Beware Refurbishing 23

14th December

Last night the builders were working till 9. This morning they are here again at 7.30. Two events coincide. A flat-bed truck pulls up outside carrying the five massive steel beams that boss builder took the risk of ordering without the go-ahead from the structural surveyors and Building Control Officer. At exactly the same time the email allowing us to order the steels, that have just arrived, pings in. Good call.

Now Boss Builder with Bartek, Sebastian, Karol, and Rafal have to get the steels off the flat-bed and then, (how?) into the lower ground floor of the flat. Bartek can’t lift anything still because of the injury to his arm playing football in that first week. But he can do a whole lot of other things. They use a short length of piping, such as you’d find in scaffolding, shoved under each steel beam to swivel it into position. Then, old bits of door and planks are wedged over the bags of hardcore and broken concrete that are piled in the front garden. The (new) window, that I had had installed before I discovered that the whole place needed rebuilding, is wide open to allow the steels to be slid in. Boss builder says cheerfully, ‘If we break window we can put new glass, easy peasy lemon squeasy!’

I fear for their backs, not for the glass. But never forget, they are Polish.


Posted on Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 11:04AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment

Beware Refurbishing 22

12 December

I got back from the Camden Archives at around 4, to fine Bartek and Sebastian still at it. You'd think they had been here all night long. Had they? I asked if they really needed to stay so late, but Bartek said this particular stage had to be completed tonight in order for the next stage to be completed tomorrow in order for the next....

Today I have been reading through all the minutes of the Metropolitan Borough of St Pancras, from the year 1955 - when supposedly Jones, Lang, Wootton and Sons were supposed to have auctioned off 300 properties that belonged to Christ Church College, Oxford. And, if you remember (why should you?), the auction scheduled for March 22nd 1955 was suddenly and unaccountably indefinitely postponed.

This is what I think happened. I quote from the Council's minutes of February 10th 1955: "We understand that Christ Church, Oxford, are willing to negotiate for the sale to the Council of the whole of the residential part of this Estate (approximately 800 tenancies)...and that the figure mentioned is one which the Council's Valuation surveyor will be able to negotiate..." The Council wrote this on the understanding that there would be no auction. But this was in February. A few weeks later the auction was being advertised in the Estates Gazette. My guess is that the college thought, ok. We have a fall back, so let's see if we can up the dosh on the open market. But the open market wasn't interested.

In the end the Council applied to central government to lend it the funds, to be paid back over 80 years. The government duly agreed because in those blessed days Council Housing was seen as a Good Thing. The total paid was £275,900.00 to cover the 300 plus houses (some 25 acres of land) and all the attached costs. You couldn't buy a one-room flat in any of these streets now for that amount.

Once the deal was concluded at the end of June, the Council decided to find a way of paying off the loan within 30 years which would ultimately save it money. But can anyone remember what happened about 30 years after that, round about the time the loan will have been paid off?

Meanwhile, having bought the five streets of houses that made up the estate the Council suddenly realised the business of managing them was currently beyond them. They had too many other things to do. Problem. Solution? Get one Allan Booth, who had been doing all the rent collecting etc etc for Christ Church to go on doing it, for the Council. Only for 6 months. Except when the six months were up, he was asked to do another three. If you wouldn't mind.

More later

Posted on Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 11:01AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment

Beware Refurbishing 21

11 December

Tentatively, I think the builder was right to take the risk in the stand-off between the structural engineers and the Building Control Officer. Someone with even more clout than the BCO has approved the dimensions of the steel beams (that the builder ordered anyway). One small detail to be cleared up and away we go - though away we appear to have gone notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, the reading I have been doing on the different 'rates' of Georgian house-building (which the builders bidding for the leases on the Christ Chuch/Kentish Town Estate in 1843 used as their template - not yet knowing they were Victorians) has proved to me that my house is 'fourth rate.' Partly its dimensions, and partly its inverted roof, otherwise known as a butterfly roof. Alarmingly, these houses are described not as houses people built to live in but as houses to sell. And then sell again? Not on your nelly!

The little one on the right is about right -as it were.

The steel beams should arrive on Friday or maybe Monday to be installed next week, before the Christmas break. I cannot imagine how they will a) get these huge things into the house, and b) lift them into place by hand. But of course, I mustn't forget: they are Polish.


Posted on Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 10:48AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment

Beware Refurbishing 20

8th December

Honestly, I think negotiating Brexit would be easier. At least Theresa May and Dumbo Davis meet their counterparts. In this case the structural engineers and the Building Control Officer haven’t set eyes on each other or crossed paths. All they’ve crossed is Boss Builder and me, and emails. But! I did manage to send the Building Control guy’s mobile phone number to the Italian engineer, and I believe they spoke. Has anything useful come out of this yet? Not that I know. Meanwhile, all patience lost, Boss Builder has taken a risk and ordered the steels – with or without the say-so of the warring parties. I am assuming (should I?) that the risk is his.

Downstairs Bartek and Sebastian spent the morning compacting the hardcore and the clay with a sort of stomping machine that you get going as if it were a petrol-driven lawnmower, for those among you old enough to have come across such things. This afternoon they have been concreting the first layer. Each room takes a day. They are flecked with grey splatters but all Bartek can think of is the end of this shift when he can – it being Friday – play football. Sabastian, sensible fellow, doesn’t.

I have been reading more of the material that the archivist from Christ Church College sent. It is a calendar (its name for itself, not mine for its) of exchanges between the college and various people – builders, the equivalent of Building Control Officers and the courts. The courts? Yes, and the House of Lords, all to establish if the college may sell long leases on its land for the purpose of building houses. There appears to be some arcane law that forbids Ecclesiastical bodies from granting leases for longer than 21 years. Why? It is to be discovered.

What is emerging is this – or so it seems to me: the college is only interested in its land bringing in as much money as it can because that is the demand of the trust set up as per the last will and testament of Robert South who bequeathed the land in the first place. Farmland isn’t doing the business so houses in Kentish Town might do better. The architect Philip Hardwick doesn’t appear to have been impressed with all those builders I quoted before, and would rather one big builder took on the lot. There was one who was interested but he fell by the wayside because he couldn’t raise enough capital. Then along comes another, name of James Taylor. I think he’s the man I am after. But I will need something more detailed to be certain. His aim was to build Third Rate houses. Evidently this was a designation familiar to everyone as there is no explanation. What does it imply? Also to be discovered. Are there fourth rate ones? I fear there may have been. Oh, and by the way. Do you remember that I was impugning the reputation of the good Philip Hardwick over the coming of the Midland Railway, running across the newly-built streets? Well he was innocent. Not so the college, D. and C. which I think stands for Dean and Canons. They didn’t mind in the least if the railway meant that houses just put up would have to be knocked down. The compensation more than compensated, if you get my meaning.


Posted on Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 10:45AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment

Beware Refurbishing 19

December 5th.

Drains inspection people come and fine the manhole is perfectly clear. Their guess is that there was a blockage somewhere in the street below my house and that it cleared overnight. So that’s all right then,

December 6th

Drains 2. Well, the main drain under the house has been entirely replaced - which took the guys until 8 last night so that I wouldn't have to stay away again. So late! I protested. Let them go home and finish tomorrow, I can stay away another night. No problem, said boss builder, as he is wont to do. Followed by the inevitable, We are Polish. 
Anyway, I have had to be out of the building again today because various connections to the pipes have to be altered so it seemed a good reason to go to the Camden Archives to look up more stuff. It's Wednesday. Turns out they're closed on Wednesdays. Always check! What, always? Yes, always. Ok, then.


7th December

The drains are in and the concrete round them is going in. On top of that the tons of lumps of clay that were dug out to make way for them, inside and outside the house, are also going back. Bartek is doing this hand by hand, lump by lump treading them down. Outside Sebastian is hammering at something solid – as you might a brick wall you were knocking down, although he isn’t, or so I believe. The concreting outside over the new main pipe has had to stop because of the rain.

Meanwhile the structural engineers (Irish and Italian) have gone head to head with the building control officer (Indian). He had sent them a stiff email complaining, in terminology impossible to understand if you are not in the trade, about the way their instructions were laid out and the dimensions of various steel beams and frames they were proposing. Miffed, stung, livid they zapped back: our proposals were laid out as normal, and impeccably; we have double-checked our dimensions and find them to be correct. It is their professional pride against his clout. Which will prevail? In the meantime, boss builder is fuming. He needs to order the steels and hasn’t been given the go-head.

It would seem diplomatic relations have broken down. I have rung the Italian engineer who says there has been so response to their livid email. He wants to wait for his boss to come in and discuss what to do next. I suggest that maybe boss builder can ring the Building Control Officer, since they ‘get on’. Not yet, he counsels. Let me get back to you.

This is a picture of the drain connection as it now is (and never before was) at the back of the house. It seems to stand high off the ground, which indeed it does but only because the ground was dug down so deep. In time, weather permitting, the ground will rise to meet the pipes. At least something will meet something on this project, even if engineers and control officers aren’t speaking.

Posted on Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 10:32AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment