Saying farewell to very old friend

PUBLISHED: 17:49 16 June 2009 | UPDATED: 15:03 20 February 2013

Sitting Room (with cream sofas)

Sitting Room (with cream sofas)

Victoria Jenkins visits one of the oldest houses in the county as the family that has enjoyed 13 years there prepare to leave

Victoria Jenkins visits one of the oldest houses in the county as the family that has enjoyed 13 years there prepare to leave


Photographs provided by Savills


In the 13th century Simon de Montfort owned vast tracts of land in Warwickshire and ruled over them from Kenilworth Castle, given to him after he married Eleanor, sister to Edward III.


"And that is how we think our home, Mountford Farmhouse, acquired its name," says Jenny Harries who lives there with husband Michael. "We understand it is one of the oldest houses in Warwickshire as its core is said to date right back the 1400s, if not before."


The grade 2 listed building probably began as a cross-passage hall as the oldest part comprises their drawing room and sitting room with the hallway dividing them. Old features abound but the most ancient include the oak ceiling beams and huge inglenook fireplace in the drawing room.


"According to our local history book the house began as a timber-framed building in-filled with wattle and daub," says Jenny, a psychotherapist. "Then it was extended over the centuries and rosy brick walls and tall chimneys were added, many of the bricks being made in local fields."


However it ceased as a working farm some 50 years ago when a builder bought it. "He put in leaded windows, plank doors and a classic 1950s formica kitchen," says Jenny. And it was all still here when Jenny and Michael arrived 13 years ago with their two daughters Roslyn and Anna and miniature schnauzer Jonah.


"There was also a cream Aga dating from 1949 which we decided to replace and managed to sell the day we advertised it. More than 50 people rang to enquire and we sold it to a lovely man who dismantled it on the spot and lugged it away," Says Jenny.


There were other fittings too that the Harries sold, including those in one of the two bathrooms. "It was very Art Nouveau with a bath and two basins in a shade of eau de nil which was not really our taste," says Jenny. "And we were pleasantly surprised that our architect was keen to take them off our hands."


Although at least two other owners had lived there since the builder, the house had barely changed since its 1950s makeover. "The old dairy with its slate shelves for keeping the butter and milk cool was still here," recalls Jenny. "And in our bedroom there are a pair of wig cupboards which must go back to the 17th century at least. As for Anna's bedroom, the floor slants so much with age that a marble could easily roll from one end of the room to the other. In fact I just loved everything about the place as soon as I walked in even though there was virtually no garden and I love gardening."


Apparently the farmhouse originally had 100 acres of land but these have now dwindled to three and a half acres. Over the years the Harries have worked hard to create a charming walled garden filled with herbs and lavender as well as a pond filled with koi and lilypads.


"The pond turned out to be three times bigger than we had planned," laughs Jenny. "We asked the gardener to dig it and he and his JCB went to work with a will."


"I remember thinking it would be a lifetime's work doing the house up," says Michael, a company director, "but it has proved to be a lot of fun."


"The first time we lit the sitting room fire the house filled with smoke," says Jenny. "So we had the chimneys swept and the workmen removed six wheelbarrows' worth of old rooks' nests. But to ensure we don't suffer any more problems we've had the chimneys relined and had a cowl put into this fireplace to draw away the smoke. We've installed woodburners in the other fireplaces."


Their biggest project was the kitchen where, to make it large enough to eat in, they began by demolishing the wall between it and the dairy. This proved to have been one of the original exterior walls i.e. load-bearing, so it meant calling in the structural engineers and getting planning permission to continue. "We ended up putting in both horizontal and vertical oak beams as supports," says Michael.


It also meant the kitchen floor had to be lowered as Michael, at 6ft 3 inches tall, kept hitting his head on them.


A friend made and installed the oak units with their granite worktops and wrought iron handles and the couple bought a new, blue, two-door Aga and laid a floor of African slate from Fired Earth.


"The house was originally built onto clay with no foundations," says Jenny. "Previous owners had put in reclaimed oak floorboards in the hall and in the sitting room which we understand are a few hundred years old. So were the floorboards in the main bedroom but these were neglected and so worn they had sunk in the middle like a bowl. When we lifted them we found ancient, blackened, corn grains below, to a depth of ten inches, put in centuries before as a form of insulation. It took a lot of vacuuming to get them up."


In place of these sunken bedroom floorboards the couple put in reclaimed floorboards, which came from a Victorian schoolhouse, and then laid what was salvageable of the bowed boards in the family bathroom. "But first we had to remove the old bathroom flooring to disguise most of the new pipework beneath," says Jenny. "Then we put in a claw-footed bath and an old-fashioned basin and a loo, all from the Heritage range."


Ten years ago the couple added an extension comprising a garage with double guest bedroom above and a staircase leading down to the courtyard garden. "We had a lot of fun sourcing the old bricks and oak which had to be in keeping with the original building," says Michael.


"Our house is spacious without being huge and unmanageable," says Jenny. "Where I have my study might have been the kitchen once as there is an old bread oven in there and we know coal was once stored in our laundry room. The snug once housed animals and upstairs an old apple store was turned into our third bathroom and a second study. As for the outbuildings, some of which were once open on one side as cow sheds and stables, we've turned them into a summer room and garden store rooms."


The house is now filled with mellow old fabrics, carpets and furniture sourced from local antique auctions and trips to India and Africa."Of course we can't go back in time to make it as it was 500 years ago," says Michael, "but at least we've tried to capture its spirit."


However, sadly, the Harries are having to say goodbye to their lovely old home as the girls have now grown up and left home and the couple are moving on.


For Sale by Savills of Solihull (01217134010) at £2m

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