It’s been altered a lot over the centuries. We’re not sure of its original use, although we know it was affiliated to the church. When the Sage’s parents bought it in 1928, it was divided into three farmworkers cottages and two of them were still occupied. Alternative accommodation was found – but even a few years ago, people told us that they had been born at our house. Ten or twelve children in a family was not unusual.
Pa and Ma, once the house was empty, altered it considerably to turn it into one house. They moved the front door and porch, although it was rebuilt with the same materials only a few feet along. They tried to use the inglenook fireplace in the drawing room, but found that drawing was one thing that did not happen unless all windows and doors were open, so filled it in to make a smaller brick fireplace. They put in suspended wooden floors and (which I regret) they did away with most of the cupboard staircases and sacrificed a room to make a hall and ‘proper’ wooden staircase. Pa carved the banisters himself, and I do approve of them. Ma said that they tried to keep all 8 staircases, but it was just too draughty. Now there are three original ones, the one Pa built and the one we put up to the attic in the extension.
They also put up a fair lot of studwork, to Tudorise it even more. Not in every room: the dining room, one bedroom and one wall in the hall. The central beams are original though. The one in the drawing room is cracked (the master bedroom is above, but it happened before we moved in, okay?). There was an old iron bar to strengthen it, but we used an RSJ to jack up the ceiling, then had holes drilled (if you haven’t heard the sound of 400-year-old oak being drilled, you don’t know the meaning of toothache) and iron bars bolted together. The ceiling is still only 2 metres high and I can touch it (I’m short) and the beam lower than that.
I love the plaster on the walls. It’s old and uneven, and the walls themselves go all ways – the bathroom, particularly, which has a floor sloping one way and a ceiling sloping another. It’s wallpapered, by me, and that’s an interesting experience which requires some skill (yup) and ingenuity (phooey).
The doors were all made by Pa, out of floorboards and iron studs. They look good and old. You pull a rope to open on one side or lift a latch on the other. Occasionally, a rope breaks and you are stuck in the room. You can climb out of the window, so long as the outside door isn’t locked. We bear the anxiety with amusement when it happens.
There is still an inglenook in the dining room, although the mantelpiece is not that old. The Sage make the shutters, which are closed in my photo put up a few days ago, but we have never got around to matching up the colour of the new oak with the old.
There is one upstairs door that we all have to bend double to go through. The wall is surprisingly thick, and it’s awfully easy to straighten up too soon and give oneself a migraine-inducing clonk. The only quicker way is sunlight dancing on waves.
Before we moved here, we did some renovations and received permission (it’s a listed building) to enlarge a couple of windows – the then window frames dated from the 30s and were not nice. We took out one hazel pole that was part of the original construction and our bro’-in-law carved a walking-stick from it.