Interiors: Christmas in a 19th-century Stroud cottage
PUBLISHED: 10:19 23 November 2020 | UPDATED: 15:02 25 November 2020
A 19th-century cottage near Stroud provides the perfect setting for carol-singing, feasting, present-opening – and playing champagne-driven competitive board games. Words by Victoria Jenkins; photos by Lisa Lodwig
“Every year our daughter Kierri retrieves her Christmas stocking from the fireplace and opens her presents in our bedroom,” says Julian Topham. “Then it’s all hands to the pump to prepare both lunch and a buffet for the evening, while singing along to the carols from King’s College. We have a five-bird roast, and Kierri has a homemade Mushroom Wellington.
“Friends arrive around 6pm for board games by candlelight – where the competitiveness doesn’t quite come under the banner of ‘Peace and goodwill to all men.’ Blame the champagne!”
Jane and Julian Topham have lived in their 1840s cottage near Stroud for 18 years now. But they had looked at 118 houses before they found it.
“It wasn’t actually in the area we had chosen,” says Julian, a civil servant. “At the time, Jane was living and working in Bath and I was living in Thornbury, so we had drawn a circle on the map showing somewhere in between. But this wasn’t in it!”
It was an estate agent who suggested they look at the cottage – “and,” says Julian, “although it wasn’t perfect, we liked its Tardis qualities, much bigger inside than you would think.”
Julian remembers there was a concrete block garage, a badly cracked concrete drive and an overgrown garden filled with diseased apple and pear trees. There was also a jungle-like hedge with a mass of knotted roots. “The local farmer kindly removed these with some heavy-duty agricultural machinery,” he says.
“The wood-framed sash windows didn’t fit well and the roof had a dip in it, thanks to its heavy concrete tiles,” he continues. “The conservatory was leaking and there was crumbling plaster in the main bedroom – due to missing bricks in the wall behind it!”
In fact, plaster was disintegrating downstairs too because of a damp problem that had been disguised rather than treated.
“The bathroom had good quality fittings yet they were sitting on bare old floorboards so the effect was underwhelming, not to mention draughty,” he recalls. “The kitchen was also good quality, but a little too eclectic for our taste. We found ourselves compounding things after we took out a dishwasher (as Jane hates them) and added more units. We couldn’t find any to match the existing ‘pina colada’ ones so we chose grey to match the range cooker. The overall effect resembled one of the sample kitchens you see in showrooms – a mish-mash of styles and colours – but we learned to live with it.”
Despite all this, the 19th-century house did tick most of their boxes and, drawn to its cosy feel, generous plot size, and huge potential, the couple announced they wanted to buy it the first time they viewed it.
Since then the place has been transformed. The flat-roofed, concrete garage has been replaced by one in brick with a pitched roof, and the driveway is now paved in reinforced, printed concrete with fan-shaped cobbles (“something we’d always hated but found ourselves buying! And we’re glad we did!” says Julian.)
The rear garden now consists of a long and serene lawn, bordered on one side by a lovingly-tended yew hedge, leading to a dry-stone wall that screens a utility area. The house windows have all been replaced by aluminium and wood triple-glazed units from Internorm, who also supplied the new glass walls in the conservatory, complete with solar-powered blinds. “We retained the footprint of the original conservatory and kept its dwarf wall,” he says. “Another company supplied the roof but didn’t fit it at all well: a monsoon-like downpour resulted in a large pool of water on the floor. EcoHaus, who’d done all the installation work, solved the problem and we’ve not been paddling in our conservatory since!”
The damp bedroom wall problem was quickly solved by having the missing bricks replaced and the wall replastered. But sorting out the damp in their sitting and dining rooms was one of their biggest challenges. A company called Timber Decay Treatment hacked off all the plaster on the side wall so they could tank the walls, but further treatment was necessary when the chemicals caused salts in the bricks to effloresce through the plaster. “So, the sitting room had to be completely re-redecorated and it was very disruptive,” he says. “But at the same time, we were able to replace a cast iron fireplace with a more imposing and attractive stone fireplace.”
As for the bathroom... “Well, I’m 6ft 5ins tall so we planned everything around an extra-long and extra-wide spa bath,” he says. “We moved the bathroom wall a little further into Kierri’s room to borrow some space, and refitted the room with Hansgröhe and Duravit furniture. We had to strengthen the floor first to take the weight of the bath and new tiles.” They also upgraded the boiler and installed a completely new hot water system.
Their latest project was their new kitchen, put in last year. But first they had to tackle the final area of damp in the utility room, involving more dust and debris. But with the walls tanked and a DPM installed, they then replastered, rewired and corrected a slight slope in the kitchen floor, as well as fitting underfloor heating. “It took five months for all the work to be done, including installing the new kitchen from Contour,” says Julian. “We had to cook on a combi-microwave in the conservatory and the builders rigged up a couple of pipes for hot and cold water. We were lucky the summer was so hot and dry – lots of salads!”
Now the kitchen looks positively exotic, with its grey and wood-effect units, tortoiseshell granite worktops and interesting leopard-skin effect on the curved panel of the seating area. This was created by mixing mosaic tiles in black glass, polished metal, mother-of-pearl and grey ceramic and was Jane’s idea.
“Almost the only thing we haven’t changed is the dipping roof,” Julian finishes. “But an architect has told me it’s perfectly safe and not about to collapse so we’re keeping it for its character.”
Baileys paints, 01453 882237, baileypaints.co.uk
Bains Fireplaces in Brislington, 0117 977 9519, chelwoods.co.uk
Contour Kitchens, 01242 221196, contourkitchens.co.uk
Cotswold Curtain Company 01453 840127, cotswoldcurtains.co.uk
EcoHaus Internorm South West, 01453 837330, ecohausinternorm.com
Highfield Garden Centre, 01452 741444, highfieldgardenworld.co.uk
Quattro Heating Ltd, 01452 257123, quattroheating.co.uk
Solarlux, 01707 339970, solarlux.co.uk
Ultraframe, 01626 832355, ultraframe-conservatories.co.uk
SEE ALSO: Making natural festive decorations.