Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Elms: a postscript

Almost 100 years after The Elms was built, a couple moved into part of it and published this diary on the web. I do not know who they are, so I cannot attribute these remarks, but it is an interesting account of a year or two in the life of a house.


This is a web site on The Elms, which hopefully will belong to Andrew and I by April 2001. The Elms is an Arts and Crafts house built in the early 1900’s, and is the most beautiful house in Wolverton.
1st March 2001. The damp and woodworm man visited The Elms today and reported that there is no problem with either at the house. Brilliant news!
WE MOVE IN ON 12th APRIL AT 12pm.!!!!!!!!!!
12th April. When we arrived today Dagmar and Mike opened a bottle of champagne to welcome us to our new home. This was an unexpected and really lovely gesture from them both. The Elms feels like coming home, I always knew it would, there was no "where am I?" on Friday when we woke up after our first night here, it is definitely home already, we both feel this.
13th April. The housewarming went well; everyone seems to love the house. A great evening, although as always I feel as if I didn’t have time to talk to everyone enough! We cleared up on Sunday, and then Andrew and Nick started pulling down walls upstairs to create our new bedroom. They continued on Monday, Barry came to help after work I supplied the food and drink and heavy-duty plastic bags. Andrew and Nick have continued on Tuesday too, ignoring computers for heavy labour! What Heroes - could soon have the bedroom of our dreams!
14th April. The garage is now completely cleared out, cleaned up and the new beer chiller, washing machine and tumble dryer are installed.
19th April. We had Polly’s tree man (a conservation officer) visit to look at the trees. He has recommended that we have about a fifth cut off of the top of the conifer leylandii (which he says is the largest of it’s kind he has ever seen.) He has also recommended lopping all the dead wood off of the cedar on the right, and unfortunately felling the Thuja  on the left as it is not well and may infect the other one. He says that the three laburnhams ought to go to as they won’t grow properly under the cedar and should not have been planted so close to it. He and his brother have offered to come and deal with all of this.
21st April. The last false wall is down, this room feels right – large and airy and full of light. You can see the lovely coving and where the architrave should be around the ceiling at the base of the curves. We have discovered that all this is in oak not plaster as we first thought, but it has about 15 layers of paint on top that we have to get rid of to expose the wood. It is all very exciting! My next job is to find a man who can do all this.
29th April. Andy from Akibo Joinery visited to have a look at our architrave, he remembers coming here to do some work for the people who Mike and Dagmar bought the house from. He says that he can replace the missing architrave and sort out the fire-charred coving. He will be in touch to give us a quote.
28th May. Andrew started digging out the chimneybreast wall at last; I have been waiting weeks for this! There is still part of the original fire in there, the main cast iron surround is there and has a lovely flower in each top corner reminiscent of the Macintosh Glasgow rose and a lovely little wavy grate but whoever bricked it up has removed the hood and taken off the tiles and left only these two bits, so the bottom piece to the grate i.e. the bit where the ashes would land and the front are sadly all gone.
29th May. Andrew has just phoned this morning to tell me that there is a little door that he has found which pulls in from the side and was hidden in the wall! This is in cast iron too and highly decorated. It’s so exciting!
5th June. The floor man came over today, we now want under floor heating as we will have the fire renovated, so the floor will be the last thing to be done. We have decided on a birch plank floor, which he will fit when the room is ready. Andrew started digging up the old floorboards a few days ago, mainly to see what was below them in preparation for the floor man and for the electrician. To our horror he found that there are two sets of boards one about 8 inches below the other, and in between is the most amazing amount of rubbish! Rubble, old pipes, electric cables, and dust and dirt everywhere. The whole floor space is packed with it the length and breadth of the bedroom, this is going to take weeks to clear.
9th June. Andrew has found a man in Gayton who can sort out the fire; we are taking it over next weekend. We have found four doors but the bottom two are stuck. He has even got a hood similar to the fire, so will renovate and fit the hood and come and fit the fire properly too. Apparently it is an Eagle nursery fire. We hope to use the blue pacific granite (which is black with blue sparkles) for the hearth, and re-tile the fireplace. Maybe we could use the Rennie Mackintosh design in birch for the fire surround.
16th June. We took the fire over to Jake who will do the renovating and fit the new hood, then hopefully will bring it back and refit it properly for us.
15th  June. At around midnight Andrew finally cleared the last of the debris from under the floor boards. We had an e-mail from Dagmar and Mike telling us that the debris between the boards is called pugging and was used as a form if insulating at the time the house was built. He has worked on this every evening after work except Wednesdays when I insisted that he took a break and every weekend other than our weeks holiday for my birthday, probably the hardest manual labour he has ever done, I couldn't lift the heavy duty rubble bags, we lost count of how many!
16th July. Tony the electrician started work on the sitting room, hall and master bedroom. We have to get all the  electrical stuff sorted out downstairs so that we can fit the new floor upstairs and not have to dig it up again later. There is dust everywhere, but it is beginning to look the way we are planning. Poor Janet must be wondering if the Elms will ever look normal again!
18th July. Ian Beazeley-Long the plumbing and heating man came to give us a quote this evening, after a bad day at work getting concussion whilst fixing a gas fire. Andrew chose the same day to fall over and break his elbow so we looked like an episode from Casualty! Ian is going to install the new bathroom for our en suite and replace the tank and relocate the new mega flow boiler under the stairs.
29th July. Stuart Thomson the Tree Surgeon came today to give us a quote on felling the Thuja tree, which is diseased. He is also going to cut one fifth off of the top of the Conifer, and clear the dead wood from the other trees, a kind of spring clean of the garden. The garden has been a delight to us all summer, almost weekly new flowers appear as if by magic! We have just watched and taken photo's of the garden to see what is there, other than mowing and keeping the weeds down. Andrew bought a little pot-bellied bar-b-que which is having frequent use, I never knew Wolverton could be so peaceful.
23rd August. A shameful amount of time since my last entry! Tony the electrician has finished rewiring the master bedroom, the living room and the downstairs hall. We now have " star lights" in the ceiling of the en suite and plug sockets and speaker sockets in the bedroom. The hall is lit with three polar wall washers and a row of "peanut" lights hidden behind the beam. The living room has four stellar and one slice wall washers, new sockets, speaker and television sockets and the "peanuts" hidden behind the beam to light up the chimney breast. All of this works by remote control, so that we can set different moods for the room i.e. working, ambient or romantic lighting, cool huh!! All in all it's looking good, except for the amount of plaster missing from the walls, the wallpaper appeared to be holding the walls up in the living room, we are almost finished scraping the paper off and the plaster is blown so the whole room will need to be re-plastered before any decorating can be thought of. Nothing is easy in old houses is it? Tommy Haines a plasterer recommended to me by my artex man in Yardley Gobion is hopefully giving us a quote for this, apparently he recently did a job at Woburn Abbey so he should be good , we hope!
10th September.  Stuart the lovely tree surgeon started work on our trees in the back garden, as arranged several weeks ago. He and his friend Mick will spend today and tomorrow working here. They have trimmed 15 feet off of the top of the Conifer Leylandii; they have rounded the top nicely. The Limes, the Laburnhams, the Canadian Maple, the Willow and the Crab Apple have been trimmed and dead-wooded. The Elder has been cut out and removed from the Mock Orange. Unfortunately the Thuja, Plum and the small Sycamore tree next to the Plum were all diseased and had to be removed. All but one of the Laburnhams next to the variegated Holly have been removed too. We have several other Laburnhams, which Stuart said could happily stay, he sees no reason why Ian wanted to remove them from under the Cedar! We have bought a lovely Eucalyptus tree to replace the Thuja at the top of the garden, and are planning on replacing the other two with a Monkey Puzzle and either a Red Maple or a Copper Beech to add a touch of colour amongst the greenery.
16th September.  Dan Leeson a local builder arrived this morning to brick up the en suite bathroom door. According to the plans Mike and Dagmar left us this is not an original door, so we are removing it so that we can utilize this area for the new bath, which will take up that whole corner.
21st September.  Dave Tedder a local chimney sweep came over to sweep both chimneys. The sitting room chimney is fine. He says that we have a cover over the bedroom chimney, so we have to find a roofer or some such to replace it with a cowl, so that we can use the lovely original fire when it is refitted after renovation.
25th September.  Tommy Haines the plasterer arrived with his son Kelly to sort out the sitting room, no mean feat, as it all needs re doing! A good result at the end of today, Tommy is coming over in the morning to finish off the window wall as the skirting board is too loose so Andrew needs to tighten it up tonight.
26th September.  Tommy arrived bright and early this morning, followed closely by Stuart our tree man who is going to dead wood the Cedar tree as it needs a whole days work to itself! I made tea and we all sat in the garden chatting for a while, our workers exchanged cards and Tom told me that his son Kelly is famous, {oops, I didn’t recognise him} He has been in Grange Hill, Bergerac and Howard’s End.
2nd October.  Our bathroom suite arrived today!! We have a Roca Hawaii bath very large and very comfortable. {We found this out by going to every bathroom shop we could find, including a very posh one in London, and having a lie down in their baths together, which we thought was the only way to find a comfortable bath, but seemed to amuse some salespeople and totally scandalize others!!} An Axor tap for the bath, which has a shower attachment within it and is very groovy!  A Roca Dama toilet with a low cistern with push button flush, a beautiful blue glass arch shaped sink from Avanti, a wonderful Philippe Stark tap which looks like a little ant eater and is so cute that I really had to have one! Last but not least a gorgeous Italian arch shaped mirror, which has 8 lights, set in all round the back of the arch, which will give a lovely soft glow all the way around. The mirror will sit above the sink, which should look great, as hopefully one arch will reflect the other.
9th October.  The under floor heating for our en suite arrived this morning, Andrew and Nick are going to start laying it tonight after work.
11th October.  Andrew and Nick continued laying the heating after work again little souls must be knackered, as they don’t get home till 7.30pm.
13th October.  Andrew and Nick put all the insulation and plates down, they have worked on all day today so have completed about three quarters of the entire area!  
15th October. Ian Beazley-Long our heating and plumbing man is starting work today. He and his 3 assistants will be here for a week and will change the heating system from unpressurised to pressurised, and relocate it under the stairs. They will remove the old water tanks from the loft and the cylinder from the spare bedroom leaving us more space in what will be the second bedroom eventually. They will also be fitting our lovely en suite bathroom. They will fit the new radiator in the sitting room. Last but not least they will fit the new sewage and down pipes needed for the bathroom. Sounds like a busy week, but by this time next week we should be able to try out our new bath.
20th October.  Ian has finished all the work, except fitting the bathroom. I can't say that we are really pleased with the work he has done. Everything that he did fit works, it's just the finishing touches really. He has updated the heating, but left the pump in the guest bedroom, although he knew that we wanted it under the stairs, so that there were no pipes in that room. The radiator in the sitting room works but the pipes are outside the skirting instead of hidden inside. The en suite is not fitted at all because we bought designer taps instead of bog standard!!?? Plus he says we need to decorate first. He charged very little less too, so we feel we've been ripped off. I'm afraid he is not in my gold star recommendations anymore.
6th November.  Andrew went to fetch our fire back from Jake this evening, he has left it too late to come and fit it before he moves, so we need someone to put the fireplace all back together now! Anyone out there know a man who can? Jake has made a wonderful job of the fire, it is all black and shiny and utterly beautiful, and the little doors work now. It's so so cute!
9th November.  Andrew and Nick have finished fitting the under floor heating, and have laid the temporary loft floor so that the plasterer etc. have a surface to walk on. Andrew has also prepped the whole room ready for re plastering.
14th November.  Tommy Haines and Kelly are back to plaster the bedroom walls. Tom has said that he can replaster the rounded corner so that it looks like the rounded walls in the sitting room, which is how it must have been originally.
15th November.  The bedroom looks wonderful! Tommy has made an excellent job of this room. The fire surround is good, and the rounded corner detail is just like the rounded walls by the fireplace in the drawing room. We are so pleased with this result!!
19th November.  Shane Quentin the painter started the sitting room. Today he is prepping the room.
20th November.  Disaster again. Andrew announces that the paint we have chosen for the beams resembles tart's lipstick! So it's off to Colours again in convoy to search for new paint. We think we have the right colours after 40 minutes deliberation.
21st November.  Yes we've got it right this time the rich burgundy where the beams were pink and a deep jade green replacing the blue. William Morris chalk matt emulsion is on order for the walls. Shane is an excellent painter and really enjoys this challenge. It's Andrew's birthday today so a double celebration we'll have one room done for Christmas!!
24th November.  Went to collect the W.Morris paint, but we don't like it! It should look matt white with a tinge of lavender in some lights according to the brochure, it actually looks world war one khaki. Yuk!! Instead of a relaxing Sunday we will have to go on another paint hunting spree, why is nothing simple?
26th November.  We have the paint sorted out after many hours of checking match pots etc. Colours paint shop have mixed the paint for us, using The W.Morris paint chart - it's perfect!
30th November.  Shane finished the painting today {as far as he can at present as we need the skirting around the fireplace done} The room looks wonderful, as you can see from the pictures on site he is an excellent painter. We are delighted. We are waiting for an estimate from a tiler/carpenter who {hopefully} is going to re tile the sitting room fireplace in silver blue slate from Fired Earth, then will replace the skirting. Shane can then complete the paintwork.
1st December.  Andrew and Nick have spend the day working on the plumbing of the en suite, the bath is causing problems as the overflow is leaking. 
The elusive Andy re appeared today {remember him from April?} and has taken a chunk of the original ceiling moulding from the en suite and is apparently now thinking of doing the work for us!
2nd December.  Andrew fitted a Victorian brass door handle on the sitting room's back door today, which looks more in keeping with the period of the house. We are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel - we may have 2 rooms completed by Christmas yet!
6th December.  Gerald has been to look at the fireplace and the skirting and says he can do both.
16th December.  Andy phoned to say that the wood will have to be done in four pieces as it is so complicated! This will make it far more expensive than originally expected.
17th December.  Gerald started work on the fireplace tiles today. They are rough cut and more uneven than we expected, but we like them.
18th December.  Gerald needs more adhesive so out early to fetch it, let Barry drive to work in his car, it died at Homebase!  I got back eventually to find that the tile grout is far too light for the tiles, so off to Jewson's for some black cement dye to mix with grout. We think we've matched it pretty well now so Gerald is getting on with it. While we were testing the grout we chatted about the house and the work needing done and he thinks he may be able to fit the fire for us too. We intended asking him to do the bedroom skirting once we'd seen some of his work, maybe he can do the tiling upstairs too! If he can do all three then we should be moving a pace - can see us having a bedroom soon!
20th December. The fireplace looks brilliant, Gerald has made a wonderful job of it. The joiner has made the skirting too small, Gerald not happy about it, but will sort it out and fit it in the new year. He had a look at the bedroom fire and decided it looked to much hassle for him to do. He told me there is a place over at Maids Moreton who specialise in old fireplaces, maybe we can get them to refit the fire.
22nd December. Andrew and I chose a companion set for the sitting room, it's burnished metal and looks silver, gold or black depending on the light.
8th January 2002. Gerald came back and finished the skirting, he's made a really good job of it, we are so impressed with his work!
15th January. Shane our lovely decorator man came back to paint the skirting. The room looks wonderful now. All we need are curtains and a rug, then room one is finished!
27th February. Andrew and Nick at last have the bath fitted with no overflow problems, many frustrating trials with many different overflow pipes from the first attempt ! A lovely bathe will follow soon { but no pictures of that to put in diary!}
28th February. The manifold for the under floor heating is installed - we're up and running. Lovely warm floor, Sprog the dog is not the only one impressed!
2nd March. On the 15th October we expected this event - the room is nicely warmed, the candles are lit, wine has been breathing awhile at room temperature, it's time to try the long awaited bath. Goodnight!

2 comments:

Andrew said...

I was so please to see the new owners renovate the Elms. Somewhere around 1976 I recall I travelled with my friend and her parents to their allotment near Stacey Avenue. Her father was a retained firefighter at Wolverton. In those days the firefighters were called in by a siren on a high platform by the station (which was next to the police station along Stratford Road going west past the Print). The siren went off that evening and my friends father ran off leaving us to walk home. On the way we could see the smoke rising from The Elms. It suffered a serious fire, and was derelict for some time after - I recall venturing into the ruin one day when I was feeling particularly brave.

Bryan Dunleavy said...

Which goes to show that a fire-damaged building need not be demolished. I wish as much consideration had been given to the Science and Art Institute.