Emma and Richard Gill transform their Worcestershire home
PUBLISHED: 09:39 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:34 20 February 2013
When emma and Richard gill moved into the worcestershire family manor house two years ago, they immediately set about injecting their own individuality into the decor.
Like someone out of a novel Emma Gill found herself swiftly transplanted from a little thatched cottage into an ancient manor house, and it all happened on New Year's Eve two years ago (2006-2007).
"My family including my grandparents have lived in the same little Worcestershire village since before I was born," says Emma, a professional curtain-maker. "My grandparents bought the old listed Grade 2 manor house more than 50 years ago and after my grandfather died my granny stayed on in it. But then last year she became very frail and the family decided it was time for us to move in and help with the running of the house."
At the time Emma and her husband Richard an artist and their two children Ollie (6) and Hattie (4) were just about to visit relations in Australia. "So before we went away we had about a week to move out of our cottage and into the manor house just up the lane," says Emma. "It was chaotic, as we had advertised our cottage to let and someone had snapped it up."
The couple moved in and tried to sort out life in the manor. "It has four floors (including a cellar even older than the house) and six bedrooms," says Emma. "Structurally it was in not too bad a state but decoratively it needed a lot of work. Nothing had been done to it for the last 50 years."
Mystery surrounds the age of the house. "Parts are said to go right back to the days of Richard 111 who was born in 1452, " says Richard. "But these are only hinted at, such as an old filled-in arch in the kitchen and an ancient carved lintel hidden within the inglenook fireplace. However the main fabric of the house might be Tudor as there is a lot of concealed half-timbering while the back oak staircase looks Jacobean. But the house was probably gentrified in Georgian times and from the front now looks to be early 19th century while at the back it looks Queen Ann."
The manor house stands in an idyllic location with a clear view towards Bredon Hill in the distance and a stream feeding a pond at the foot of the long lawns. A walled garden promises a harvest of fruit and vegetables to come and a very old clay-tiled dovecote is a reminder of centuries long gone.
"When we first arrived it was January and freezing because the house had no insulation and we had only a very old and inefficient oil-fired boiler to rely on," says Richard. "It made strange gargling noises with huge pipes leading both into and out of it. We all lived between one bedroom and the kitchen at first what with Emma's grandmother's furniture and ours too. We still are relying on the old boiler but at least we have started the battle of insulating everything so after a year here we have managed to raise the temperature by a degree or so, thanks to the Aga and a continuous supply of oil!"
They have also made the electrical supply safe as previously it was a case of trailing wire, lack of earthing and loose sockets. "And we have still to repair some of the ceilings on the top floor, " says Emma. "They are beginning to bow and we know there are window frames to fix. However we had to get our priorities right and as Richard is the main bread-winner we made sure his studio was functioning before we did anything else."
Richard's studio is an old railway waiting room in the grounds, brought there by Emma's grandfather from the old station at nearby Charlton when it closed. When Richard is not working away on one of his big mural projects, he spends his days here creating his latest exhibition of oil paintings.
"After leaving school I did a course in decorative arts from the 17th to the 20th century at Sothebys," he says. "My mural painting has always been a constant in my career as an artist and if I didn't keep getting commissioned for them I would not have been able to develop my paintings on canvas, which led me to my first, and very successful solo exhibition in December 2007."
Emma and Richard have always been interested in interior design and had quite a lot of furniture of their own to bring with them.
One of their treasures is their French cherrywood bed found in pieces behind a stall at Evesham market. "It cost 600 and we weren't even sure what it looked like until we'd assembled it," says Richard. "But it's a magnificent piece and we love it."
A glorious assortment of items stand cheek by jowl in this forgotten little manor house in Worcestershire. In the kitchen there is a 1930s pulley-operated clothes rack and bright blue Moorish tiles from the 1950s behind the dark blue Aga in the inglenook. In the Drawing Room with its lovely bay window there are paintings by Richard, twin sofas in a jazzy Aztec fabric given by a friend and a wonderful scrolled Harris & Gil chaise longue while in the hall there is the 18th century main oak staircase and a chest of unknown age, which might have been made from a Tudor pew, handed down through the family.
Then in the Dining Room (again with a lovely bay window) there are large murals by Richard left over from an exhibition, a 1930s Minster stone fireplace and some more wonderful Harris & Gil armchairs. Italian ceramic pots abound and bright Andrew Martin fabric has been used to revive old seating.
"I spent a lot of my childhood staying here and playing in the garden with my brother, so I have always felt very at home here," says Emma. " I do feel very lucky to have the opportunity to look after this amazing, if slightly shabby house and we hope to have as much life and fun living here as my grandfather would have wanted. One thing that I know for sure is that it will always keep us very busy!"
She finishes: "We are living on a spot that has been inhabited for at least 700 years and maybe long before that, given the Roman remains in the area. Although our house looks early Victorian we feel we are surrounded by layer upon layer of history, reinforced by the nearness of the medieval parish church just a stone's throw away. There is a story that owners long ago had to get permission to add crenellations to the roof (they're long gone too) and another that previous occupants would eat the eggs from the dovecote and use their droppings to make gunpowder! Since we moved in we have had a surprising number of letters from people who once had connections here and they have given us a lot of information to fill in the gaps. "
Richard's next exhibition will begin on December 18. Called "The Ship of Fools" it is at the Theatre in Chipping Norton.
Richard P. Gill Designs: 07966217888
Stitch by Design Curtains: 01386710802