Beware Refurbishing 18

December 4th

Drains 1. The boss builder has decided to lay completely new drains through the house for the reasons I guessed last time. He asked me to vacate the house today so that he can connect various pipes to this new main drain, once it's laid

So off to the British Library to look up those auctioneers who sold off the 300 plus houses for Christ Church College, Oxford in 1955. I had ordered up an entire year's worth of Estates Gazette to look through and establish when exactly Jones, Lang and Wootton and Sons made the great sale. How much did it all fetch?

Scheduled for March 22nd,1955. So I started leafing through for the week after auction day, only to come across the following:


Why? I ask myself. I spent the rest of the day hunting for the auction later in the year but couldn't find it, although even the land registry have told me that my house was bought by the council in 1955.
I have a thought, though. In 1955 a new law came into force that was concerned with what condition properties had to be in to be rented. My guess is that would-be our purchasers of 300 houses were frightened off because all those houses were in a dreadful state. So there was never any auction at all. Only the council was willing to buy, intending to bulldoze the lot. It's just a guess, mind. Local archives tomorrow. 

Back at home in the evening. Bartek and Sebastian are even more unhappy. The main manhole out of the house into the sewer is so blocked that I cannot stay in the upstairs flat anymore. I have left for the night. Let's see what tomorrow brings.


Posted on Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 10:24AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment

Beware Refurbishing 18

3rd December

Bartek and Sebastian don’t look happy -  and how could they? They are head to toe in concrete dust and their ears must be ringing, defenders or no. For some reason that I haven’t understood the entire main drain that runs under the house from the back to the front, into the manhole there and then the sewer in the street, is being replaced. This entails digging up a new channel about 30 centimetres wide and I don’t know how deep, parallel with the old one, where sits the huge old terracotta pipe. New lengths of plastic pipe lie waiting outside in the garden and multiple connectors for soil, waste and rain water to go. But why? What has the builder discovered that I didn’t know? How long will this take and how much more will it cost? Bartek says miserably, ‘Do not ask me, please. Ask boss.’ Boss tells me in an email that he will explain on Monday. It was kind of on the cards because the old pipe is, well, old and conceivably it’s no longer possible to get connections that fit its unnecessarily large circumference. Will this be the reason? I will report.

Meanwhile, Ozymandias the loo has been on the move. Perhaps he got tired of the absence of view so low down in the building, because he has upped and decamped to what was once (and ought again to become) a bathroom on the landing. He has been plumbed out (but not in) there so that he can survey the comings and going on the stairs. Little does he know that he will in due course be banished downstairs again. That bathroom until yesterday contained tools, and the plastic-wrapped washing machine, cooker, extractor hood, hob and a basin. These are now all stored in the front entrance hall where the unwary, especially at night, can stumble into them. There is no light in the hallway because it used to run off the power in my flat. But at the moment at night there is no power there. Visitors, be warned.

Posted on Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 10:23AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment

Beware Refurbishing 17

1st December

Hm. Yes. Well. The building control officer came today and the upshot is that the builder (Polish) was right all along and the architect (Scottish and a tad eager), Structural Engineer No. 1 (Irish and lovely) and Structural Engineer No 2 (Italian and elegant/charming) were wrong. Not about the little window (we haven't got to that yet) but about the central spine wall that they all thought could remain if it had stood as long as it has. No, insists the building control officer (Indian). You are lucky the house is still standing. The steel frame is necessary but its dimensions should be bigger. Oh, and by the way, the drainage system is entirely illegal. The soil pipes MUST be moved and the internal manhole MUST be moved. And the main drain under the house isn't the best but could conceivably stay And why did the engineer stipulate hardcore when the floor below was hard enough. Too late now though. And so on. So I paid for the services of an architect without which I could not have engaged the services of the structural engineer, for which I paid, whose ideas then went to the building control officer, whom I have to pay. And that's before any building actually gets done. You get the picture?

Meanwhile I may have maligned overseeing architect Philip Hardwick - he of churches and railways and the Euston Station Arch that John Betjeman and others fought so unsuccessfully to preserve. But the 1960s was a decade of knocking everything down, Camden Council being especially zealous with the wrecking ball. My street only just didn't get flattened at the time, though maybe some will now argue it should have been. Anyway. I think Philip Hardwick had no connection (ahem) with the Midland Railway's expansion because he was a station architect, and not involved with where the lines ran. But I am loath to let the story go just yet because it could have been juicy. Let's see what I turn up when I go back to the Camden archives.


Posted on Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 10:22AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment

Beware Refurbishing 16

November 29

They were drilling through the lower ground floor today to look for the point where the drain runs from back to front, so that they can later plumb in a loo in a relatively close position. All of a sudden I heard an almighty bang and wondered what they'd dropped, and whether they were hurt. Or dead. So I went down to look. The vibrations of the drilling had been so great that the glass in the double glazed door that leads from my study into the garden had shattered. I was intending to replace that door but just today was thinking that maybe I wouldn't do that yet, to save some money. Evidently thinking is a mistake, or at the very least a waste of time.
Meanwhile I have had some interesting bits of information from the Camden Local Archives, to which I must return for another day's research as soon as I can. Here is the interesting sentence: The development of houses on the land (the Christ Church Estate where my street lies) began in the 1850s and the Camden History Society book ‘Streets of Kentish Town’ explains that the design of the houses “was overseen, on behalf of Christ Church, by Philip Hardwick, the church and railway architect”. So I must do some looking up of Philip Hardwick to learn what he considered the word 'overseeing' to mean.

November 30

Slight snag (do I mean that?) The Scottish architect had provided a drawing on the basis of the report prepared by the drainage people according to which the drains run deep enough under the house for the steel frame and its concrete base to sit above without doing any damage. Yesterday’s door-shattering drilling revealed that this is not so. The drain is too near the surface. Back to square 1? The builder has a way round the problem – but mighty costly, I do fear. Or, he says, let’s wait and see what the building controls people say. With luck they will be coming by, some time soon – this week, next week, sometime…


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

Beware Refurbishing 15

27 November

I am sitting in the middle of the building, half way up, reading about Kentish Town. Some things are falling into place (though not yet the name of the speculative individual whose eternal soul I shall send to perdition – once I can be assured of its accuracy).

Down in the garden below Sebastian and Bartek are drilling away at a tough concrete base to create a drain and manhole where none has been. Sebastian is wearing the ear-defenders. Bartek insists he doesn’t need them because he is using a smaller kanga hammer. I don’t quite get the logic of this as he is wielding his hammer right next to Sebastian’s larger one.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the tiny bedroom I am using, which is at the front of the house, the furthest corner away from the noise, lies psychiatric nurse Clare – back on nightshifts. At my suggestion she has given up trying to sleep next to the commotion and arrived on the doorstep looking wan, and clutching her duvet. I hope in a few hours’ time she will tell me she actually slept. Odd how we need our own duvets in moments of stress.

Back to the middle of the house and my reading: In the 19th century a pattern had developed whereby a landlord who actually owned the ground would lease it for 99 years to whomever – maybe a speculative builder, to do with what he wished. In return the landlord would get a ground rent that would grow annually and at the end of the 99 years whatever had been built on the land would revert to him. From the builder’s point of view, it was meant to be worth it for the rents he had reaped, or the sales he had made to the unwary, who may have supposed that what they had bought was theirs. Leaseholds are still a householder’s anomaly.

The dates would seem to fit. Christ Church College Oxford inherited the land in the 1830s when it was still being farmed. Less than 30 years later it was built over – on a 99-year lease. In 1955 the College sold it because that was when the lease expired and the dilapidated terraces weren’t bringing in the income. Possibly (this bit is my interpretation yet to be firmed up) only the local authority would buy them, and indeed felt bound to, because if they didn’t a large number of families would be made homeless as a result of dreadful living conditions. Would that local authorities still took their responsibilities as seriously. Or perhaps what the council wanted was to knock all the houses down and replace them with something more modern, whether or not their inhabitants wanted that.  In the end, the terraces remained, and I’m glad. But I still want to track down that original jerry builder.


Posted on Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 10:20AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment