There are no lush green rolling hills, calm waters or crashing waves by my plot in Greater Manchester. Instead, I have a modest and sloping space positioned in the middle of a private housing estate. There is ample room for a cottage, a reasonably sized garden and two parking spots. However, I am pretty fortunate in that I do not need to go through what seems like an arduous affair finding a plot to build on.
My self build is maybe a little less conventional than most in that the land is basically my dad’s garden. It is about a quarter of an acre in size and sits cosily amongst a combination of sixties’ town houses, red brick bungalows, a three storey stone built house and a traditional 18th Century farmhouse.
Despite the absence of dramatic or quaint English scenery, the history of the location of the area is much more interesting than how its present description may sound. The plot lies close to a now demolished historic farming village called Royley which was built some time in the 16th Century near to a neighbouring quarry.
(Above and below) The farming village of Royley
The village consisted of a cluster of stone built houses. On the outside of the cluster was Highlands Farm — now the only reminder of Royley which was tragically pulled down in the sixties to make way for a constellation of town houses and a small shopping centre. A brick built school was erected in 1976 and the final misfortune of the village came in the 1980s when Victorian-built Highlands House, which sat next to Highlands Farm, was taken down and replaced with two brick bungalows.
Highlands Farm ceased to be a working farm in 1965 and my parents bought it in 1975 when the land around it had already been sold. My brother and I both lived at Highlands Farm for the whole of our childhood and despite the incongruity of the school’s design – it did come in handy to jump out of bed and over the gate at nine o’clock every weekday morning! Sometime during the past an extension was added to the existing barn. This was pulled down in 2009 to provide space for my brother’s house.
An aerial view of Highlands Farm circa 1989
When I decided that I wanted a home for myself and my boys I initially thought of converting the remainder of the barn. I fell in love with the beams and dreamt of an open roaring fire, oak mezzanine and exposed stone walls. But after looking at it all in more detail and appreciating the space I would need for my family it would mean losing the beams. For some, this may have not been an issue but for me, I couldn’t do it.
Then my dad made the perfect suggestion: why not build on the land in front of his garden? That way I could have my own detached dwelling that was separate from the farm and it would cost not much more than a barn conversion. Perfect.