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Graham Russell, Cotswold interiors

PUBLISHED: 10:28 19 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:47 20 February 2013

Beautiful Old Farm at Hasfield, the state of which

Beautiful Old Farm at Hasfield, the state of which "had to be seen to be believed" when graham first bought it.

How one man battled rats and rubbish to achieve his dream of renovating a derelict medieval long house by Victoria Jenkins


Graham Russell bought the derelict Old Farm in Hasfield and its one acre of land without even seeing it. "I'd had my eye on it for years but missed seeing it was for sale," says Graham. "Then the day I sold my own house the estate agent said the farm was up for sale and someone had made an offer on it. I felt gutted."


But then he heard that the buyer had dropped out. Straightaway Graham said he'd have it instead. "I rushed round to the solicitors who tippexed out the previous buyer's name and substituted mine," he said. " The whole process was done in a day. Then I went to see just what I had just spent 250,000 on."


The listed Grade 2 farm is the oldest building in the village and had begun as a medieval long house of oak timber frame with animals at one end and people at the other, a central fire blazing on the floor to separate them. The Tudors had extended it and put in ceilings of elm joists, elm spiral staircases, fireplaces and chimneys but when Graham moved in six years ago it was, he said, in atrocious condition. "Outside there were no drives, just wild land and scrap metal everywhere along with abandoned cars and caravans and hordes of plastic and glass." Vegetation was growing up against the windows so he had to hack his way through from the back door into the garden only to find himself knee deep in leaf mould.


Inside it was in imminent danger of collapse, a whole corner of the pantiled roof had come away, wires were dangling and the plaster was falling off. "Funnily enough I reckon more damage has been done to the timber framing in the past 50 years by people doing bad repairs than had happened since the 1400s," said Graham. Worst of all it was riddled with rats which had become so aggressive that even the rat-catcher felt frightened. "They just sat there looking at you," said Graham.


The plumbing was virtually non-existent and the carpets were rotten while there was no furniture - "only junk. In fact the owner took the money and just drove away from the whole lot. And as he had kept dogs that had messed inside everywhere I had to wear masks and overalls as I cleared it up. When I knocked down a wall to enlarge the kitchen a heavy blanket of spiders webs fell on my head as I entered the room beyond. In fact the only plus factor was that it wasn't at all damp and this despite its situation in an area famous for regular eight foot floods from the nearby river. "


The house did however have the advantage of being on a slight rise.


Before he began he invited round the local planning department to discuss what he was going to do. Then he set to, Graham doing most of the work with two lads to help plus the use of bolt trailers, JCBs and tractors. It took him two years working on it fulltime and it cost him 150,000 in materials and paying the lads' labour. It cost 5000 just to have the rubbish taken away.


"I wanted a simple basic design with no horse brasses," is how he puts it. As it happened the house was already of fairly basic design without anything ornate about it. What period features there were included fifteen inch wide elm floorboards, A-framed beams in the attics, walls of wattle and daub and a jetted extension (a first floor overhang) at the front of the house. Graham also rightly suspected there was an inglenook fireplace in the sitting room which had been bricked up years ago. Out in a stone-built barn was a huge old cider press, still in working order.


He began the renovations by stripping the roof and beginning again using as many of the original tiles as he could find (many were lying about) and then adding reclaimed ones bought from Posterity Architectural Antiques in Ledbury. He made all the doors (including the front door) and window frames from good brown English oak, cut down from a local copse and planked by the farmer next door several years ago then stored in a barn. He put in oil-fired central heating, two new bathrooms and a new kitchen. He even bought his own sand-blasting kit from Hodge Clemco in Sheffield as he needed to use it on everything from the beams which were covered in thick black paint to the doors and the furniture. "I took a load of timber to their yard and asked them what I should use to strip it," he said. "They'd just been experimenting with a new machine which uses a very fine sand - so good that you can strip a piece of old wood and still keep the bark on it, something unheard of before." He replaced the rotten attic floors with new timber and covered over the concrete floors downstairs with flagstones in the bathroom, terracotta tiles in the kitchen and a screed elsewhere. He even made window shutters - some from old cupboard doors, others from the shavings from pine coffins made locally. Then he turned to making some of the furniture such as the long oak refectory table in the Dining Room.


However he did leave one section untouched; this is a 15th century chimney bay and, by opening a secret door upstairs you can look onto a narrow space showing the chimney and walls covered in centuries of ancient soot.


"The major asset of this house is that you can't hear anything from a road," he said. "It's very rare nowadays to find a house in such a quiet spot and yet we're only six miles from the nearest town."


Graham has now lived in his elegant new home for some five years and the only thing he misses is a village pub. In that time he has renovated a number of barns and outbuildings and now one is where his musician friends come to "jam", another is an art studio (for Graham is a talented artist and sculptor) and the third houses the repaired cider press - "which if I wanted I could use to make my own cider, so getting round the problem of the pub!


"I was very lucky," he says, "in that after selling a previous project I had enough money to buy this place and then live here and work on it for two years without having to do anything else to earn money. Because I exposed every inch of this property and put it right there haven't been any hidden surprises since."


He adds, "What made living here bearable was that I sealed off one half of the house and worked on it while living in the other half. That kept all the dirt out of my living quarters. But before I moved in I had to make the living quarters habitable too and I did this by putting in a shower room, a free-standing kitchen and a bedroom. First I cleaned and painted these rooms but ignored the rough plasterwork and flooring because I knew I was taking only temporary measures. In fact once I'd renovated the other half of the house I moved into it and then ripped out everything in the first half and began again. "


It's imperative from the word go, says Graham, to have a shower room, "somewhere where you can get clean and feel wholesome again. It was the first thing I put in. Then the next was to sort out the kitchen as you have to have somewhere you can produce food. I chose free-standing units which could be moved anywhere you wanted them and I ran an electric cooker and washing machine off a cable while I did the rewiring.


The third most important room was the bedroom which I quickly cleaned and painted.It did mean rather crude living for the first eight months but now I have a comfortable house which works efficiently and which is full of interesting features."


Graham had his elegant new home valued recently - it's now worth 875,000


Address Book


Posterity Architectural Antiques, Ledbury - Doors, roof tiles. 01684 541254


CHS Architectural ironmongery, Cirencester - Dartington waxed hand forged hinges, door catches etc. 01285 659488


Three Counties Reclamation, Ludlow. Flagstones, tiles 01584 861243


Ken Pink Plant Hire - JCBs, bulk containers, tractors. 01452 712230


Travis Perkins - general building merchants: Twyfords bathrooms


David Ward - carpenter and joiner. (made window frames.) Cheltenham 01242 680316


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