It is during these crisp and misty morning that I find myself winding through the commute, distracted by interruptions on the horizon. These are spires – or towers – and plenty of them, poking above patches of spindled trees and bare farmland. Some take advantage of the gentle hills and command the landscape below. Others surprise, tucked behind pockets of houses and down narrow lanes. Either way, there they are, where they’ve stood for centuries.

slcOne particularly unassuming church lies within the community of Stow Longa, with no spire to speak of, and virtually impossible to stumble upon. The name of the village derives from the Old English words stōw, meaning holy place and lang, long. One might infer that the name suggests an ancient holy site of some significance, although there is little evidence of it today. Rather appropriately, the only ancient feature present – as in many small villages – is the church. It is nestled down a small rutted lane, from which a – perhaps ancient  – hollow way meanders towards a gentle hill. We happened upon this church only last weekend, when it was perhaps the spring like day that encouraged us to take a small detour, looking to familiarise ourselves with the villages surrounding our own.

The setting itself would have been rather a magical once, the church resting on a small mound, overlooking the  undulating farmland beyond. It perhaps is today, although it appears a relic to the former seclusion it once enjoyed. Now overlooked by a seventies vicarage and encroached upon by some generous new-builds, it stands nobly defiant against the centuries which followed its construction.

slcdThe church almost certainly has eleventh-century origins, perhaps built under the reign of King Cnut. It also possesses one significant and rather well-known attribute: the mermaid stone. This is a 12th century tympanum carved with a mermaid (or siren) who is flanked by two beasts. This stone sits above the priest’s door, where it was relocated when the church was largely rebuilt in the 13th century. The mermaid sits with her hand raised in an orant pose, yet is symbolic of temptation. This figure is flanked by two beasts, one grotesque to represent hell, and the more benign creature representing Christ. Today this church remains a testament to great craftsmanship and the human desire to preserve history. Its displays the skill of many hands and reflects the rich tapestry of architectural history.

Uncovering History

Once belonging to the Duke of Manchester’s estate, our little cottage remains a mystery to the residents of Kimbolton. Far too small to have been built as any kind of family home, it was once a one-up one-down cottage, standing alone next to the church. Far earlier than the neighbouring houses, it would have been even more incongruous than it is now, shadowed by the generously proportioned church. We’ve mused on the idea of a church warden’s cottage, a place to watch for looters and ne’er-do-wells.

In our title deeds it states that we have permission to graze and drive our livestock in the church yard, so it seems as though this property must have served a function for the church itself. This is an entitlement we are yet to claim…


In the early 20th century, the cottage became part of the much larger Carnaby House next door, home to a tailor, Mr Fockett. Mr Fockett was known to use the cottage as his main sewing room, sitting cross-legged on a table overlooking the church, making use of the lovely afternoon daylight that streams through. From this time, the property seems inextricably linked to the larger house, and served as its dowager house for a time also.

Other theories as to its intended function extend even as far as a mortuary of sorts, the cottage stacked to the rafters with coffins awaiting entombment. Perhaps this is the product of my Gothic imagination.

More likely, this little house was probably a toll house, just off the main track towards the old market square.

Renovation Begins

Renovation begins.

After launching a successful campaign against the spiders – a victory won only with a Dyson handheld thingamabob – we were ready to apply our carefully chosen colours to the uneven walls. We’d visited Monk’s House in East Sussex, home to Virginia and Leonard Woolf, only a short while before, and Virginia’s use of a soft, pea shoot green filled us with enthusiasm.

Green was Virginia’s favourite colour and is perhaps used to best effect in their sitting room and study, a space strewn with additions from the Bloomsbury Group:

The Sitting Room at Monk's House, East Sussex.

Something else that I am very keen to replicate from Monk’s House is this wonderful lamp, constructed from concertinas of paper, splashed and drizzled liberally with watercolour:


Our Little Greene colour swatches were out, arguments were had, testers were applied with conviction and a decision was made. Normandy Grey. This, I hasten to add, is nothing at all like French Grey. Weeks of poring over these swatches made this difference very clear. There was a quality to this colour which particularly suited the honeyed oak of the sitting room and it is the perfect base on which to hang some paintings.

Before painting could start, cracks had to be filled. These gnarly little spider dens caused C particular irritation, being used to the paper smooth walls of Victorian properties. In contrast, I had grown up in a 15th century farmhouse where the garden could be seen through gaps in the beams and a constant draught whistled through every room.

Searching the bed for spiders is something we’ve both grown accustomed to. Which is a good thing, as we’re sleeping on a mattress on the floor. There was no way our bed was going up the impossibly narrow staircase, so it’s firewood come autumn. Oh, there’s no central heating. There is however, a wonderful oak Arts and Crafts headboard waiting for a bed I’ve yet to order. My tardiness can be put down to the novelty of camping in one’s own house.


We have however painted the bedroom in another colour from Little Greene: Slaked Lime, Mid. This chalky, distemper grey diffuses the early morning night and bathes the room with monastic stillness. This is a far cry from the freshly painted lilac walls we were greeted with when we moved in – seemingly a moving in present from the previous owner hoping to improve the primrose walls seen during our viewing.

With French trousseau bed linen, and perhaps a 17th century mule chest, this will be a lovely bedroom. Oh, and a bed.


A Week in a New Home

Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire. Not a place that many people have heard of, but a place which is now home to me, my partner and our collective clutter. I suppose that I should not be calling our shared possessions clutter, but for now, in our tiny one bedroom 17th century cottage, they form an assault course of sorts, threatening to send us tumbling down our narrow staircase, knocking our flailing limbs against the crooked beams. I’m bruised, grubby, absolutely knackered, but we’re finally in. We’re low on furniture, funds, and energy, but I couldn’t be happier.


Zoopla is to blame. It possesses a dangerous attribute, allowing you to search using a keyword. My chosen keyword, was, “beams”. No property would appear unless it was propped up with pieces of oak of varying sizes, strengths and beauty. A number of houseboats crept into this search and this was unacceptable (doesn’t Zoopla know I suffer from motion sickness?!), so I refined it further. “Grade II listed”. We were now looking at properties with beams of historical significance. I must confess that this was all a fantasy. We were Londoners, living in separate flats carved out of dilapidated Victorian terraces at opposite ends of the Capital. At least he was in Pimlico, fundamentally boring but you could at least rely on Westminster council to take your rubbish. Holloway is perhaps most treacherous on a windy day, when plastic bags are liable to whip you about the ankles, whilst dust is simultaneously exfoliating your corneas.


 No competition:img_20160822_123403Anyway, back to Kimbolton, and Carnaby Cottage. It is a particularly photogenic accumulation beams, bricks, and wattle and daub. I was trawling through small piles of grade II listed detached houses studded with beams that were basically anywhere but London, and this little place caught my eye. After a very brief look through the photographs and a quick prowl on street view – and not a glance at the description – I deemed it worthy of sending to C, via link. We’d both been bombarding each other with these links, but I like to think that I was the star house-hunter, as he favoured ‘On the Market’. Come on, it doesn’t have a keyword search function! We’d never heard of Kimbolton, and we’d certainly never been to Huntingdonshire. As far as I was concerned, it was flat, devoid of character, and dominated by vast swathes of bleak agricultural land. Oops!



We both agreed that this was a fantastic find. Here was listed, detached house – with beams – in the grounds of a church. The cottage is actually set within a corner of the churchyard, and one of our closest neighbours is a rather majestic yet not grandiose eighteenth-century tomb. This is perhaps the reason why this house hadn’t been snapped up! There are only a handful of scattered tombs however, and they are situated within a beautifully managed church green, which forms the heart of the village. St Andrews Church boasts fine features of Early English Gothic architecture, and having being remodelled in the perpendicular period, displays exquisite fourteenth-century carving and fifteenth-century oak panel paintings. Magnificent.


Perhaps the most enticing feature for C was the small separate garden. Gardening was at this time, his most recent interest, and we’d acquired a small North London allotment as a creative outlet, and he’d spent many hours selecting flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs that would suit his increasingly ambitions designs. Who pleaches a Morello cherry tree in Totteridge?! However, this garden, or patch of land, had a feature that was coveted by us both; a slow-moving, meandering river full of fish, ducklings, moorhens and other faunae that we were yet to spot. Never mind the flood-risk, the impractical slope of the garden, or the boisterous pigeons, it is a beautiful spot. We’d fallen in love; it was the first house we’d viewed.