Family restores 700 years of Ramsey’s history

THREE years ago Huntingdonshire conservationists despaired of the future of one of Ramsey’s oldest and most precious homes – and prosecuted the owners for the damage they had caused to the Grade II*-listed building.

But now the 13th century house has once again become a family home, with new owners working on a 10-year programme of sympathetic restoration of The Gables, in the High Street.

The core of the timber framed house dates from the 13th century, with two wings added later. Also in the grounds are two other independent-listed structures, a detached former kitchen and a small barn that was used as a coach house.

“By the end of 2011 all three listed structures were on Huntingdonshire District Council’s Buildings at Risk Register,” conservation officer Katie McAndrew told The Hunts Post.

“The decline of these buildings and their long-term vacancy occurred because they were bought by an owner who failed to realise their best use was simply as a family home.

“In 2006 London Property Conversions Ltd had bought The Gables with desires to develop the site. The house was left vacant and was not to be maintained while the company considered options.

“Without maintenance and while unoccupied the house suffered from localised water penetration and vandalism damage an all too common fate for long-term vacant buildings,” she added.

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The company was fined after carrying out unauthorised and inappropriate work without listed building consent, and HDC continued to pursue the company to protect one of the town’s most precious historic buildings from the weather and vandals.

Eventually, it was put up for sale, a fact spotted by local plumber Paul Day and his wife Jill as they walked their dog through the town in January.

They set their hearts on the place and eventually bought it in July, but had to do major remedial work before they could get a mortgage and move in – just in time to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary next Wednesday.

“It was in a terrible state. The water had been pouring in through the dormers. Areas of the walls and floors were saturated,” Mrs Day said.

“Once we had made the repairs to the roof, windows and doors and upgraded the electrics and plumbing, we got a cleaning team in – our parents – to go through the house, clean it and decorate our teenage son’s room.”

That was the start of a 10-year – or, more likely, never-ending – project to restore and maintain the building.

“There was a real risk of losing this building and its historic fabric to arson or major vandalism during the time it was vacant and not being kept secure,” Ms McAndrew said. “Finding a new owner who appreciated the character of the building and wanted to live in it was fundamental to securing its long-term future.

“The Gables is one of Ramsey’s oldest surviving dwelling: to see it become vacant and start to fall in to disrepair was a blow to Ramsey’s heritage and not acceptable and the situation had to be addressed.

“The Gables is first and foremost a family home and this is the best use for it. Working with owners who saw this future for the building will secure its long-term conservation.”

When the house was built in the late 1200s, the leaseholder might have been an abbey official, a merchant or a farmer, according to Beth Davis’s 2004 history of the building. It survived a fire 350 years later in 1731 that destroyed many of the timber-framed buildings nearby.

It was a doctor’s house for 150 years, a use that continued until the 1960s, the history records.

“The house has been improved in nearly every generation by brick extensions and interior alterations and fittings. The timber-framed house was encased in brick in about 1810 and extended by a single-storey wing. Completing the 1810 extension were a stable and coach house, a separate wash-house and brew-house and other outbuildings.”

The history records significant alterations in the 16th century and most centuries since then.

But the immediate challenge is to make it a more comfortable home for the Days, a Huntingdonshire couple who have lived in Ramsey and the surrounding area all their married life, and their third child – their other two older children have left home.

“We’re not intending to do this work quickly,” Mrs Day said. “I don’t think it will ever be finished.

“It’s so beautiful: it’s a real joy to live here, even as it is,” she enthused. “There are so may beautiful features.

“We have done renovations to other houses and we have built a new house from scratch, but they have not had the history and the features. We want to research it properly before we do anything – the house deserves it. We’re fascinated by the history and the materials they used.”

And as to the large garden, the plan is for chickens to keep the family dog and cat company.