we assume, the entire ground floor apart from the east (boundary) wall.
So there was the first bit of reasonable evidence that got us thinking, once again, that The Lodge may once have been single storey, built in Georgian times.

But the gutter brackets were the final piece of the jigsaw. There's no earthly reason why horizontal guttering would have been fitted to The Lodge half-way down the walls, so the brackets must have been just below the roofline of a building with just one floor.


It then follows that the first floor was added at a later date, making those brackets and the guttering they were supporting redundant, and then the kitchen - which is a comparatively modern addition using modern bricks - was simply clagged on to the back of the house and given a shallow-pitched roof which covered the original gutter brackets. Once the suspended ceiling was put in below it, the very small void it created was hidden from view and completely forgotten about until Trevor's curiosity got the better of him in the summer of 2015.

All of which raises an even bigger question.
For ease I have been assuming that The Lodge is Victorian and was built somewhere around the 1850 mark, but it seems I've been looking at too big a picture.
There's a smaller picture - and a smaller house - in there too. when was it really built?

It makes me sad to think that we might never know.

EDIT - Tuesday, August 4

A few hours after posting this, I was contacted by a local historian who I had emailed last week to ask for any information he might have. His reply seems to add weight to our conclusions, although his research has also confirmed my earlier findings in that there is very little recorded history of The Lodge for two reasons - 1) it was little more than a utilitarian building, and 2) many records have been lost, spirited away or destroyed over the years.
Here are a few excerpts, although I have had to blank out some bits for reasons of anonymity. The gist is still there, though:

"I have been under the impression that all the Lodge Entrances to the XXXX Estate are post 1848 when the XXXXs bought the property. There followed in the 1850’s an extensive XXXX building programme in an architectural style known as XXXX Style. I would have put [The Lodge] in that category."

"In the 1911 census Frederick Paul lived in 5 roomed [The Lodge] as a Gamekeeper. In the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses I have the Taylor family living at [The Lodge], (he was a labourer and his wife was widowed by the 1901 census.)
In the 1871 census I have William Scott and family (he, too, was a Labourer), at [The Lodge]."

"I don’t have a copy of the 1861 census, but I have a William Scott listed in the 1851 census which may or may not be [The Lodge]. In my notes I have made a note which speculates whether [The Lodge] was built by 1851... but it could have been."

"In the 1841 census, William Scott is listed as living at “[The Estate]”. This is most likely to have been a cottage in the vicinity of presentday [The Lodge], or even a cottage from which [The Lodge] was later built."

Working on the theory that The Lodge was once a single-storey building that was possibly known by another name (XXXX House?) until it was extended upwards, my interpretation of this is as follows. The photos are from my own dig through the censuses back in February:

1841 - Single-storey building - possibly known as XXXX House - occupied by labourer William Scott and family
1851 - As above
1850s (but post-1851) - Single-storey cottage extended and given another floor. Name changes to [The Lodge] and is recognised as a Lodge to the estate for the first time.
1871 - The Lodge is still occupied by William Scott and family
1881 - The Lodge is now occupied by William Taylor and family
1891 - As above
1901 - The Taylor family is still there, minus the late William Taylor
1911 - The Lodge, now recorded as having five rooms, is occupied by Frederick Paul

The problem with censuses is that they only started in 1841 and back then didn't feature as much detail as they do nowadays, and even then it was often inaccurate (hence XXXX House in the photos, which could be a throwback to the cottage's original name) so to go back further will take a degree of ingenuity and luck.

Nevertheless, to continue the theory it seems that The Lodge's origins stem from at least 1841 and possibly (probably) much earlier than that. If the gutter brackets mentioned at the start of this post are indeed Georgian we could be looking as far back as 1714, although that seems unlikely.