Upper House - property restoration

PUBLISHED: 13:47 14 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:33 20 February 2013

Upper House - property restoration

Upper House - property restoration

John and Annie Nethercott's restoration of Upper House has taken them on a journey back in time, says Sharon Chilcott

Describedby the estate agents as an 18th century farmhouse, Upper House, Discoed, was anunimposing building when John and Annie Nethercott first came across it in 1984.

But to Johns experienced eye, a strange lump under the thick rendered concrete facade hinted at secrets long obscured. John immediately recognised the lump as an oriel window, explains Annie. Then when we went up into the attic it got even more exciting! Peeking through a hole in the wall of the attic, Johns suspicions were confirmed when he spied the ornately timbered gable end of a sealed-off room that had been reduced to serving as a granary.

Johns insight came from years of experience in architectural period joinery and an interest in wood and craftsmanship. One of the reason I love old buildings is that they are whacky theres a lack of symmetry and a looseness about them which appeals. No two houses are quite the same. The craftsmen were working within the confines of oak so a room would be a certain length because that was the length of the tree trunk.

Seduced into buying the property, despite its outward appearance, the couple have spent years unpeeling the layers which covered its true origins and status as a hall house, partly reconstructed in the 17th century but, as dendro-dating has confirmed, with a cross wing dating from 1536 and a history going back even further. It would have been a timber frame cruck hall with a central hearth, said John. When we took the floor up in the living room we could see where there had been a central hearth, which would have pre-dated the cross wing.

Relatively few similar buildings remain in the region, but in Herefordshire, Lower Brockhampton Manor House, the medieval moated timber-framed house on the National Trust-owned Brockhampton Estate is an example.

Said Annie: Previous occupants had been battling against the elements for generations and by the time we got here, the floors were covered with fertiliser bags with sand under and fitted carpets over, the windows had been replaced, doors moved, ceilings covered, holes made through timber framed walls and a 1950s tiled fireplace built over the inglenook.

The property had been rendered for the same reasons, as Annie was to discover. The man who came to put in the Rayburn saw me chipping away and asked what I was doing. I explained it was hideous and ruining the house and he said he had served his apprenticeship on the house, putting the render on to keep the weather out!

There were lots of clues to the buildings origins, and with perseverance, the couple succeeded in reinstating it to its former glory, including the oriel window. The property now has a Grade 2* listing, in recognition of its historical and architectural importance.

As the property gave up its secrets, their discoveries multiplied. In a cupboard, they found a tiny piece of balustrade which would have been part of a staircase. They reinstated the stairs, and John, who runs his architectural period joinery business, made the rest of the balustrade to match the original section. The couple also reinstated the timber framed wall in the snug, which is in part of the 16th century cross wing and in the living room they also found some original plasterwork with painting on it. The design would have been all over the wall, and over the timber frame, said Annie. Unfortunately, when we were restoring it we took the plaster all off very carefully, intending to replace it, but our four-year-old son came along and kicked the box and much of it was destroyed!

By taking more recent plaster off the walls, the couple discovered where the old windows would have been and they have endeavoured to put them back in the same places. Doors and floors have also been replaced, and the asbestos roof has been retiled with stone tiles collected from various farms and redundant buildings. The couple were pioneers in the use of lime wash and have also more recently discovered the benefits which clay paint has over lime paint for old houses. They cope with equanimity with the alarmingly sloped upstairs floors, just as they did when, with three young boys, they were moving from room to room as the project was being completed, with no glass in the windows and the sound of flapping polythene.

They now have a beautiful family home, with a large entrance hall, cosy snug and a living room with open fireplace and a striking polished Shropshire flagstone floor, scattered with rugs. The property is furnished with items bought at auctions, some which John has restored, and there are other pieces he has made (he makes and sells individually designed traditional furniture as part of his business). The settle in the kitchen is a favourite a bargain, bought for 50 from a farmer who had kept it in his woodshed for 20 years. The house is decorated with soft furnishings in antique-style fabrics and, in the panelled bathroom, pretty 1920s vintage curtains have been restored by Rebecca Saunders, who also made many of the other curtains.

Outside, John has landscaped the gardens, building a cobbled terrace and a large lily pond. He says: Weve had more JCBs here than weve had hot dinners!

Some 28 years on, its still an ongoing project. Annie says: We were young and enthusiastic, I wouldnt want to do it now. Yet she has more plans for the garden and, having completed a project building a Tudor house in California, for which he had to rent extra workshop space, John recently decided he needed extra room on site. His new workshop, completed about five months ago, was erected in association with Royston Davies from Eardisley and has been built in local stone and designed to be in keeping with its historic surroundings. We tried to tie the stonework in with the church, which is next door and the beautiful internal beams were influenced by the Great Hall at Tretower Court, said John.Much has been replaced, but we have tried to reinstate what was missing or rotten as it would have been we couldnt think of any other way to do it we just listened to the house.

Visit Johns new workshop and see his craftsmen at work during hArt, Herefordshires open studios event from September 10-18. www.herefordshhire.gov.uk/h-artmw

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