Sunday, 15 July 2012
How we came to be in Wales (3) UPDATED
We drove up the steep zig-zag hill, and on the bend was a farm and the farmhouse, looking grey rather than white in the rain, which was falling steadily (the shape of things to come!) and here was the house we had fallen in love with . . . on paper at any rate.
The farmer met us and told us to go on in and look around for ourselves, but to make sure we shut the gate, as there were calves grazing in the . . . "garden". A wide Georgian glazed door led into a wide long hall tiled with black, red and primrose yellow tiles. To the left, a narrow Victorian panelled door led into a big kitchen. What colour the stick-on floor tiles were was hard to see as they were just lighter and dark, and covered in what we could only (rightly as it turned out) assume was cow muck. The "chap who milked" was currently living in just two downstairs rooms, this and the sitting room. It was dark and gloomy. A bay window shed diffused light at one end and very much smaller window looked across the yard. Washer-uppers had an uncompromising view of the back wall. Mouse-droppings were across all the work-surfaces which were extremely dated and needed replacing. A once-beamed ceiling was covered completely with pine tongue-and-groove panelling. The fireplace was bricked up and a tacky-looking stove sat out into the room. A little door led off into a storage area.
The sitting room opposite was even worse. A truly awful wallpaper was clinging damply to the walls - the sort that is the cheapest you can buy even in a DIY store sale. The sort that makes you want to leave home to avoid it! A beige-tiled 1940s fireplace hid the original blocked-up one. Black and red quarry tiles provided the flooring. Once again, the beams were covered in tongue-and-groove - this, we were to discover - was a feature throughout the house dating from the 1970s "modernisation".
Back in the hallway, one side led into a small cloakroom, then a solid door on a Suffolk latch opened onto a . . . space. You could hardly call it a room although it had a window at the back - which reached right up to the cat-slide roof. It had obviously been tacked onto the earlier building and the original doorway into the room next door had been blocked up perhaps two centuries earlier. This "room next door" was enormous - 16 feet square - with a huge window taking up half of the wall space on one side, and overlooking the paddock with its tall apple tree (a "Leatherjacket" Russet). There was dentil freeze moulding around the room, obvious damp in the fireplace wall, and the greying magnolia paint did nothing for the room. However, where the doorway had been blocked up, was a big arch-topped recess which added to the character of the room.
There was a "below the room next door" too. We walked down to find two ruined rooms and an even more ruinous staircase which had been blocked by the cloakroom. A vast inglenook fireplace and bread oven, with a brick arch above it was in the kitchen. There were flagstones on the floor, and it was filthy and festooned with cobwebs and dirt. Next door was a room with an ancient cobbled floor and blocked-in windows. We could just make out the shapes of shallow slate dairy troughs. The doors were rotten at the bottom and hanging on their hinges, but here the huge beams had been left alone . . . to rot and to provide homes for Death Watch beetle and woodworm. We looked out into the yard, where there was a row of 3 calf sheds, an old cart shed with pigsties behind it, and another lean-to building beside it. The old Ty Bach can be seen in the photo below - in use until the 1970s when a loo and bathroom were put in the house.
Up the wide shallow Georgian stairs were four bedrooms and a door that opened onto a little storage platform beneath the catslide roof, and over the void below which was the non-room. We were intrigued to find the skirting boards had the tops of baked bean tins tacked onto them at intervals . . . All fireplaces had been blocked up. All beams covered in tongue-and-groove.
The bathroom was uncompromisingly slurry green, from walls to bathroom suite. It was akin to walking into a silage clamp . . .
Another door on a Suffolk latch led to more stairs (and more spiders, festoons of filthy cobwebs) to the rotting flooring of what had once been the attic where the farm servants lived. Several of the rooms, we noticed, had chains on - just a couple of links, so from the outside you could lock them with a bar going through. Strange . . .
Outside, we looked at the land through curtains of rain. The field behind the house had a fair slope to it, but was still quite good grazing, and had a belt of woodland in one corner. With a small daughter in tow (she wasn't even a year old then) we decided not to explore further. There was a shared water supply located . . . "in the field behind the house" . . . There should have been alarm bells ringing but they were silent.
The "garden" as it was in 1988 . . .
We should, of course, have walked away, smelling the damp, noticing the woodworm, the need to reroof, replace doors, reinstate derelict rooms, and having a reality check when we saw just how much work there was to do to bring it back from the brink. How much MONEY needed to be spent. But of course, we didn't. We drove straight up the hill to see the farmer and offered him the full asking price (were we MAD?!!!!) He accepted our offer. We drove home. We didn't even have a second viewing. Then suddenly TWO people wanted to buy our house and before we had a chance to have cold feet or even misgivings, we found it was all systems go on moving to Wales. I think you can honestly say - it was MEANT TO BE . . .