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The beast

Updated: Jan 2

We always knew we had a bit of a problem in our southeast corner. The beautiful ancient Holm Oak tree on that corner was brushing the house, and there were patches of damaged and missing render when we first moved in. The ground outside was cracked and drainage tarmacked over, so one of the first jobs we felt we had to do was fell the ancient oak.

You can see how it’s taller than the house and roughly as wide. But at least there are 4 more in the garden – one next to the doomed specimen, and one on the opposite side of the house. There’s also a very rare cork oak hidden under the one that was felled.

Here it is part gone, and then two images taken soon after. It does open up the view, and make the garden feel like one space, rather than two regions cut off from one another, and it’s also LOTS lighter inside on that corner.

But if did have any residual guilt, it was all gone when we discovered THE BEAST. Yes Moreton has a monster. One we didn’t uncover until the spring.

We had decided to go investigating the corner room on the ground floor, which had been divided into 3 offices using flimsy partition walls. The partitions obviously had to go, to reveal one of the most stunning ceilings in the whole house. We had a couple of plaster experts over to look at it, and a heritage architect. And started putting together the paperwork and plans to removed the partition walls.

Apologies for the quality of the pictures here, but they do show the spectacularly unsympathetic division of this once grand room into cubicles! With lovely striplights! Our reading suggests that this room was once a music room, decorated with handpainted Chinese silk wallpaper, which was stripped and sold before the school took over in the ’50s.

Unfortunately as well as the partitions were lots of freestanding cupboards and doors, leaning up in the corner. We hadn’t got around to moving any initially, but when we did, we found this…

Someone had already cut a hole in the wall, found THE BEAST, and then put it away again. The beast is Serpula lacrymans, a fungus, more commonly known as dry rot. Which is a stupid name because it grows in the damp. If you cut off its supply of moisture it can’t grow any more.

Anyhow, that kind of ruined our month. This would be nothing like the previous changing rooms-style painting and decorating jobs. This needed experts. We let the heritage office know and had a bit of a poke about.

The beast had devoured quite a bit of the window frame and was also poking bits out in the cellar below. So we got in the builders and a dry rot company and they stripped a bit more away. We thought they’d be straight in there with sprays and chemicals but they haven’t done that even now. The first thing, they said, is to sort out the damp completely. So fixing the render, the roof and the drainage were the next jobs. Each one of these has been another can of worms, with lots of things to resolve before we can get on with things. We’re still working on them, and so the music room (if that’s what it will be again?) is one of the rooms we have actually made worse. And the lounge above is also rather laid bare and unusable. We are officially in the part of the project where it feels as though everything we do is a step (or several) backwards!

So this is how the room will stand for a while longer. On the plus side, the partitions had to go into the skip….and the ceiling didn’t fall down. Yet.

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Moreton House, Abbotsham Road, Bideford, Devon, EX39 3QW

moretonhousedevon@gmail.com

01237 425519    07521531808

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