Restoring a cottage in East Garston

Karen Sperrey, a former Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary of Hungerford Historical Association, entertained and informed around 90 members and visitors at the February meeting with her in-depth recounting of the restoration of her 16th Century timber-frame cottage in East Garston.

Karen is no stranger to renovating old properties, having first worked on 17 The Croft, Hungerford, an early 19th century cottage, and later on ‘Staddlestones’, a Victorian house in Hungerford Newtown. These were nothing compared with the extent of the project undertaken at Church Cottage, a Grade II listed building purchased in 2017 and requiring extensive restoration by Karen and her partner James.

Traditional vernacular buildings were built for ordinary people using the available building materials of the area such as stone, timber and flint. It was vital to re-use as much of the original material as possible and to replace any areas that had failed, rotted or collapsed, with similar materials. An unsympathetic 1970s extension was to be replaced with one that would be kinder to the aesthetic of the original cottage. Bulging walls, failing joints, rotten beams and window frames, leaking pipes, an electricity system unfit for purpose and a very heavily thatched roof that was pushing the walls outward as the dilapidated main frame had lost its strength were just the start of the problems that needed fixing. It was clearly going to be a very big job.

After their initial planning application failed, Karen and James set about engaging specialist help in putting together their second one. A timber-frame survey, architectural analysis and a planning consultant to write the design and access statement helped the couple achieve planning permission in 2018. The old extension was demolished, the garden walls rebuilt in brick and flint, and the new extension constructed. 2019 saw the first visit from the Conservation Officer who gave consent to the restoration work on the timber framed cottage but with a long list of provisos.

The restoration of the cottage began in March 2020 with the erection of scaffolding covering the cottage completely. The Covid lockdown meant extra safety precautions were required but the locals were kept entertained watching progress during their daily permitted walks.

Karen’s many photographs illustrated the progress of the project that meant taking the cottage back to its near beginnings, removing the thatch, stripping out the lathes and plaster, exposing the timber frame so that it could be either repaired or where necessary replaced. Every inch of the building appears to have been repaired, cleaned and restored. Even the chimney stack and top was remodelled to the dimensions found in an old early 20th century photograph of the cottage. Underfloor heating from an air source heat pump prevented fixing radiators to the walls, and a shower room was designed to be completely removable in the future without damaging the structure of the building.

Downstairs the floor paviers were painstakingly removed and then replaced following installation of underfloor heating, and the inglenook fireplace was restored. Old doors were stripped back to the wood, both staircases renovated, and breathable clay-based paints used for covering the lime plaster.

Although dendrochronology of the rafters dates their use in a construction to 1528, they appear to have been used before their current positioning. Architectural analysis dates the building to c.1600 with alterations c.1650-1700. Karen maintains however that parts of the building date to 1528! And why not? The beautifully restored cottage has maintained all its original features, including leaving an area of exposed original lathes and plaster to illustrate its fascinating history.

HHA’s next talk on Wednesday 27 March is Abraham of Keswick: a pioneering photographic, rock-climbing and motoring dynasty by Roger Day.

Caroline Ness
Chairman HHA


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