Our plans for Summerhill Oast

Progress so far…

To the casual observer it may not seem like we have achieved a great deal in our first 6 months at Summerhill Oast – largely because there is still so much to do.  Looking back at the picture on the home page the difference can clearly be seen.  Most of the work we have done so far is outside the house, working on the theory that if we had left the outside to nature the situation was only going to get worse.  In particular we have:

5 Bar gate
The very first job we did at Summerhill Oast was to mend the 5 bar gate.  When we arrived the gate hung rakishly from its post and dragged on the ground.  John (Carol’s Dad) supervised the digging out the two rotten gate posts and replacing them with 2 new 7” x 7” x 7 foot posts.  We then learnt how a 5 bar gate should be hung.  Finally the garden was safe and secure for Lucy and Linus, the dogs, to be able to roam.
When we arrived at Summerhill Oast the “hedge” along the garden, all 25 ft of it, was at risk of bringing down the power cables.  It was so high that we had to call in EDF Energy to remove the imminent danger and then it took Geoffrey – a local contractor – 4 days to bring it to a more manageable 7’.
When we bought the house almost every page of the surveyors report mentioned the damaging affect that ivy was having on Summerhill Oast.  Ivy had been allowed to grow rampant over the brick and tile hung walls of the barn and the roundel.  John, Sue (Carol’s Mum), Tim and Carol spent many days, if not weeks, pulling ivy off the walls of the building and pulling the roots out of the soil around the base of the building and along the banks of the stream.
It has taken months, to clear rubbish and vegetation from the banks of the stream that runs alongside the garden at Summerhill Oast.  Getting rid of the debris has been another problem.  Sue & John bought a chain saw and we used it to cut up the wood to use it for firewood.  We tried to burn the twigs and the leaves, however the wind always seemed to be in the wrong direction; in the end we resorted to bagged it up and taking it to the tip.
Side Gate
Like the 5 bar gate the side gate to the property had seen better days and had to be wedged to shut it.  John and Carol made a new gate and with the help of Keith (Carol’s Uncle) John mended the frame and put on a new latch so that the gate could be properly secure.
Patio base
We discovered a rather strangely situated patio base behind the garage at Summerhill Oast that appeared to serve no purpose.  Given that we are using this area for storage it isn’t somewhere that we are likely to sit.  Tim has levelled the base, lifting the paving slaps and using them elsewhere – both under the wood pile and as a base for the yet to be erected shed.  The bricks that we have been able to recover we have used to make temporary flower beds to plant runner beans and as a “nursery” bed to bring on some small box plants which in due course will be used to plant a knot garden at Summerhill Oast.
Garden path
For most of the winter we waded our way along the garden path every time we wanted to go out.  The shingle path was uneven and overgrown.  Eventually, when the better weather came, Tim and John cleared the grass that had encroached onto the path and Sue worked very hard at “weeding” the gravel” and exposing the brick edge, which we were delighted to discover provided a complete border to the lawn.
When we moved into Summerhill Oast it is not fair to call the grass a lawn.  There was a dilapidated rose arch that “fell over” when Tim pushed it and some very overgrown and straggly shrubs on the far side of the garden that were beyond resurrection, it was a very sad and sorry mess.  We decided to take out the rose arch and the “roses” that had reverted to brambles and the shrubs, we then had to re-turf and reseed the grass where they had been.  Sue and John found ‘Marden Turf’ less than a mile down the road, a turf farm where they cut turf freshly to order at a very reasonable price.  John and Carol planted the turf and Sue filled in the bald patches with grass seed, gradually the grass is beginning to look like a lawn, which Tim now diligently mows every weekend.  Our goal is to have somewhere flat enough to be able to play croquet but we accept that it may take a little more time and effort yet.
In the account of the lawn, detailed above, we have glossed over the removal of the shrubs.  Again, this was not easy; spades, iron bars, a saw, loppers and many hours of hard labour are what it took to get rid of the mass of roots that have been allowed to grow unchecked over the years.  
The first problem we encountered with the garage is that the up and over mechanism door would not close easily.  Tim chiselling away at the door frame and that problem was fixed but then the lock broke in the closed position.  As there is no personnel door, this involved Tim removing the panelling to reach in to release the lock mechanism and then fitting a new mechanism to ensure trouble free operation.  Needless to say that like the house the garage at Summerhill Oast was covered with ivy when we arrived.  Having removed it we were left with the marks of the ivy suckers all over the wood cladding.  Sue applied a coat of cuprinol to cover up the worst and to provide some additional protection for the wood.

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The “to do” list

Summerhill Oast requires a lot of work.  We know that before we move onto the niceties of decorating there is essential maintenance work that must be undertaken.  The problem with this work is that because it is to the fabric of a grade II listed building much of it requires specialist intervention and so is expensive.  We are not in the position to be able to do all the work at once so this is a list of the work that we know we need to complete over time.

  • Refurbish the oast cowls.  The cowls are in a very poor state of repair.  The one nearest the back garden has no cap and neither cowl moves very freely on its bearings (you become acutely aware of this if you sleep in the roundel bedroom on a windy night).  They are also in desperate need of a coat of paint.  As you might imagine the refurbishment of oast cowls is specialist work and Dude and Arnette will, in due course, take down our cowls using a crane, sheet over the oast roofs and take the cowls away to repair and replace the missing parts. 
  • All oast cowls are unique and therefore we will be without our cowls whilst they are refurbished and they will be craned back into position.  Because of the cost of hiring a crane Dude and Arnette remove the cowls from several oasts at the same time, refurbish them all and replace then all at the same time, so we could be without this dominant feature of our house for quite a while.
  • Replace the windows.  There are a total of 19 windows and 1 set of patio doors in the house all in need of replacement.  The original joinery is of a very poor standard and made in softwood.  All the windows show signs of rot, some of in such a bad state they are no longer water tight, there are others we dare not open because we will not get them closed again. The main problem is the expense of replacing the windows like for like.  Most of the windows have a total of 12 separate panes and to have this number of double glazed units manufactured does not come cheap.
  • Put in two additional windows to sitting room (if planning permission is granted).  If we are able to do this it would ensure that there is more light in the sitting room.
  • Replace gutters.  The current gutters are made from plastic and have come apart where they have expanded.  We would prefer to replace them with traditional cast iron gutters, but even maintenance of the existing gutters would not go amiss, it is just getting to them.  Because the upper floor of the barn is tile hung, we need to secure a scaffold tower to give us unimpeded access.
  • Repaint exterior joinery (excluding the windows) there is a wood panel at the rear of the barn, where originally the “shed” would have been open; this is in desperate need of repair and repainting.  Also the corner posts on the barn area need painting as do the small “porthole” windows that we are not intending to replace.
  • Replace roof to the barn as this was identified on the survey that it would not remain water tight.  The roof would need to be replaced with Kent peg tiles so we are limited both in the supply of the peg tiles and with the companies that will be able to do the work for us.
  • Replace the floor upstairs.  When the oast was converted into a house the flooring on the first floor is chip board.  In the bathroom, shower room and on the landing adjacent the teagle door where the floor has come into contact with water it has broken up.  As we do work in the rooms we will take up the existing flooring and replace them with 200mm French oak floor boards that we have purchased from [name of company].
  • Replace and update shower room. Tim removed the old shower some time ago and this is the next job on his long list
  • Replace and update bathroom. Once the shower room is finished, this is the next room to be tackled
  • Replace exterior staircase. The staircase up to the teagle door is in a desparate state of disrepair. Runnung repairs were undertaken to allow us to use the stairs when we were moving in, but it is unlikely that they will last another winter
  • Replace and update kitchen, this looks very simple but we realise this will be one of the most complex projects that we undertake.  Putting a kitchen into a round room is not going to be easy.  Certainly finding someone who will make a kitchen for a round room is not proving to be easy.  We also would ideally install an Aga.  Our original thoughts were towards having a Rayburn to provide the heat, hot water and cooking facilities for the house.  However, it has become evident that this is not going to be viable so we have moved on to considering if we could install and Aga for cooking.  The problem seems to be the flue.  The logical position to site the cooker is on the internal wall of the roundel, however this means that the flue would need to run either underground or through a duct in the ceiling, obviously it cannot be released through the roof of the building as it is a long way up to the top of the cowl!  Anyway, when we have overcome this issue we also want to put in a new brick floor, more in keeping with the original building, and will need to sort out the power and lighting because the current arrangement is far from satisfactory.
  • Replace boiler the current heating is powered by a very old gas fired boiler than runs on tanked gas fed from a large white gas tank at the bottom of the garden.  On a periodic basis we have to call Shell to come and replenish the gas tank.  We know that sometime soon we will need to replace the boiler and believe that by moving to an oil fired boiler we will reduce our heating costs
  • Relay and replace utility room
  • Replace floor in breakfast room roundel
  • Repair internal staircase
  • Make storage cupboards out of “wasted” space under landing staircase
  • Put additional plug sockets into bedrooms
  • Take additional power up to roof space
  • Put in a velux roof light and convert roof space into an office (if planning permission is granted)
  • Running additional power to the garage area
  • Running water to the garage area
  • Running power to the garden area for socket and lights
  • Replacing the garage with a 2 storey wooden building, suitable for garaging, workshop and storage (subject to planning permission)
  • Building an orangery (subject to planning permission)