Our Story – Part 3

The calm … and the storm

In December 1998 the date for moving in had been confidently set at 31 March, but mysteriously little seemed to be happening as January became February, and this seemed to become less and less realistic – and then the rains came, followed by floods

On one memorable occasion in the middle of February we were unable to get to the chapel at all because the valley floor was widely flooded. Fortunately from the safety of the main road halfway up the valley side we were able to observe (and video) that the chapel itself was well out of the water

After this drama there was something of a flurry to get the basic wiring, plumbing and carpentry done so that Plan 'A' could be completed and James could move into the upper part of the chapel


The moment of truth

Then came the second big shock: Plan 'A' was not going to work or, rather, the whole future was going to be extremely dire for a long time and amazingly expensive in the long run, if we had to stick to the minimal plan 'A'

We had never quite thought through the final details of how plan 'A' was to be finished, so that the contractors could go off site leaving a liveable and workable situation into which James could realistically move.

Now we found that special partitions and other temporary fixtures and fittings and re-routing of some services would have to be put in place, all of which would have to be dismantled later when any further development were put in hand and so the cost of it would all be 'wasted'

In addition, in order to mitigate this kind of problem in the future, we had created openings for doors and windows and dug floors and foundations not originally envisaged as part of plan 'A' and these to be finished in some way or made secure. When it emerged that the cost of 'plugging' doorways and windows temporarily was not significantly different to the cost of doing them 'properly' we had to think hard. We were by then also well aware of the implications of not deferring our one and only claim for VAT until the whole initial development phase were finished

It was clear that more money was needed if it could possibly be found. This was our moment of truth


Moving the goalposts

Most fortunately Sylvia's and Barry's personal circumstances had changed by then in a way which allowed them to decide to come into the project as full partners with James. This effectively enabled us to move the goalposts by a chunk and a half and saved the project from running into a very deep and muddy hole

Extra accommodation:

First we had to remind ourselves what was involved in the rest of the development and modify it so that there would be somewhere properly set up for Sylvia and Barry to stay whenever they could find the time to come from London. Since we planned to do all the interior decoration and the garden ourselves, this was needed as soon as anything else


the bedroom and bathroom on the cottage first floor were to be slightly re-designed and completed

Chapel first floor:

the chapel first flooor was to be extended, so as to make more use of that splendid upper space. The trade-off was that we would no longer be able to enjoy the full height of the original building from the ground floor, except within the stairwell, but we had no doubt by then that that was a good deal

Conservatory & garage:

We decided, in addition to developing the cottage, to put in both the conservatory and the garage – the latter with a rough loft floor for additional storage and to be accessible by ladder. This in turn meant completing the access from the cottage into the conservatory and garage respectively


Mike Jerman was asked to put in the complete heating/plumbing package including:

• underfloor heating throughout the combined ground floor area

• radiators on the second floor

• kitchen, utility room, shower room and loo on the ground floor

• bathroom and loo on the cottage second floor

Mike had plenty of fun with the underfloor heating pipes, when the weather suddenly went much colder and made the piping less flexible


Edward Jones now came in to install completely new electrical wiring going to a new board in the utility room. And we had to decide where we wanted every single electrical switch and light and power point, when we still had only the haziest most theoretical notion of how the building would actually be used … arrgh !

Damp-proofing, dry-lining & insulating:

Both Edward and Mike had to come and go to fit in and around the work of damp proofing the ground floors and dry lining and insulating the insides of the outside walls and roof spaces, so that wiring and pipes would all be concealed.


One of the great skills of Austin Lewis and his number one man, Wayne Price, is woodwork. Apart from making the new floor with beams and pillars, cunningly detailed in traditional manner (as insisted upon by Nick Salt), they have made all the doors and windows (except the Velux roof window units), the wide window sills (using mostly the old pew seats), dados, the main staircase, the conservatory and various pieces of panelling and boxing in. The glass was all made up from double-glazed units made up to order by Red Kite Glass.

Where woodwork comes into contact with rough stonework, Wayne has gone to great trouble to scrive in the timber to fit. The particular character of the extensive woodwork contributes greatly to the whole feel of the building and is in complete harmony with the natural stone and slate everywhere

We are keen not to lose the essential woodiness of the material by painting it out and so are using Sadolin extra durable exterior quality woodstain. The shade called 'Mais', which Austin tends to use as a basic undercoat, is a slightly spicy yellow-brown colour and, although it was not at all what we had originally envisaged doing, we took a liking to it and have continued with it. After two or three coats, the effect is quite strong and, since the new bargeboard and conservatory went up on the south side, we now talk about our 'Gingerbread House' with as much affection as amusement

We are treating the new wood surfaces inside, which include most notably some sections of the upper floors and the staircase, as far as possible with Auro organic resin oil/wax, because it modifies the look of the new wood less than any other preparation and it is hard wearing whilst allowing the wood to breath at the same time


Once the necessary decisions had been made, the garage went up very quickly, which was 'Good News' for the local swallows, who immediately moved in and built their nests on the rafters. They are astonishing birds who can fly full tilt in through a small opening into a small dark space and yet finesse their way around all manner of obstacles, including bemused humans, and carry on their lives

Although we have had to exclude them this year (2000) from nesting in the garage again, we have made arrangements whereby we they will be able to do so in future years, if circumstances allow it and they wish to, even if we are all away and the garage doors and window are locked


Perhaps wagtails are even more unflinching and determined than swallows? One pair insisted on clinging steadfastly to their nest, which was on a ledge right underneath the bargeboard on the south side, even whilst the old bargeboard was prized off and a new one fixed. A little later the young family were eventually fledged and flew from the nest apparently none the worse for their ordeal


The final scramble

After missing the first two scheduled moving-in dates of 31 March and 30 April and creating more work by the moving of the goalposts James began to despair of being able to move in before the millennium. Accordingly a final ultimate and never-to-be-repeated deadline of 31 August was set and the final scramble to complete got under way


Throughout the groundfloors there was now underfloor heating, so we wanted to use slate or quarry tiles and were lucky to locate some red and some blue recycled quarry tiles mainly for the small conservatory and shower room areas respectively. For the rest of the cottage floor we found nearby some amazing multi-coloured 30mm (1 ft) slate tiles (from Henry Powell) which seemed to cost as little as any other form of floor finish. Sadly they were not local, that is, from where a generation or two ago the world centre of the slate industry used to be. (If they had been from there, they would have cost twice as much.) These were in fact all the way from China, which sounds completely ridiculous!

Subsequently we found some excellent and also very reasonably priced traditional grey riven slates 600mm (2 ft) square (from Bryn Evans of Slateability) for the main chapel floor – and these also came from China

Soon Colin Jones, who had been doing all the brickwork, rendering and plastering with amazing speed and finesse, had these tiles beautifully laid in the cottage area and we could begin to feel we were 'getting there'

'Home Team' exploits:

Meanwhile as the 'home team' we ourselves we were looking for kitchen stuff – units, furniture, utensils, gismos and machines … most of which we were bringing in or recycling from other homes. The main unit set-up we eventually selected was the Rejal range from IKEA, because it fitted in well with our wood and the rest of the natural materials and the only other product we saw and liked as well was a handmade oak kitchen at about ten times the price.

We also tracked down the sanitaryware for the bathroom and shower rooms. One of the sinks came from Sylvia and Barry's own house and the one for the kitchen, which is French and has an octagonal shaped basin, a stylised blue flower pattern and a fabulously elegant mixer tap fitting, was spotted on special offer at a 'Home Building & Renovating' show

Furniture, light fittings, rugs, crockery, cutlery, fabrics and furnishings were gradually accumulated.

Telephone lines were eventually installed, but whatever happened to that much-vaunted 'work-from-anywhere-cyber-office' concept? "Oh you wanted two lines, did you, Sir? Hmmnnn … I'd say, you'll be bit lucky there – they're all piggy-backing like mad down in that valley already … well … they never thought there'd be such a call for lines when they put them in years ago, did they? Anyway, leave it with me, Sir, and I'll see what we can do … ")

Television was something else: no terrestrial signal receivable at all in the valley. The only 'solution' was to get a satellite box – waiting time for delivery/installation: four months …


The move

Our hired, long-wheelbase transit van with 'luton' cab made three trips on consecutive days, followed up by five more in a capacious Volvo estate – and that was after a massive clearout had taken place over previous weeks with countless trips to the re-cycling station. Everyone involved in the campaign did heroic things and finished up completely exhausted and very grubby. The whole chapel ground floor was filled to eye level. But the electrics and the plumbing were working and James was 'in' by the end of the month, so there were some happy people here at last