Category Archives: Weddings

Unexpected challenges

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog, and I’m sorry to those of you that enjoy reading about our adventures at Court Lodge. One thing we’ve been working away on in the background for the past couple of years is our planning application to the council asking for permission to use Court Lodge as a venue for functions, weddings, business meetings, and so on. We think it would be ideal as a venue in so many ways, and we know lots of other people do too, as we’ve already had lots of enquiries. But we can’t do anything until we get permission to operate commercially.

The main reason for seeking this permission is so that we can raise sufficient funds to carry out the much-needed repairs to Court Lodge and to the garden. Court Lodge doesn’t generate enough money as an accommodation rental business to carry out repairs; it makes just enough to cover its on-going running costs. So we need to find an additional source of income to enable us to repair the building and prevent it from deteriorating further.

Unfortunately, there has been some quite intense opposition to our plans and we’ve had to confront the very real possibility that we might not get the permission that we need.

What will we do if we are unsuccessful? It has been a very sobering experience to explore what our options would be. My family have lived here for nearly 300 years, but if we are not permitted to generate the revenue necessary to repair and restore the building, we will have no alternative but to sell up, thereby ending my family’s connection with Court Lodge. We certainly wouldn’t choose to burden our children with a Grade II listed historic house that they could not afford to restore.

And if we are no longer managing Court Lodge, we would need alternative employment. So it was with that thought that last year I began applying for jobs lecturing in philosophy, which is what I used to do in New Zealand before we moved back here to take over the reins of Court Lodge. I was fortunate, and thrilled, to be offered a position at the London School of Economics, and I started teaching there in September 2015. It has been great to get back into philosophy, and I’ve really enjoyed the teaching and interaction with students. The commuting, not so much!

While I’ve been commuting up to London, Ian has been managing things at Court Lodge, and we have been joined by the wonderful George who has been doing anything and everything that needs to be done. She started by giving herself the job description “Court Lodge Minion”, which soon became “Court Lodge Mini-Ian”! We call her the Court Lodge Marvel!

And then, just before Christmas 2015, life threw us another curve-ball, as I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The treatment I have had from the NHS has been outstanding, and I am so grateful to all the staff. I have already had surgery, and have recovered well from that. I’m now awaiting further test results to see whether or not I will be having chemotherapy as well as radiotherapy.

Meanwhile we have been waiting and waiting for news about the planning permission. We’ve now heard that we will have a decision by the end of March, so at least then we will have some certainty, and know whether or not we have a future at Court Lodge.

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A visit to Penton Park in Hampshire

When we first moved back here to take over the management of Court Lodge from my parents, Dad gave us some good advice: Join the Historic Houses Association. He has long been a member, and I remember him describing it as a “trade union for country house owners”! His description is apt, as the HHA advocates for country house owners at every level. It also offers help and advice on lots of issues, which has been particularly useful to us as we started out on this journey of trying to make Court Lodge a viable business that can afford to pay for its own upkeep.

Another benefit of belonging to the HHA is that they run seminars and workshops on various topics. Ian and I attended an excellent one last year on getting funding for restoration. It gave us so many ideas, and we are now working towards applying for various grants. I also attended another one recently about applying for Heritage Lottery Funding, and I am now working on putting an application together.

But one of the nicest things about going along to HHA meetings and events is that it gives us the rare chance to meet people in a similar situation to ourselves. It’s always nice to meet someone who understands exactly what you’re going through, but there aren’t many people out there in our situation. However, if such people do exist, you can bet that they are also members of the HHA. At the seminar I attended recently I met Danielle Rolfe who, along with her husband, Guy, and parents-in-law, is in a remarkably similar situation to us here at Court Lodge. Danielle and her family are working on the restoration of Penton Park in Hampshire, and have set up an already thriving business offering it as a venue for weddings, conferences, team-building days, and other functions. It also plays host to a day care centre for disabled adults during the week.

Danielle and Guy are about two years ahead of us in their quest to establish a business at Penton Park, and save it from the ravages of time and the weather. The similarities between our situations is uncanny, although there are some differences too. Talking to Danielle gave me enormous hope and renewed enthusiasm that we will be able to make a success of our enterprise here at Court Lodge. They have faced many of the problems that we face, and have found solutions to many of them.

Last week they held a Conference Showcase, so Ian and I drove down to Hampshire to meet up with Danielle and have a look around Penton Park. It is beautiful, and the restoration work they have done on the ground floor is stunning. Their living accommodation is very much a work-in-progress, but Ian and I were able to see its enormous potential. Given how hard they are working, it is clear that they are going to have fabulous living quarters by the time they are done.

If you are looking for a venue in Hampshire then you could do no better than to visit Penton Park. The rooms are grand and well-appointed, and the layout is extremely versatile.

Penton Park in Hampshire

Penton Park in Hampshire

An added bonus for me in visiting Penton Park is that it is about 3 miles away from the house I grew up in before we moved to Court Lodge. So, after we left Danielle and her family we took a quick look at the house I lived in from when I was 3 until we moved here when I was 12. I haven’t seen it since we left. It is a far cry from Court Lodge, but it brought back some very happy memories.

My childhood home!

My childhood home!

The portraits go back up

Yesterday Ian and I put the smaller portraits up around the library, in time for the girls who came to film their scenes from The Northern Lights. But we didn’t get round to putting the main one up over the fireplace.

Ever since I was a child, and probably for decades before that as well, the portrait over the fireplace was of my ancestor William Morland (1692-1774) who bought Court Lodge in 1733, known in the family as William the First! It supposedly depicts him holding the deeds to Court Lodge in his hand. Curiously though, the date on the portrait is 1715, which is well before he bought Court Lodge. It may be the deeds to Court Lodge that he is holding, but it could also be a letter addressed to him at Court Lodge. This would also be quite curious though, as it suggests he was at least living here at Court Lodge up to 18 years before he purchased it. In fact, it’s not entirely clear to me how my ancestor came to purchase Court Lodge, and I hope to unravel a bit of this mystery at my next visit to the Maidstone archives. But, I’m getting distracted….

This is the portrait of William Morland that has hung above the fireplace for goodness knows how long:

William Morland (1692-1774) who bought Court Lodge in 1733

William Morland (1692-1774) who bought Court Lodge in 1733

Now, while this is clearly an oil painting, I think it’s fair to say that dear old William is no oil painting. And the library will one day be our wedding room, playing host to beautiful wedding ceremonies, as well as many other important occasions. We decided that we wanted a more appropriate figure to take centre stage in the library. It didn’t take us long to choose:

A new face above the fireplace

A new face above the fireplace

This is Ann Matson (1745-1808), who married Thomas Morland, son of the aforementioned William Morland. She was the lady of the house here at Court Lodge after William died, and her husband Thomas inherited it. She is also a significant character in the research I’ve been doing into the family, as she was the mother of the generation of Morlands that were closely entwined with a branch of Jane Austen’s family.  She is a beauty, and the portrait is one of my favourites in the house. Much more fitting to have this beautiful young lady in her stunning dress looking down over all the wedding ceremonies and celebrations!

Here are some more photos of the library with the portraits in situ. Before long we’ll clear out the remaining clutter and take some more photos, I promise! But we’re still not completely there, as there is still the chandelier to put up, some mirrors to put up, curtains and pelmets to have made and put up, and reconditioned cast iron radiators to install. But for now, I’m enjoying seeing the beautiful Ann looking down on us!

The portraits have gone back up

The portraits have gone back up

The portraits adorning the room

The portraits adorning the room

Busy busy busy!

Court Lodge has been a hive of activity over the last few weeks… couple of months… well, the entire year really, but I’ll focus on the last few weeks in this post. We have had all sorts of professionals through the house: architects, surveyors, structural engineers, heating engineers, electricians and plumbers. Our aim in all this is to get a clear picture of precisely what needs to be done to keep this old building well maintained. We also need to know what needs to be done to make it available as a function venue for weddings and conferences, and a cafe for garden visitors.

The main things we want to do are:

1. Reinstate the doorway that is now the middle window in the library. The library is the room that we plan to license for civil weddings – it has a beautiful old organ in it, so would be perfect for weddings. The middle window in the library used to be the main front door before the Victorian extension was added in the mid-nineteenth century. We want to reopen that door, and also reinstate the portico that used to exist around it. This will mean that you can go out on to the beautiful terrace and knot garden straight from the library.

2. Make the conservatory ready to be our cafe for garden visitors once the garden opens up to the public.

3. Convert the upstairs two bedrooms that used to be mine and my sister’s when we were growing up, back into one big ensuite room. This can then be a bridal suite for brides to get ready in before coming down the staircase into the library for their wedding.

We have appointed some architects to do a full measured survey of the entire building, and they will also prepare drawings for the changes that need to be made, and help us apply for listed building consent for these changes.

We have also had some heating engineers look into the possibility of replacing the old oil fired boiler with a biomass pellet boiler. They are currently preparing a full heat loss survey to get a detailed idea of how much heat the building needs, and how much it loses.

We have also had a surveyor here to prepare a full conditions survey of the building that will give us an idea of precisely what maintenance and repair work needs to be done. This can then be put into a rolling 5 or 10 year schedule so that we can stay on top of the maintenance work. This surveyor was actually here today and was very encouraging about the state of the building. There is obviously work that needs to be done, but it has not reached a critical point, so it can be managed. He said that Ian had done excellent work on the roof over the summer, which has managed to stop things getting any worse over the winter.

Funnily enough, it turns out that he had done the original drawings for the conversion of the Coach House and Courtyard Cottage back in the early 80s!

We also had a structural engineer here today who was looking at the state of the joists under the library floor – again pretty good, considering! This is lucky as we have the first of our Winter Series of Evening Talks tomorrow night!!

They also took a close look at the walls surrounding the walled garden, which actually do need quite a bit of work.

We’ve had our electrician here this week too, installing a brand new security entry system. It opens with a PIN number or with magnetic key fobs, and there are entry phones installed in each of the flats.

So it has been all go, but it feels like we are really making good progress.