Living in England

The Garden

Shade, breeze through the poplars; butterflies, birds and deer. Very few places seem better for a quiet, cold beer on a sunny afternoon and there are black, black skies on autumn nights.


The kitchen window before work started.

Our rural retreat is in a corner of north-west Essex on the borders of Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire. It's an old farmhouse that was originally constructed, we think, just before 1603. Just to give that some context, it's the year James VI of Scotland became King of England after Queen Elizabeth I died and when Sir Walter Raleigh was arrested on treason charges and sent to the Tower of London. I wonder if they heard the news up here. There was still over 300 years to go before the great war started; it was to be another 250 years before the California Gold Rush started and just over 200 years before the first documented mention of Dubai.

The original building is built with an oak 'post and truss' frame that is held together with oak pegs. It had been unoccupied for over twenty years when we took it over. Alterations had been made during the Victorian period and these included new box and shutter windows, a side addition and a two-storey addition to the rear. This had collapsed and caused significant damage to the original structure so we removed it and restored the original roof using oak pegs although we had to support it with a steel beam. The bedroom floor still has a sickening wave in it. We also found evidence that the original building was thatched, although the nature of the currently-used clay peg tiles suggest that this was removed and replaced some two to three hundred years ago.

The house gave up a few of its secrets during the restoration work; we found a priest-hole inside the chimney, scorch marks where tapers had been fixed to walls for lighting and slots for shutters in window openings. We also seem to have a ghost - seen by me and, independently, a guest staying with us. On different occasions we each saw an old lady with long, grey hair. She seems to be content with what we've done to the house as she's not troubled us since the building work finished. Mind you, looking again at the condition of her kitchen window before I started the restoration it's little wonder.



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A harbinger

The woodland surrounding us has a huge diversity of species, suggesting that it has been established for a considerable time. In spring it fills with a carpet of bluebells - one of England's natural wonders.