The Spirit of Place

What gives a house its character? Can a house have its own personality? Or even a soul? Let me introduce you to a place that might just have the answer…

So, Plummies, it’s been a little while since I last wrote a blog post, hasn’t it? I’ve been moving house! My right.move property porn habit has been pretty much entirely kicked into touch. And it’s all been down to the love of a good home.

Though it was almost two months ago now, we moved straight into a re-roofing project and all the fun and larks that go with that and with moving house, so apologies for the silence but I’m back now and I want to tell you all about my new love affair.

If you’re an avid follower of Plummy Brummy (I know of at least one – not a family member) then you’ll know that we’ve been desperately searching for a house to buy for at least two and a half years by now, if not longer. We weren’t asking for much, just an lovely old house with period features, a good (walled?) garden, a proper dining room, a kitchen large enough not to have to reverse in and out of in one direction, a garage and a cellar maybe?

All for (well) under £1million, thankyoupliz.

And bugger me if we didn’t go and find it.

It was on a birthday jaunt to Shrewsbury that I first saw the For Sale sign that piqued my interest. Later, I went back for a viewing and, safe to say, fell in love for the first time with a house. She was empty and rather sad and echoey but the potential and beauty was striking from the moment I clapped eyes on her. I say ‘her’. I was told that a little old lady called Betty had lived here for decades and only recently died, aged 94. Later research has shown that this house has been continually owned by women since Lady Harnage bought it in the 1880s. It might be my fancy (which I’m totally going to go with) but I like to think that this has contributed to the gentle reconditioning that the original house has had over the years and its overall pretty appearance (as well as the gorgeous gardens).

At the time, I had to virtually fight my way into the property to look at it as it had so many viewers keen to see it. The familiar sense of panic arose that this opportunity might slip away so I dragged the husband out to see it as soon as I could and make it obvious that this was the house I’d set my heart on. He could see the potential (and the double garage) so he felt it was worth a punt too. Somewhere, deep inside, I knew that we could make something special out of this place. Clearly the house felt it too because, although there were loads of viewers, when it came to putting in a bid we were the only ones punting. We’ve never held the whip hand before when it comes to property so it was with a certain thrill that we were able to negotiate an unbelievable price for this gorgeous old place.

How could you not fall in love with this?

Several months of horrendous uncertainty and near misses followed (I’ve no idea why it can’t be an easier process to buy a house) until, one unseasonably warm and sunny February day, we finally got the keys in our sticky little paws and celebrated with a few bubbly bottles!  

Since then, the love affair has only deepened.

It’s probably a truism to say that you have to live in a house to really know it. Of course you do. It’s the only way to get to know all the nooks and crannies, the kinks of design and development. Nevertheless, it’s true. How else would you understand the subtle nuances of the gentle passage of light from a bay window over the back wall of the sitting room throughout the evening? Or come to understand the idiosyncrasies of the plumbing system?

As the days and weeks go by, more of the house has come to reveal itself. We’ve found an inglenook fireplace we didn’t know existed and a loft space that can be accessed by a hatch that had been boarded up for years.

There is a reflecting pool in the garden that, when we first viewed, was covered with rotten wood, insulation boards and drifts of oak leaf. Now it’s uncovered (and the poor dead hedgehogs removed), we’ve found newts and frogs we didn’t know were there.

There’s a 1920s electricity junction box at the bottom of the garden hidden by a huge bay tree that suddenly sprung kittens one April afternoon (until the mother cat moved them on – the eldest child is still grieving).

One day, a packet of papers arrived from the solicitor along with our title deeds. These included old agreements about electricity lines and sewerage pipes but also a plan of the house from the 1950s showing changes and updates to the layout. Thrillingly, I realised that there might be an old cellar under the stairs to the little cottagey part of the house (which was once a separate building). The floor had always felt quite solid in there so we’d had no inkling that there was a void. Somewhat more disturbing was the fact that the access point was now a small bathroom and it turned out that right in front of the toilet was a steep flight of stairs into two large cellar rooms.

My husband was excited by the idea of a new cellar and, unable to contain himself once he’d seen the plans, woke me up after midnight one night to have a look. He’d been out celebrating his brother’s birthday and decided that he could no longer wait to see what was there so had ripped up the lino and had a look. Holding up the trap door to get in, a torch and manoeuvring around the loo was more difficult than he’d anticipated so he had to call for back up. Although I didn’t know whether I was dreaming or not, a part of me was more pleased at seeing the hubby excited about discovering the house than finding two more rooms but nevertheless, there are two new rooms no one knew about, including the estate agents.

You see, everyone has been on a voyage of discovery with this house, each finding something that thoroughly suits them. The husband has two different cellars and a double garage to keep him happy. The eldest has a kitten-bearing tree at the bottom of the garden. The youngest has a pond (wiv noots!) and space to turn in dizzy circles without bouncing off the walls. Harry has three gardens to patrol and a burgeoning Wile E. Cayote relationship with a local squirrel. We can be as loud as we like and the neighbours don’t really hear it (unlike our last neighbour, Twatticus Rex, who had the hearing of a bat when applied to our kids but not when it came to her own, strangely).

And me? Well, I’m just in a permanent state of bliss. All of these lovely old bricks belong to me (ahem, and the husband). This is our place and I can feel my roots, cramped for years in unlovely habitation, are starting to unfurl and grow. I’m happy to take it slowly, to sit back and listen to the house and its garden so it can tell me what’s appropriate. It’s the kind of house with a strong Genius Loci (or Spirit of Place) and it’s worth listening to it.

Consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters to rise, or fall;
Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.

Alexander Pope

It might just be the fact that I’m suffused in a rosy glow of lurve but I’d swear that the house is acting something like a Room of Requirement. I was looking for a rake in the garden (having never needed one before) and the first shed I opened, there it was. I wondered whether this year I might finally grow some of my own rhubarb and gooseberries now that I had the space – don’t bother, there they are peeping through the autumn overgrowth. Two (bl**dy) expensive can openers literally broke in my hand in quick succession. Rod went rooting about in an old loft space he’d found and brought a box full of old kitchen equipment down with him. Lying on top was a can opener, now firmly the favourite I’ve ever owned.

Moreover, the house feels nice. I can’t quantify it any better than that but if I’m going to get all anthropomorphic about it (and you know I like a bit of anthropomorphism) it seems to like us being there. From the minute we walked in the door with the keys in our hand, it’s felt inviting. All the switches work, the toilets flush, nothing has cracked open or dropped on us from a height. So far. And if I had to describe the house as a person, I’d say that she was a handsome older lady, with an interesting past and a knowing smile. Just the kind of person you’d like to be friends with.

Perhaps it might have something to do with the lady who owned it before us. She was a headteacher who didn’t have any children of her own. She bought this property off her parents, I’m told, and lived in it till she was 94. I’ve been told over and over again how much she would have loved to know that a family were living in her old place and loving it.

So, in conclusion, I’m damn proud to be the latest in a long line of lady owners of this beautiful house, gently adding and changing it to our requirements but respecting its history. That’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to, Plummies. So watch this space for a resumed service and perhaps just a FEW more posts about this house…

x

PS. I’ve been doing a lot more over on Instagram, regularly posting pictures about the house and gardens if you’re interested so please take a look if you’re interested? I’m at the_plummy_brummy – see you there!