We had an interesting shooting season, three shoot parties came and we managed to cater to their needs. We learned a lot about hosting and are already planning for next season. One group has re-booked and we have some discussions with a local shoot to host their guests on a regular basis. Local sales, like Brightwells are great places to pick up furnishings, some need a bit of TLC but that is all part of the process. With the upstairs now carpeted on both floors and the bathrooms all in and functioning well, we can now relax the schedule a bit, allow for some wallet recovery time and works through smaller jobs one at a time, like sash window refurbishment – we did ten last summer, only seventy something to go!
The dining room now has a huge table, capable of seating twenty, which was great for Christmas, when we had a house full. The boot room is now mostly done, making use of church pews from St Lawrence’s in Ludlow, who were having a bit of a clear-out. The laundry is painted and tidied up a good bit and we are finally getting all the last boxes unpacked, pictures on the walls and things in cupboards or on shelves.
The garden is getting a good bit of treatment while it is bare and the trees leafless. I wanted to get some serious cutting back done before the birds start nesting again. The old Lebanon cedar in the garden lost some more mass in the strong winds in December, taking out some parts of a yew tree on the way down. I have mostly cleared the hawthorn and laurel from the old ha-ha and opened up the views of the field and parkland, as it would have been originally. All the old paintings of the house show the aspect at the front open. The two thirty foot hedges are now reduced to five feet in height and should thicken up over the summer.
Trimming the river banks has been entertaining. fell in with chainsaw while trying to shift a fallen holly and dropped a pair of cutters into a pool, while trying not to fall head-first in a couple of days later.
The weather has taken a turn for the worse, with grey skies and freezing rain falling from them in torrents. Fortunately, our shoot parties enjoyed a period of pleasant, dry, shooting weather during their stays here over the past three weeks. The house now feels more homely. twelve bedrooms are sparsely but comfortably furnished and they all have nice, shiny new en-suite shower rooms. Some also have baths. The carpets have made it quieter and warmer and with the big wood-burners doing their work, we feel pretty snug.
Where did the summer go? It was a scorcher! On the plus side, we did not need to mow the lawn much. We also got some sash windows repaired and serviced. We even got a splash of paint on the outside masonry. As the days get shorter and the arrival of the first of our shoot parties looms, the plumbers are still here. Painting inside goes on apace. Plasterers arrive Monday to finish the last two rooms, the electrician has a week of work to do tidying up after our alterations and the carpet fitters arrive next week, expecting the floors to be firmly ply-wood clad and ready for their work. It will be a busy week! Not quite panicking yet – but feeling the edge, for sure.
The interior does look decidedly better, despite the piles of boxes and tools all over the place. We got some church pews from St Lawrence’s in Ludlow, dating from the 1850s and solid oak (heavy), they were fun to heave into the back of the Land Rover and waddle into the house. The plan is, they will form the basis of a boot room.
We also had the pleasure of hosting Belgian artist Ghislain Geenen here over the summer. He has painted some wonderful oils in situ and they are in pride of place in the main reception room, the dining room and the office. We have three parties booked for the early season, Germans, Russians and Americans. We really hope all the effort will prove worthwhile and create a warm, informal, but stylish environment for post-shoot entertaining and hospitality.
A cold winter persists, despite the distinct whiff of spring in the air on the odd day. The garden looks pretty bare and flat but it has given us a chance to clear out unwanted undergrowth and see our boundaries properly. We have now added a three acre field to the grounds, which provides an extension to the garden and access to about eighty yards of riverbank, which we now own. How exciting! Our very own stretch of trout stream! We will be planting trees and hedges strategically over the coming weeks and attempting to thin-out and lay the hedges before the birds start nesting.
Inside, work is underway to get bathrooms fitted, with the conservation officer visiting on Wednesday to (hopefully) approve the plans for seven new en-suites. Painting the hallways and laundry room in underway, a well as fit-out of the boot room. As soon as the weather clears up, I’ll be on the roof, fixing the box windows, which have been leaking a bit all winter.
With Christmas behind us, work on the house and grounds continues. The Entrance Hall is now re-plastered and decorated, floor waxed and radiators re-installed. We suffered some storm damage to the old cedar of Lebanon in the garden, a heavy fall of snow proved too much for some of the old limbs and they broke. The wood is now sawn and split and drying in the wood shed. We also lost some fencing to the strong winds that buffeted the county. No real loss, it was old and rotten. Still, it made a couple of days’ work digging holes to plant thirteen yew trees, which should thicken up to form a hedge. In the meantime, we have builders and plumbers quoting for en-suites fo seven of the bedrooms, in anticipation of a busty shooting season in 2018, hosting shooting parties from the UK and abroad.
We got the hallway ready for guests an hour or so before they arrived, then managed to have a dinner party for 18 in the dining room, which went well, all things considered!. James continues to make good progress on the sash windows, which are surprisingly ecoverable considering the decades they have survived without pait or other protection from the elements. Old oak and pine certainly lasts better than modern timber does..
The quest to find a proper set of boilers and aa hot water system that will cope with the extra en-suite bathrooms we want to install continues. I used Hassle Free Boilers in Corve Street and they were excellent. So, I’m having them come and look at the system here. While the house takes up most of our time, we push on with the garden from time to time.,, taking down the odd tree and keeping the edges in order. Once the dining room windows are all done, we move on to those in the showroom and then we’ll try and get that up and running – hopefully by Christmas!
The last two months have been busy and messy! The Gun Room is up and running, with Redcare alarm and all the security requirements of West Mercia Police now met. It still requires some decoration and detailing but I’m pleased to have the major work done. The halls have been painted and the floors sanded. I have stained the front and back halls and finished them with Osmo hard wax. Claire has been cleaning up the staircase and discovered that one stair rod is not oak, like the rest, but a perfect copy in cast iron. Impossible to tell from the others unless you tap it with something metal. Why? Who knows! The dining room is now white and ready for teh major sash window repairs it needs. We had a firm quote £10,000 to restore three in the bay. So, as with much else, it will be a DIY job with me and old school friend James Lord doing the grunt work and a local carpenter doing the clever stuff.
16th October brought the high winds and dark skies of hurricane season to Caynham. Fingers crossed our ancient Cedar of Lebanon doesn’t fall apart in the maelstrom.The sashes are certainly rattling and the dogs hiding in the snug. We could be in for a long night. Time to close the shutters and hunker down.
The Game Fair and other distractions halted progress for a while but we have the new gun room security sorted out now. a new gate is on and the Redcare alarm system up and running, all now police approved.
Work continues on the Main Hall. A Stovax wood-burner has been fitted to put some heat into the centre of the house. Now lots of filler and paint id going on the walls as we try to get the ground floor presentable enough to bring people in. We are managing to keep on top of teh garden and have sawn up plenty of wood and split and stacked it ready for winter.
Telephones and internet are working at last – getting these seemingly simple tasks done has been very frustrating. The house is proving a constant challenge. Every time it rains I run around seeing where it is leaking from this time!
As we move into our new premises in June 2017, so many people have expressed an interest in the restoration that I decided to keep a record of progress here for interested readers. We took possession of Caynham Court on 17th June 2017 and immediately began work on converting the part-restored old manor house into a base for Vintage Guns, a residence for the family and a location for Claire to base her editorship of chef Magazine and host ‘pop-up’ restaurant evenings featuring top chefs for a limited residency.
So much for the plans, first we have to get the place restored. Having been derelict, there is a lot to deal with. The previous owners, Paul and Zita, had made progress; fixing the roof and installing an air circulation system to inhibit rot in the cellars. The kitchen is good and there are four decent bathrooms, one of which needs finishing off. The rest of the house is in need of a great deal of work.
Prioritising jobs means before decorating randomly, we have to start with a list of key improvements to get the building up and running and the businesses working in it. We decided the following needed to be handled quickly:
- Immediate impressions. The outside entrance is compromised by the hatchery. a distinct lack of ‘wow’ factor on the approach. In addition, the fencing, gates and open areas look shabby and allow the dogs to get out and anyone else and their dogs to wander in. We need to build a perimeter wall, in-keeping with the property, gate posts and iron gates with electric operation. The tarmac carpark needs ripping up and put to gravel.
- Build a Gun Room. This has to be secure and approved by the police.
- Make the dining room ready for formal dinners.
- Turn the old dining room into a showroom for Vintage Guns.
- Repair and decorate the entrance hall to make the building welcoming.
- Get heat into the centre of the house.
- Repair and make good the cracks and settling in the brickwork.
- Keep the garden tidy and usable, as well as secure.
- Build five en-suite bathrooms for guests.
So, that was out list of nine priorities. Some of them were urgent and we wasted no time getting started. Having loosely put all the boxes into the rooms they would be un-packed into, we set up a temporary office in the painted room (what we call the formal drawing room with ornate plaster ceiling).