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Millie and Will Jackson renovate Cotswold home

PUBLISHED: 11:53 19 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:59 20 February 2013

It's been a jeckyll and Hyde transformation to turn two cottages into a classy country home, as Victoria Jenkins finds out. Photography by Hugh Burden

Nearly nine years years ago Millie Jackson, her husband Will and their daughter Faith (17) bought a big old Cotswold cottage with an old-fashioned garden thought to have been designed by Gertrude Jekyll. The cottage had once been two 18th century dwellings and the local legend is that they were built from stone robbed from a 13th century castle which had once stood in their lane. Then the cottages had been knocked together, probably in 1934 when an extension had been added and when more land, including the Jekyll garden had been acquired from the adjoining neighbours.. No-one knows who the owners were at that time but it is known that Neville Chamberlain's family came to stay here during the last war. Now Will and Millie, who used to run a travel firm together in nearby Stroud, have just finished major renovations.

"As we had so many things hand-made for us it was a really big job," says Millie. "The previous owner was a lovely lady whose family had lived there for nearly 40 years. There was a lot of updating to do!"

When they first arrived the cottage had a small kitchen and two bathrooms. Now the Jacksons have a kitchen more than twice its original size plus four bathrooms altogether.

First they removed a wall between the old kitchen and the parlour next door to create a kitchen-dining room then put in a staircase of new elm to separate the two areas in a less formal way.

Underneath some old lino and bitumen in the kitchen they were excited to find the remains of what had been a lovely old floor of Cotswold flagstones but sadly they were too damaged to be fully restored.

"However we were able to rescue enough of these beautiful old flags for the working kitchen and have incorporated them along with reclaimed elm floorboards which also extend into the Dining area," says Millie. They also stripped the walls back to brick before putting on fresh new plaster, installed new windows and raised the ceiling, discovering wonderful oak beams in the process, both in the ceiling and above the windows.

"We were without a kitchen for a whole year!" says Millie. "So we had to eat upstairs in what is now the bathroom, using a microwave and a camping stove and living off take-aways and baked beans. Meanwhile the only thing we kept in the kitchen was the wonderful old Aga which we think must be one of the oldest in Gloucestershire - at least 70 years old!"

Then they put in a new handmade kitchen of oak cabinets with black granite worktops built by Stroud Furniture Makers, choosing a rustic look to suit the thick cottage walls.

They changed the layout too - the sink was moved away from the window and instead a small breakfast bar of polished black granite was put there. "You spend more time preparing food nowadays than standing at the sink," said Millie. "So we wanted to enjoy the fantastic view."

Meanwhile a double French farmhouse sink was installed on the opposite side of the room.

Other work surfaces are of unpolished black granite as Millie does not like a uniform look. She also does not like the look of a lot of overhanging cupboards so she has just a few open shelves and insisted on rounded corners on the oak cupboards. "At the time Faith and her friends were small children running about and sharp corners were too hazardous."

The upstairs needed redesigning in part too. "There was a very odd situation on the first floor," says Will. "There was a corridor with a solitary bath - all plumbed-in - just sitting there but with no accompanying basin or loo. You could enter the main bedroom from either end of this corridor so we decided to remove a wall and build some cupboards and use the area to create a new bathroom and a dressing room."

Another old-fashioned bathroom at the top of the three-storey cottage was divided into two to provide an en suite for a guest bedroom and a new family bathroom.

More work had to be done in the walled garden. "Almost hiding the Gertrude Jekyll area was an enormous compost heap - some five feet tall and six feet wide," says Will. "But the only access to it was through a little gate from the front garden so this vast heap had to be removed entirely by hand, using staves and a wheelbarrow."

The 18th century surrounding wall also needed attention. "The brickwork looking into the garden was fine but the outside was of stone and had lost a lot of the capping stones," says Will. "A waller came in to replace them and at the same time restored the dry stone retaining walls in the Gertrude Jekyll area. Then we discovered the goldfish pond was leaking so it had to be emptied and lined and the fountain mended." However they now have newts and frogs in the pond instead of the carp and goldfish of Gertrude Jekyll's day.

A big old hedge also had to be removed to make way for new terracing and at the front of the house the couple lined the old stone path with gravel on either side.

"We also thought it would be nice to have a herb garden just outside our kitchen door," said Will. "But my decision to buy reclaimed bricks must be the worst I've ever made. They came with lots of old concrete clinging to them and it took me a good two


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