Our Story – Part 2

Planning approval

Our planning application went in in January 1998, but all was not fully and finally approved until April or so, because there was a problem with the siting of the main gate. There was simply nowhere this could go, apparently, and still comply with the geometric aspects of modern regulations regarding vehicle access

Eventually a satisfactory solution to the planning problem was found, but we were frustrated not to be able to draw up the specification and then go out to tender before early summer.

Sadly one of the firms we asked to quote went into liquidation at this time. Fortunately we were still able to get Austin Lewis, our preferred builder, to schedule the work to begin when he came back from annual holiday in September/October 1998


Borehole & sewage treatment

It was during this time that we discovered the water and sewage arrangements would be rather more expensive than we had allowed ourselves to imagine

It had already been explained that a conventional septic tank would not be adequate, because our stream runs so close by, and that therefore a relatively more expensive sewage treatment plant would have to be installed

It was nevertheless a grim surprise to find that the provisional figures we had been working with for the borehole no longer applied. As luck would have it, since the borehole quotation had been calculated, our neighbours had put in a septic tank of their own (their property being just that bit further from the stream) on their side of the fence immediately adjacent to the only place we could site our borehole. This meant that the borehole had to be sunk much deeper and protected from infiltration to a greater depth and with a more serious (i.e. costly) type of liner


Home-building truths

As soon as we focussed on the serious prospect of actually starting work various 'obvious' things began to dawn on us and others were pointed out by Austin:

digging: since such a large proportion of the cost of digging drains and foundations is associated with getting a mechanical digger to and from a site in the first place and since the additional cost of digging the foundations for the two little 'extra' parts not strictly required until 'Plan B' (the conservatory and garage) was proportionally so little, we realised it would have been madness not to get them dug – and that was before we worked out how much mess and inconvenience we would suffer if this were put off until a later time after we'd moved in

new holes for doorways and windows: the same logic applied – it made no sense not to do all the heavy, dirty work of making holes in the stone walls and roof including disposal of the surplus stone

In particular we knew that when we came to develop the cottage under 'Plan B', the ground floor window on the south side was to be opened down to the ground to make a walkthrough into a new 'conservatory'. A double reason to remove this stonework right away was that the resulting opening would enable Austin to get a small mechanical digger actually inside the building, This would not only facilitate the essential excavation of all the ground floor, but also reduce the cost significantly

foundations: a little later we recognised that we could hardly leave the 'raw' conservatory and garage foundations exposed to be fallen into like grotesque elephant traps and eroded by weather, so we would have to do at least a little further work to make them safe and secure platforms


The 'Blitz'

Between October and Christmas 1998 the first massive advance was made. First all the fine wood of the floors, pews and wall panelling was carefully removed and saved along with the pulpit and screens and the stained-glasss window which had been in the lobby

Then the real battle was commenced: the inside was gutted, floors were excavated and holes were opened up in walls. Outside the drains and foundations were dug and filled, the borehole bored and sewage treatment plant installed below ground

At one stage the building sat with its blown-out walls in a sea of mud, looking like nothing so much as a farmhouse somewhere in a Flanders field in the middle of the First World War. But soon hardcore was laid, the drive steamed into submission and surfaced and even the main gate put in

Inside the massive main beams and pillars which were to hold up the new floor in the chapel were wrestled into position and the floor constructed, largely using the floorboards from the old ground floor

This was the epic time


First joys

Even in the midst of the wet, the wind and the freezing cold, two great great features of the place were already obvious:

• the sightlines

• the miraculous upper floor space

Sightlines: The landscape around the chapel is so spectacular you really don't want to have to be 'inside' more than absolutely necessary. Consultant, Nick Salt, had always insisted on the importance of aligning windows and doorways so as to create sightlines running right through the building, both north-south and east-west and on both levels

Already in December 1998 it was possible to stand, for instance, in a heap of rubble where what would eventually be the kitchen on the ground floor, and see majestic hills: to the west over the burial ground, to the south through the future 'conservatory' and over the stream, to the east through the chapel itself and to the north past our gorgeous neighbours' duckpond and colourful chickens … provided you could look past the digger parked in the 'kitchen', obviously

The feeling is almost like being in this glorious environment all the time, but without having actually to go out in the cold, the wind or the rain …

Upper floor space: The decision to put an upper floor in the chapel was made automatically, since space was needed and there was more than sufficient height for two levels. Initially we thought it sufficient that this should cover two thirds only of the ground floor, so that we could keep and enjoy the full height of the original space at least in part

Unbelievably we had never quite envisaged how wonderful the upper space would turn out to be in its own right, but we discovered this the first time we swarmed up the dusty ladder, teetered along the scaffolding planks and hauled ourselves onto the floorboards and stood up. The view through the south windows and through the five new roof windows (four on the east and one on the west side) is of course even more spectacular than from the ground and the sills of the south windows form an irresistible window seat overlooking the stream. This was clearly where you would want to be