The history house

Nestled in Huntingdon s Market Square is one of the town s historic gems – Walden House. Work is currently being carried out to restore the 17th century property, turning the building into flats. IAN MacKELLAR discovers more. RESTORING Huntingdon s histo

Nestled in Huntingdon's Market Square is one of the town's historic gems - Walden House. Work is currently being carried out to restore the 17th century property, turning the building into flats. IAN MacKELLAR discovers more.

RESTORING Huntingdon's historic Walden House to create six flats is costing more than £1million.

If the attic floor of the 17th century Market Square building, with its magnificent views over the town centre, were also to be restored, the price tag would be even higher.

"But it would be just too expensive to do that as well," Geoff Isitt, head of surveyors Carter Jonas Cambridge's building consultancy division, said.

His company has been working with St Peter's Road, Huntingdon-based conservation specialists Haymills Conservation to return the period property to residential use after years playing home to Cambridgeshire County Council officials.

Grade II* listed Walden House, from the facade of which the scaffolding has recently been removed, was built between 1664 and 1674. It was the residence of Walden family, one of the area's pre-eminent families of the time whose leading member, Lionel Walden, was a mayor of Huntingdon and a contemporary of Oliver Cromwell.

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The restoration and conservation work has revealed many original features which have had to be carefully restored by specially trained craftsmen using traditional techniques, further to decades of office use and, in conservation terms, "abuse" to the fabric of the building.

Many of the historic features, such as centuries-old wallpaper and Hessian wall coverings, have been recorded meticulously protected and sealed behind new features to prevent further decay.

"We are starting to put things back together now," Mr Isitt said. "One of the biggest challenges has been to squeeze bathrooms into odd spaces.

"But we're not doing anything speculative here. If we find a 20th century ceiling that needs repair, we use plasterboard. If it's 17th century we repair it with wattle and daub to match the original materials."

Mr Isitt concedes that the building's Edwardian annexe is far better built than the original house. "We hope it will give us less trouble. It's not very interesting, though."

The conservators have repaired walls and ceilings in an authentic way, using lime plaster on both reed and lath backings, and conserved wattle and daub found in the walls of the attic space, using reconstituted materials and locally sourced daub.

Removal of the scaffold poles has revealed the replacement of the applied stucco swag over the front entrance door with a mould created from one of the originals already in place

Craftsmen have discovered remnants of early decorative finishes and wallpaper that is currently undergoing investigation as to its provenance.

Restoration of the house's crowning glory, its two chimneys, which add a distinctive feature to the town centre's skyline, has only recently been completed after months of wrangling with the district council and English Heritage over how the work should be done. One of the chimneys was leaning dangerously.

"It is a testament to how fine a building Walden House is that it has withstood all the building and interior design fashions of the last three centuries, as well as a range of non-domestic uses, to become a home again in the early part of the 21st century," Mr Isitt said.

The six apartments are expected to go onto the market - 17th century warts and all - are expected to go on the market in the autumn. No price range is being revealed yet.