Cindy and I have always had a hankering for an old house with beams and an inglenook fire place. We wanted a house that smelt of stew, wood smoke, old church and bees wax polish. But properties like that came at a premium (over £30,000 in 1976 ) Before we settled on buying No3 Forsham Cottage we had looked at lots of older properties that were at the high end of our means and the low end of the period property market, so there was always an ’issue’.
At one stage we had our hearts set on the centre section of an Elizabethan farm house in Grafty Green. It was, and possibly still is, very small, but it had the beams, an inglenook and that smell! After weeks of waiting and hoping we were finally refused a mortgage because of something called a flying freehold. This meant that part of the next doors bedroom was over our front room, so if there was ever a ‘mishap’ (I won’t say the F word. ) there could be a dispute as to who owns what. I did argue that surely was no different than flats, when your kitchen ceiling is some other buggers bathroom floor. But this was back in the days when the folks in the building society were ‘up them selves’. It was the days when you could not get a mortgage without crawling over broken glass having first rubbed neat VIM in your eyes. These were the times when customer service as they perceived it was taking ones glasses off before looking down ones nose at the owiks, especially young owiks who obviously REALLY need the money.
We looked at a big semi in Yalding, right in the heart of village near the bridge. I asked about the planks in the porch, ”duck boards, so you can get to the road when it floods” declared the estate agent in that up beat way to try and make it sound like a quaint period feature. Then I notice the quaint little sand bags and the ancient tide mark up the ancient rag stone footing.
A charming little back street cottage in Headcorn where the hippy occupiers (not owners) had used spray cans to paint Gods magnificent oak beams gold and sliver, and the smell was not of stew and chapel. I wanted to buy this cottage just to rescue it, but the garden was non-existent, having long ago been built over to garage an oldie worldie Ford Capri, we had to leave that little gem to its fate.
Another place again in Headcorn which over looked the church and graveyard, I loved it but Cindy the witch, sensed ‘a presence’ and got a bit upset with me as I started to get exited about beams and features, ignoring her concern that Ebenezer and his misses were shuffling around in the back passage. Half the time I can’t, (or some would say won’t) focus on the real world, so to expect me to tune in to the spirit world is a big ask. Dill the dog was NOT impressed either, refusing to cross the threshold under his own steam, having to be dragged in. Then he laid prostrate by the door with his snout flat on the flagstones whimpering as he sniffed the ‘spook free’ air issuing in under the ill fitting front door. “Perhaps it belonged to a Vet” I suggested “you know how the old boy hates vets” ….. Apparently that was ridiculous, but herselfs “bad feel in here” was perfectly acceptable.
If we were to have beams and that big open fire then we would have to cheat and put them in ourselves. At this time it was possible to buy fake fibreglass beams. Examples of which could be spied in every recent pub conversion in the county where it was thought the punters wanted character.
I think I am allergic to fibre glass I certainly have a bad reaction to the look of ‘play time’ beams. For real authenticity, builders (I use the world cautiously ) advised ‘get a bit of salvaged floor joist, chisel off of the corners, thrash it with a bit of chain, give it splash of creosote, (or in one case old engine oil), and according to builderman “it would look the bollocks”. There was no option, if we wanted that oak look we had to start buying real oak beams. Whilst my contemporaries worked overtime and extra shifts for nice to have stuff like a tumble drier or to go out for a meal. .I worked extra hours to buy long dead trees with wood worm.
Forsham Cottage was a typical farm labours cottage with two down stairs rooms, which had recently been knocked into one twelve by twenty four foot room with the original two chimney breasts now in the one room. One chimney was a working open fire whilst the other had been sealed off. We wanted to ‘beef up’ the open fire with a fire back and log brazier and to reinstating the sealed chimney by installing a wood burner.
Normal folks would have possibly clad the original breasts in brick or perhaps removed the plaster to expose the brick work. Normal folks would have two matching bressemer beams (beam over the fire opening). However we don’t appear to understand ‘normal’. We bought an eight inch square, eighteen foot long oak beam which was to bridge both fire places and the space between them. We acquired a thousand hand made Tudor bricks from a demolished slaughter house in Charing. Enlisted the help of ‘Old Jack’ who was Cindy’s mums neighbour, somehow relation and it needs recording .. one of natures natural gentlemen. Old Jack was a retired bricky who’s speciality was fires and flues. For £60, a roast chicken dinner with pudding and custard, Old Jack built us a nineteen foot long, floor to ceiling Tudor brick fire place with two working fires and a single bressemer beam .. now that dear builder …… did look the bollocks !
I was getting the hang of the oak thing, and it took over a bit. I had plans to make beamed ceilings and studded walls. . I NEEDED oak. On one beam buying trip I followed the instruction to the village and then lost the scent. Finding a phone box (no mobiles then, and you may not be surprised to know that even today I neither have a mobile phone nor a watch , and have no requirement of either) I rang the customer again which yielded me a second set of directions. I was to go back out of the village, go left onto the main road, a mole or so on I was to take the next left into a country lane, which I was to follow until I saw a phone box and they were to found a hundred yards down on the right. I followed the instructions finding myself ten minutes later going back past the same sodding phone box . . but she was right they were a hundred yards down there on right !
We then had a phone call from uncle Bob the wood cutter, who via the family ‘tom toms’ found out “we was wanting sum beams”. I was flattered Bob had actually phoned us at all, he didn’t like the phone and avoided using it. After years of screaming chain saws, his hearing was ‘shot’. Two way conversation face to face was challenging enough, over the phone it was even more so. Auntie Glad (Mrs Bob, who makes brilliant Christmas cake) was repeatedly dragged into the disjointed conservation as interpreter and amplifier as Bob boomed …”cum er Glad ……wots e say” … If we wanted it Uncle Bob had us a whole oak barn that he had been asked to pull down mainly because it was unsafe, but also because the local kids were practicing pyrotechnics and ‘other’ stuff in and around it, so fearing an accident or christening, the owner wanted it flattened.
Three tractor and trailer loads of flat packed barn makes a very big pile, which soon filled our very small lay-by …… again.
And it only cost the same as a tumble drier and a couple of curries.