Sunday, May 18, 2014
And then .....
We put our house on the market. We signed papers, visited offices, shook hands, shed tears and it was eight months later that we became the owners (along with a whole shoal of French loan-sharks) of a building, important to its local community for hundreds of years.
Our meetings with the architects of the French conservation authorities were an unmitigated success. What they wanted was exactely what we had envisaged. We instructed our draughtsman, we sought tradesmen and went to work ourselves to begin the weary process of hacking away at the generations of plaster: in parts, five generations. The most recent we considered to be early 20th Century, the earliest, decidely pre 15th Century. Plaster soaked with human blood ! How many hundred years ago ? Traces of burning ! Smoke or soot stains on plaster and stonework, as flame had passed in (or was it out?) through the arrow slots in the three foot thick walls.
Our findings and suppositions I recorded in a spare diary. Wall painting on 16th Century plaster was unsaveable, so badly damaged in preparation for yet another upgrade to the interior decor in the 18th Century. Three more bricked up meurtriers, stone seats set into the walls, yet another meurtrier covered by an early 20th Century concrete sink cast into its embrasure came to light. It seemed to be a thrill a day !
The plans where passed, some funding was loaned by the "sharks" and restoration was under way. The clearing of land infill behind the house brought to the surface a Knights Templar sarcophagus engraved with their cross and revealed in the rear wall of the house a fortified outlet for the airshaft from the vaulted cellar.
Excitement over our work grew as the results became evident. Our morale was boosted, if not the coffers, by the great enthusiasm of our neighbours and the village fathers. The Mayor, disputing the camoflage of the hole made some time during the mid 20th Century in the Guard Room exterior wall (front elevation), gave us the opportunity of divergence from the demands of the "Batiments de France" whose guidance we had sought at the beginning. With massive wooden structured frameworks in place, I'd received the nod for us to embelish it in stone. The plans and proportions for a porch, inspired by English village church entrances were completed in a short half an hour !
The "Stop-Go" regime of our restoration was to take over four years and at the onset of Winter, the prospect of the Seasons cold was daunting. No central heating; the fire of blazing logs and the radiated heat of a canine composter called Ortense whose length is only equalled by her breadth x 2 of her after-dinner girth ! Our blood just managed to stay above freezing !
Liveable "Templars" now was. An extension houses the modern amenities, a kitchen and a bathroom. The design we had proposed for the 360 sq feet of relatively modern living space had been prepared in the style and materials of the existing ancient structure. The plan was to replicate, slighty offset, the end elevation of the house. Same angles, same roof profile: it was rejected out of hand and the official view explained that, "If a property of such antiquity was to be extended to provide missing amenities such as a kitchen, a bath and a flush toilet, then that extension must obviously be of the 21st Century, not a 21st Century copy of something pre-dating by several hundred years !" So, as you see it now, the sketch of the chief architect of the "Batiments de France" has become our albatros, our reality ! Our sympathetic design relegated to the dustbin.
The window surrounds; oak of massive section to house the modern double glazed frames. Cut stone arched windows and an "Oeil de boeuf" glazed with hand made leaded and stained glass and an interior open to the roof, in barn or stable fashion, giving a more sympathetic appearance to the appendage. Yes, with time it will age-down and heal the wound, we hope.