When designer Ivan Coombes first saw the old cider barn, his initial thoughts were what a beautiful building it was and what great potential it had. And, surprisingly to owners Gilly and Cliff Poulteney, he could see that it would not need a great deal of work on it. “The basic envelope was there,” he says. “The Poulteneys could see rotten stairs, a worm-infested upper floor, a collapsing roof, snapped purlins and crumbling inner walls; but the outer walls were structurally sound and the roof only needed some re-tiling and some rafters replacing. It was a case of restoration rather than rebuilding.”
The cider barn was very old; a Grade II listed building dating back to the early 1600s that was one of the outbuildings attached to an old rectory which the couple had bought on the Herefordshire-Worcestershire border. One of the features they found so appealing was the old cider stone mill which an architectural historian dated as being the same age as the barn. There was an old cider press too. “Presumably the cider-makers used the apples and pears from our centuries-old orchard,” says Gilly.
The Poulteneys explained that they not only wanted to restore the building, but turn it into a dwelling too. “Obviously we had to get planning permission for a change of use,” says Ivan. “That took two months. The conservation officer became involved and the upshot was that we could restore the building but any alteration work was strictly limited.”
The exterior walls of the cider barn were of local stone and brick with just a small part given over to timber framing with wattle and daub as infill. This wattle and daub was quite damaged, but this actually proved to be a blessing in disguise…
“We had a problem with the windows. There weren’t any!” says Gilly. “All the planners would allow was for us to use the existing openings. We couldn’t enlarge them or put in any more. The only concession they would make was to allow us to put in three conservation lights in the roof, designed and made by a company that specialises in period houses. However, our designer Ivan had a brilliant idea and managed to get the planners to agree.”
This was to remove two of the rotten wattle and daub panels within the timber framing in the front exterior wall and install glass panels instead. And to make the most of the light obtained this way, Ivan removed part of the floor in the master bedroom, creating a minstrel’s gallery effect. The light then percolated into the sitting room from the opened panels above.
An enormous A-framed oak truss proved to be especially difficult. It went from ground floor to roof, was the full width of the barn and blocked access half way along the upper floor. “It couldn’t be cut into or modified in any way as the barn is listed,” says Ivan. “Potentially a lot of sleeping space upstairs could have gone to waste. So we put in a second staircase. Now there’s the original wooden staircase – which had to be rebuilt as it was so rotten – serving one side of the upper floor and a new steel spiral one serving the other. But there is no connection between the two halves.”
As the barn had never had any electricity a complete wiring system had to be installed, as did plumbing. A whole array of bathroom furniture had to be put in as well as a new kitchen, which was handmade by Neil Smiley of Bromyard because of the uneven walls. A fireplace made from stone found in the adjacent derelict garden has been fitted in the snug; the other rooms are heated by an oil-fired boiler.
Restoration work took about nine months and involved a great many specialists but now the cider barn has two bedrooms and two en suite bathrooms upstairs and a third bedroom, walk-in wetroom, a separate WC, kitchen, dining room and a snug downstairs. However, the most dominant feature of the entire cottage is the enormous stone cider wheel which used to roll round in a circular groove crushing the apples to make cider and the pears to make perry. Centuries ago a donkey would plod round, pulling the massive cider mill wheel and the Poulteneys can see where the exterior wall had been moved out slightly to allow the donkey to get past. They have kept the original cider workings and although the wheel no longer moves they have designed a big oak table above the circular groove in which it used to run. Gilly designed it and it was made by their joiner, who inserted panels of slightly rippled glass (for an aged effect) so diners can look through to the original structure beneath. “It’s just one of the many features we love about this barn,” enthuses Gilly. “We just couldn’t be happier here, and really feel like we’re living in a piece of history.”