Sandra Rea and Mary Derrick's Cotswold cottage
PUBLISHED: 16:50 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:59 20 February 2013
With a pig named Scoffer who roamed the yard, the owner of a three-bedroomed Victorian cottage near Malmesbury continued to exist within it while it fell to bits around him.
"There wasn't a light switch working," says Sandra Rea who bought the cottage with her partner Mary Derrick after the owner finally moved out. "It wasn't habitable but we had nowhere else to live while it was being renovated. So my two builder sons put a dormer window into the top floor attic which we then cleaned up and we lived there with just a gas ring, a slow cooker, a fridge and a tv. We had to use a ladder to get up to it and it didn't help when halfway through the renovations I suffered a slipped disc and had to crawl everywhere."
Their main builders were Alan and Chris Jones of Malmesbury ( two gentlemen aged 67 and 75 respectively) and the first things Mary and Sandra asked them to install was a new bathroom (created from a bedroom) and a woodburning stove in the sitting room so at least they could keep warm. However a lot of work had to be done elsewhere before this could be implemented.
Back in 2006 the couple's six children (from two different families) had all grown up and left home so the couple decided to move from Malmesbury into the countryside. They began by renting a cottage in a perfect location with a view of fields and a babbling brook but the owner would not sell. Then they realised that the cottage next door would soon be available once its occupant had moved out so once he'd gone they bought it.
Wearing nuclear suits, gloves and armed with bin liners and a skip the couple went through the cottage throwing out virtually everything in it. The kitchen was a flat-roofed lean-to at the back with an avocado-suited bathroom above and once the surveyor had been round the place he told them this lean-to would have to be demolished. However it did mean they could build a huge new kitchen-dining room in its place. It took five months to get planning permission for this.
In fact the whole place had to be gutted, says Sandra. "The woodwork - from joists to beams - was rotten. The only things that were intact was the roof and the four walls, although even they had to be damp proofed."
It took another eight months for the builders to make the cottage habitable - " as there was far more work and it cost far more than we expected," says Sandra ruefully. "For instance the ceilings of lathe and plaster all had to be replaced. Luckily the cottage wasn't listed so we were able to throw out the staircase (every other tread rotten) then have a new staircase built and put it into a different position. A wall came down to make way for these new stairs and we virtually replaced every floor. The only one we were able to salvage was in the sitting room where there are some rather patched-up elm boards. Then all the kitchen doors and windows had to be handmade by Moulder Joinery from Easton Grey.."
The couple have managed to keep some of the original features such as the old brick fireplace in their hall and an old lintel in the sitting room which was found behind a hideous Edwardian fireplace of painted slate. Also of course the walls of local stone which originally came from their very own quarry face just behind the cottage, but otherwise everything is new.
As the couple had no bathroom either during those eight months ("we just couldn't bring ourselves to use the original one") they hired a portaloo which stood in the garden and also bought a shepherd's hut spotted for sale at Gatcombe Horse Trials. This, they say, was an absolute life saver as they used it as an office, moved the cooking facilities into it and even slept in it when the weather was good. "Except we had the two wettest summers on record," says Mary.
Once the cottage was habitable (with now only two bedrooms as the third had become a bathroom), the builders then demolished the old kitchen-bathroom extension and in their place built a wonderful new double-height kitchen-dining room measuring some 8m by 4m. This took another five months. It turned out that the original kitchen units were not only salvageable but highly desirable (despite the layers of grime) as the joiner remembered fitting them many years before and knew they were solid wood and hand crafted. So the two women rescued the units, painted them in F and B Lamp Room Grey and added oak worktops from Ikea.
"We weren't on a budget to start with as we'd sold our house in Malmesbury but we certainly were by then," says Mary.
There had been a very dirty Rayburn in the old kitchen but the couple sold it on and installed a Redfyre which they say is better than an Aga as it cooks, provides hot water and the central heating. They also laid a limestone floor from Stoneworth of Devizes and an outside terrace of local stone from Tetbury Quarry.
Finally the couple (plus jack russels Winifred, Dottie and Tiggie) felt their home was complete and were able to spread their furniture around and buy more, much of it from Wotton Auction Rooms.
"We love our home because we have created it exactly as we wanted it," says Sandra. "We never ever thought we would find a property within our budget in this wonderful location, surrounded by the stunning Cotswold countryside - but amazingly we have."
Mary & Sandra run a private children's swim school based at Westonbirt School. They currently teach 500 plus children a week from aged 2 1/2 - 14 years. The swim school has been running for over 20 years now and attracts children from a very wide area. They also run various holiday courses. All information can be found on their website
www.maryderrickswimming.com or 07714425201