There’s an understanding when buying a period property, that you’re simply the house’s current caretaker. The reality of this hits home (no pun intended) when you think how they were built long before we were born… and they’ll be still standing strong long long after we’re gone! Our house is very much Victorian, but dating them to exactly when they were built has been tricky.
During the Victorian era, life was very much lived on the front doorstep. Children would play in the street and people would spend their downtime in the front chatting to neighbours passing by. The backs of houses would be used for growing fruit and vegetables and perhaps have some chickens or a smallholding. So unless your house was one of grandeur, properties from this era would focus the architectural vernacular at the front. The backs of the houses were not designed to impress!
As with many grand manor houses of the time, several workers’ cottages would be built on the periphery of the estate to house the staff. Ours are a pair of houses within a row of tenements which housed the blacksmiths. Two brothers originally owned the houses and ran the forge and foundry next door. We’re still finding chunks of iron and remnants of their creations in the garden today! We know that the house is pre-1860, but the 1851 census lists the family as blacksmiths on our street. At that time, house numbers weren’t listed and so it’s difficult to say exactly when the properties were constructed.
Behind the houses was once a cattle shed and dairy which belonged to the estate. The milk urns used to be brought through a door in what is now the bathroom! One of the family members must have been involved in the dairy. We stripped the walls back and found the door, and then covered it back up again as part of our bathroom refurb. In 1916 the blacksmiths bought the houses from the estate and over the years, three generations of the family lived and worked here. The Lady of the manor house didn’t want anyone overlooking the estate, and so originally there were no windows at the back of the property.
The houses’ past is really intertwined and because they’ve stayed pretty much under the same family for over 150 years, they have maintained their original charm. Being in a conservation zone has helped to support that – but it doesn’t at all hinder us as we love it just the way it is! The family who lived here before us bought one house in 1962 (I believe) and then bought the second house in 1983 and eventually linked them together by creating openings on the ground and first floor.
The original Victorian pathway to one of the houses was carefully covered over with a membrane so that the one on the left was the main entrance. We’ve just dug it back up again and it’s in great condition considering its age!
There are some similarities between our family and the previous owner (possibly why it felt so right for us). The husband was an architect and an avid sailor and they brought up three kids here. We even have some copies of his drawings of some works he did to the houses! The wife loved to garden and is a font of knowledge when it comes to horticulture – the similarities end there. I love to garden and find myself spending every baby nap time out there – but I’m only just starting my journey to learning! The house has such a lovely feel to it and you can tell that it’s always been a happy family home.
One thing that we’re yet to discover is the (at least one) well. The house survey flagged it and the previous owner remembers being told roughly where it is. Wells tended to be very close to the back door so that water was easier to get to. We’ll need to have a topographical survey carried out to find out exactly where it is and whether it was filled in or simply covered over!
These are some of the nuggets that we’ve learned from our six months living here, and no doubt we’ll learn some more as time goes on. We’re very aware that there’s a balance that needs to be struck between being sympathetic to the style of the house and making it a contemporary home for a young family. Hopefully we’re getting that balance just right – take a look at my empty house tour to see where it all began for us!