The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has invited me to talk tomorrow at its advanced building conservation school about the historical recording that’s been taking place on my cottages. This work has been aimed at gaining a greater understanding of the property’s history in order to inform the renovation plans. Delegates will also visit my home during the afternoon as part of a tour that local surveyor Tony Chapman and I are conducting for them of Saffron Walden’s medieval core, which includes a trip, too, to see the town archives. The session on recording takes place afterwards at 1 Myddylton Place (www.onemyddlytonplace.co.uk) (pictured), the historic home of Tony and his family, where we’ll be dining as well.
There are four principal strands to my recording. The first has involved researching documentary sources and I’m very fortunate that the excellent town library is just around the corner. This preliminary research has been complemented by on-site investigations. The second strand, consequently, has comprised an archaeological survey, including architectural paint research and wallpaper analysis. Cathy Littlejohn, a director at Hare & Humphreys Ltd (www.hare-humphreys.co.uk), which has been carrying out the paint research for me, is also lecturing at Myddlyton Place tomorrow. The third and fourth strands of my recording have entailed a measured survey along with photography and filming. Although the recording is informing the project, further discoveries are being made during the renovation work that advance my understanding of the property’s history. Future blogs will reveal more.
My cottages are due to feature in Britain’s Empty Homes Revisited on BBC television this week (Monday 18 February on BBC 1 at 11.45am, repeated on BBC 2 at 7.50am the next day). This is a follow-up to last year’s programme. The camera crew came a few weeks ago to film the very recently conserved pargeting and their visit coincided with a tour of the cottages and town that I was hosting for post-graduate students from the University of Cambridge. Amongst the other buildings we saw was 1 Myddlyton Place (the old Youth Hostel), where we stopped for tea and heard about the renovation work not long completed by the Chapman family. Also grade I-listed, this is another property, like mine, that was once in the custodianship of the SPAB (www.onemyddlytonplace.co.uk).
The conservation of the pargeting on my cottages has been my most pressing task. Areas of the parge-work – which is of exceptional interest and highly unusual – were very weak and it was questionable whether they could all be saved. Huge credit is due to Torquil McNeilage and his team who have undertaken a once-in-a-generation programme of specialist repairs using state-of-the-art techniques. Future blogs will explain about this extensive work – all of which, to date, has been funded without any external grant aid. An abiding memory I have will be seeing the newly conserved pargeting bathed in gentle sunshine after the scaffolding was struck. The project had reached a major milestone and the church bells opposite were ringing as if to celebrate!
I hosted a visit the other day for about a dozen local people representing the Recorders of Uttlesford History (www.recordinguttlesfordhistory.org.uk). The group was set up to record the present and ensure that valuable artefacts and archives of the past are conserved. The Recorders wished to see my property in its current unrenovated condition and plan to return again later.
Over the years, there’s been much local interest in the range of buildings that includes my cottages. When purchasing them, I discovered that local donations and a wider appeal helped the Ancient Buildings Trust (ABT) acquire the range in the 1930s to protect it from possible harm. The ABT was the property-holding arm of the SPAB, who, coincidentally, I work for!
To secure the donors’ gift should the ABT sell its interest, it took a long lease and vested the freehold in the National Trust. The ABT sold its lease in the 1960s after overhauling the greater part of the range. However, it hadn’t been able to gain vacant possession of what are now my two cottages to modernise these. They’ve changed little since, so in many ways I’m picking up where the ABT left off over 40 years ago.
Thirty members of the Stansted Mountfitchet Local History Society descended on my house the other day.
Once again, I’ve leapt at the chance to be a tour guide, having already hosted visits by several SPAB parties.
It’s a good time for people to see the property whilst it is still in a fairly untouched state and I believe that the visits will help increase the awareness of old buildings and the heritage of the town generally. The more that people appreciate the historic environment, the more likely they are to care about it.
There’s much concern locally at the moment about the need to protect the area and its unique character from over-development.
My visitors from Stansted were particularly anxious about the possibility of a second runway at the nearby airport, which is opposed by 89% of people in the district and would involve the callous destruction of at least 35 historic buildings.
As elsewhere, there’s also unease about the impact of hundreds of centrally-imposed new houses and more out-of-town supermarket provision. A campaign has recently been launched to save Saffron Walden Town Centre (www.savewaldentowncentre.org).
I’m keen for my building project to be good fun and not become overly onerous. This means taking the occasional short break to keep up with friends, family and other interests.
Last Friday evening I attended an intriguing lecture on ‘The Origins and Use of Mediaeval Cloisters’, held to raise funds for repairs to Strethall Church in Essex. This tiny, enchanting flint building is one of the oldest in our county – parts date back to Saxon times and this year the church celebrates its 1,000th anniversary. It’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area.
I was away for most of the weekend in Suffolk with friends, two of whom, Mark and Mags, put us up. Mark is also passionate about old buildings so I’m planning to enlist his help with the work to my house once the action hots up. Our excursions took us to Snape Maltings (pictured, above; http://www.snapemaltings.co.uk), as well as the ancient and picturesque village of Hoxne (pictured, left).
On Sunday evening, I travelled down to London for a family birthday celebration at La Cucina in Farringdon, one of my favourite Italian restaurants (020 7250 0035). Now I need to work off the excess!