Tag Archives: Renovation

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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Getting on with the restoration of Court Lodge as best we can

There has been a lot going on at Court Lodge lately, and some good progress has been made on restoring parts of the house and garden. There is always so much to do though that it does seem to be a herculean task at times. Still, the only way we can make progress is by doing it in small, manageable (and affordable!) steps.

One job that was quite urgent was repairing and repointing the stonework on the southwest corner of the house. This seemed to be the area where the most damage has been done by the weather. The scaffolding went up a few weeks ago, and then the work began.

Scaffolding goes up and EB Sculpture set to work

Scaffolding goes up and EB Sculpture set to work

As with so many other jobs at Court Lodge, once the work got started, the problem was revealed to be much worse than we had initially thought, and consequently it has taken much longer, and will be much more expensive, to fix.

A wall of loose stones

A wall of loose stones

Much of the stonework was just loose, weathered stones.

Much of the stonework was just loose, weathered stones.

There was nothing holding many of these stones together. We were lucky they had stayed in place as long as they had.

There was nothing holding many of these stones together. We were lucky they had stayed in place as long as they had.

Still, the men from EB Sculpture, who have restored many heritage buildings, have been doing a fantastic job. The stonework on the southwest corner will soon be repaired, weatherproof, and set to last for another hundred years or more.

We have also been very lucky to have been able to hire some really handy handymen over the last few weeks. We were joined by Matthew Poole for a couple of weeks, who did lots of mowing and lots of odd jobs that Ian hasn’t been able to get round to. Sadly for us, Matthew was so good that he has landed himself a job, so won’t be able to do much more for us at Court Lodge. We really enjoyed having him around, and we wish him well for the future.

We also have Elwyn Scott who is an ace decorator. He decorated some bedrooms, and is now working on various window frames around the building.

We were also lucky enough to hire Bryan Ellis for a week of carpentry and various other jobs. His work is of such high quality that he is in very high demand, so we’re really pleased we could have him for a week. One of the jobs he did was to remove some old brick and slate tables from the Conservatory, which will make it a much more usable space. We were very pleased to see that the Pulham tiled floor beneath the tables was still in tact.

It might have been a bit heavy for Ian!

It might have been a bit heavy for Ian!

They got the conservatory cleared pretty quickly, and it looks great.

They got the conservatory cleared pretty quickly, and it looks great.

So things are moving on at Court Lodge. We are making progress and the house is responding well to the love and attention it is getting from us and our fantastic team.

Court Lodge on the front page again!

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Opening the post yesterday I was very excited to see the latest edition of the Kent Gardens Trust newsletter, featuring Court Lodge on the front page. During the course of the year one of the researchers from the Kent Gardens Trust, Mike O’Brien, carried out some really in-depth research into the history of Court Lodge, with a particular focus on the garden. The final report was published a few months ago, and now the Trust has featured Mike’s work in its newsletter.

Mike’s report traces the history of Court Lodge back to the reign of King John (1199-1216). It wouldn’t have been the very same building that stands today, but there has clearly been a manor house on this site for over 800 years.

His research was so thorough, that working with him was very instructive. One thing he enjoyed about the project was the fact that there was so much archival material available to him. There are boxes of documents in the house, as well as many old family photograph albums, and there are also the diaries in the archives. We also have a series of 19th century hand painted plates on the walls around the staircase documenting the garden in its heyday.

The south face of the house overlooking the knot garden

The south face of the house overlooking the knot garden

A view across the pond to the summer house

A view across the pond to the summer house

A view over the pond to the Church

A view over the pond to the Church

A path alongside the sunken garden leading to the Church

A path alongside the sunken garden leading to the Church

The east face of the house

The east face of the house

The sunken garden

The sunken garden

Mike found out so much more about the garden during his research, including many things we didn’t know. He came across an obituary for a gardener named Cephus Nye who was “gardener to the Morland family for 69 years” according to the Times, and who died in 1951 aged 85, which means he must have been a teenager when he started working in the garden, and continued working in the garden practically until the day he died! When I was reading my great uncle William’s diary for 1949, I came across a few comments referring to Nye:

“Nye is still digging in the kitchen garden, and considering his 81 years he is very remarkable.”

“Nye highly indignant with Manser because he had worked all through the rain and got soaking wet out of doors when there were lots of jobs for him to do indoors.”

“Nye pruning the roses – obviously in a bad temper.”

It is fascinating to see the story of Court Lodge, and of the garden, pieced together by Mike’s discoveries, and the diaries kept by my ancestors, and to see the characters emerge from the page and come to life.

Great Uncle William clearly felt the same too, as I also read in his diary for 1949, which is the year after his mother died, that he too spent time reading his grandfather’s diaries. He writes, “Read some of Grandpapa Morland’s diaries. He sailed through life with a magnificent confidence with plenty of interests, and enthusiasm and love of his home and estate. Life cannot have been so bad in those days for the likes of him and I am sure he made the world around him a better place.” I drew a similar conclusion reading the same diaries, those of William Courtenay Morland, my great great grandfather, earlier this year.

Great Uncle William goes on, “One could wish some of the entries were elaborated. What did he mean by “night school” in 1856? Did he go to learn or to teach? What did he and various friends lecture on, and to whom? What were the chemical experiments with which he amused Charley? Reading old diaries and letters and press cuttings is humiliating. And salutary.”

Mike O’Brien’s research into the history of Court Lodge has really helped us to move forwards in uncovering the story of Court Lodge. There is, and always will be, more to find out, and we are lucky to have so much archival material to draw on. If only we had more time to spend reading it.

Anyone wanting to read Mike’s report on the Court Lodge garden will be able to do so soon (hopefully!) on either the Kent Gardens Trust website (www.kentgardenstrust.org.uk/) or the Parks and Gardens website (http://www.parksandgardens.org/).

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!

First of nine chimneys restored

The nine chimneys on the roof of Court Lodge are all badly in need of restoration. This summer we started the process and had our first chimney restored. It was a crumbly old wreck of a chimney, and has been letting in vast quantities of rain. Last winter was particularly wet, so the chimney breast below it was sodden until late spring.

Before

Before

Close up of the chimney in dire need of restoration

Close up of the chimney in dire need of restoration

A very crumbly old chimney

A very crumbly old chimney

Not much more than a pile of bricks!

Not much more than a pile of bricks!

The mortar holding the bricks together in the chimney had all eroded away, so it needed to be practically rebuilt. And it needed not just any old mortar, but lime mortar, which is a very specialist material requiring a high level of skill and expertise. We are lucky enough to have met Mark Truman of Stornoway Lime and Restoration, who specialises in just this kind of work. He has done various other jobs for us around Court Lodge and we really value the quality of his work. He was longing to get his hands on one of our chimneys, so at the beginning of the summer we let him loose on this one. Here are the results:

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After

After

Here is a close up of Mark’s lime mortar work:

What a difference from the crumbly mortar!

What a difference from the crumbly mortar!

And here is the chimney taking pride of place on top of the house:

Looking smart from a distance.

Looking smart from a distance.

Hopefully that one is now good for at least another 100 years. Now we only have eight more to go!

New curtains looking fabulous!

Our new curtains in the library have been up for a while now, but without pelmets, so I wanted to wait until they were looking their best before posting photographs. On Saturday morning the wonderful Nicky Silk from Silk Interiors (also see her website) came to do some last little amendments to the pelmets. Nicky brought Paul along with her to help put up the pelmets, who is helpfully very tall and has nice long arms! So together they put the finishing touches to the library.

This meant that the curtains were up and ready for our Lazy Sunday @ Court Lodge, which took place on Sunday 28th September. It was a fantastic fundraising day, and it included cream teas with a Blues duet in the library, which was enjoyed by many people, so the curtains were shown off to full effect!

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So here, without further ado, are some photos of the new library curtains in all their glory, looking sumptuous and luxurious. Thank you Nicky for doing such an amazing job!

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Uncovering the floor of an old barn

Ian and Adam Hawkins from A&M Plant Hire were out behind our walled garden today trying to level the ground and move some hardcore that had been deposited there from another part of the garden. While moving the earth they uncovered the brick floor of an old barn.

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I dimly recall this barn being there when I was a small child, but it was already collapsing then, and must have completely disintegrated shortly after we moved here. But I remember it being quite big, so Adam continued scraping away the soil to see how big the footprint of this barn was:

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It went on and on! Not quite sure what we’re going to do with it now we’ve uncovered it, but it’s fascinating to find these remnants of Court Lodge’s past. Very Time Team!