This house is old and crumbling. Every time I turn my back something else seems to be broken,cracked or falling apart. Today I noticed the skirting board in the living room has started to pull away from the wall , exposing the bare stone behind it. In the corner behind the television I notice a chunk of board has disappeared ,leaving a pile of amber dust in its place. Dry rot is creeping insidiously around the downstairs rooms. It has chewed its way through several of the parquet flooring blocks in the other downstairs room. I sigh,turn around and gently close the sitting room door behind me. Today has been a long day and I can’t face dealing with any more ‘problems’ today. After all, the living room has only been redecorated three years ago. When we lifted the carpet we found old fertiliser bags from the 1950s acting as underlay!
The story of our farmhouse will be familiar to many farming families. Contrary to the belief that seems to be held that all farmers live in mansions, quite a lot live in run down,dated farm accommodation. In recent times the financial struggle faced by many of us has lead to a tightening of farm purse strings. Indoor renovations come at the bottom of a very,very,VERY long ‘to do’ list. A lot of the properties are hundreds of years old. They are often quite large as previous generations have added extensions in a piecemeal fashion over the decades.
Our farmhouse is ancient.A dwelling has stood here, balanced on compacted earth with little or no foundations, for over 300 years. It probably started out quite simply, a two up two down flat fronted dwelling. over the years extensions were made, walls moved and bits added. When restoration work was carried out on the modern day kitchen, no fewer than 7 joins were found tacking on to the original 4 roomed structure.
It has had almost constant occupation, with 6 generations of one family having lived and died under its beams. As far as we know it has only been uninhabited for a period of 20 years, when Fs grandparents moved out. Before F moved in restoration work was carried out which kept a few key rooms functional, and the rest of the house remained locked up in a time warp.
Over the past few years we have started the Sisyphean task of making all of the house safe and comfortable to live in. We have so far managed to create a living room and a dining room downstairs, and have central heating in most of the house!Central heating has only just been put into the upstairs bedrooms, and two rooms are still awaiting this ‘mod con’. It is a frustrating task though, as with every one job we complete another two urgent repairs become apparent!
I have to keep reminding myself how much history is contained within these four walls and how privileged we are to live amongst it.In essence it is a living museum, housing 3 centuries worth of farming history.I suppose an estate agent would have a field day listing all the ‘original features’ that add to the ‘character’ of the property. I know many people dream of living in a farmhouse (I know I did once upon a time), but dreams don’t always meet up to reality. Hopefully one day we will get on top of the long ‘to do’ list and drag the house into the 21st century! Until then, let me show you some of the most remarkable features.
The kitchen is a lasting part of the original dwelling. There is a recess on one corner were the hearth once stood, with a giant oak beam the only reminder of the vast chimney that once stood above it. It now contains an ikea kallax (a staple of all ‘modern’ homes with children under 5) and a play corner. The hooks that my children now hang their coats and bags on were originally added in the 1930’s. They were installed for the 3 little evacuees sent far from their city home and into the middle of working farm life.Their arrival created an instant family for the newly married farmer and his wife!
Above the heads of the evacuees home made puddings would have dangled from strings balanced on iron hooks.These hooks are another ‘original’ feature leftover from the days of the open hearth. These hooks are still useful today- I use them to suspend muslins when making jams and preserves!
In the hall stands a handsome coffer- dark wood with brass handles. It takes up an awful lot of room and, I’ll let you into a secret, I think it’s really quite ugly. But oh,if it could talk. It dates from the 18th century and has quite a story associated with it. It belonged to an elderly widow woman who found herself homeless, being the only personal possesion she had been able to keep.The man farming here at the time ,f’s great great great grandfather, took her in rather than see her carted off to the poorhouse. She lived the rest of her days on the farmyard in one of the barns. You can still see the spot from her candles on the stones of the barn.
Another living piece of history now serves as a step linking the patio and the garden. In a previous life it formed a part of a slop trough that stood in the passage between the old kitchen and the dairy. All edible waste went into it, where it was heated to turn it into pig swill.
If I listed all the special parts of the house I would be here for weeks , having no doubt written thousands of words and bored you all to tears!
Sometimes when I am alone in one of the older parts of the house I do like to sit and wonder how many souls have walked over the floorboards, or forgot to duck and smacked their heads off the oak beam over the fire. Countless babies have been born here, and no doubt many people have drawn there last breath here too. This is a side of farming that seems to be forgotten- the generational legacy, things that have remained unchanged over time. Farmers are guardians of so much more than land and beast. After all not many people can say at least 7 generations of their family have lived in one house.