The story of a home
Roger Hussey explains the complexities of restoring a listed 1840s Lyme Regis property from an architectural perspective
Published in January ’15
Some projects are fascinating for the architect, exciting for the clients and sometimes more than a little complicated for the contractors; 4 Marine Parade in Lyme Regis was one such.
The original building dates back to the 1840s and is the right hand of a terrace of three properties (the central one of which was used in the filming of The French Lieutenant’s Woman) set into a steep hillside. There is a top (third) storey dormer addition across all three houses in the terrace, which dates from the mid 20th-century. Despite this, it is also a listed building in a prominent position in Lyme Regis and, to make things a bit more interesting, theoretically had no site access except through the front door on Marine Parade.
The house was also starting to show the strains of old age as well as the effects of 170 years of constant exposure to the wind, rain and saltwater one expects at a seaside home.
The new owners wanted it structurally brought back to its best, so it could be preserved for future generations, and also for the internal accommodation to be juggled around a bit to reflect the rather different needs of 21st-century living.
After a year’s planning, consultation and surveying, then a fifteen-month contract, the house was complete, but not without its difficulties.
One-by-one, the problems were addressed and resolved: the District Council listed building team allowed the lean-to 20th-century bathroom to be flattened; a geotechnical survey – including a bore-hole survey to ensure the works wouldn’t bring down or weaken the hillside behind – permitted first the sinking of 45 piles deep into the hill behind the house, then to the excavation inside that piled formation, to accommodate the new larger kitchen.
Fortunately, the mid-terrace neighbours graciously allowed the use of their access to the back of the house, but still some piling machinery had to be delivered in pieces and reassembled on site. Finally the County Council permitted scaffolding to be put up on the house in the summer months, rather than forcing the build to be attempted in the teeth of a Lyme Regis winter.
As the main contractor, R G Spiller, started the project, it was clear that the usual problems encountered in a project of this kind would be rather more unusual. Owing to the corrosive nature of sea spray, mortar and bricks had become friable, slates and timbers had rotted, and it was discovered that the top storeys of the house were built originally, rather unusually for the period, as rendered softwood stud walling to keep them lightweight.
The far right gable of the house had to be propped up during the works as the supporting wooden members had rotted away; the roof and frontage had to be re-slated and the mechanical and electrical installations, all of which had been condemned, had to be replaced. Finally the ingress of damp from the various roofs of different styles, periods and materials had to be resolved, not to mention the ingress of groundwater from the hill behind.
Once the above, and a thousand other little tasks and tweaks had been performed, the house finally started to take shape with the new, partly subterranean, but sky-lit, kitchen and the tidied up exterior, terraced, dressed with stone and forming a tiny but very usable rear private area, as well as a new, fully functional, warm and watertight bathroom.
The house had hitherto had a fascinating history – it was here in the early 1960s that Lord Robbins wrote the report which would transform higher education such that it ‘should be available to all who were qualified, by ability and attainment’ by massively expanding the number of university places – and here that his son, Richard Robbins the painter, spent many years prolifically painting views of the seafront.
Thanks to clients with the vision and the will to invest a sizeable sum to bring it back to life, and a whole host of professional experts, craftsmen and tradesmen, 4 Marine Parade now not only has a happy present as a beautifully appointed family home, but also a bright and secure future.
• Roger Hussey is a Partner at John Stark & Crickmay Partnership, Architects; www.jscp.co.uk