Occasionally, I look back over posts I've written in this blog because there are already things that are difficult to hold onto about our earliest days here. One unfortunate side effect of this is that I'm confronted with something of a skiving theme running through. Whereas there's loads of hard labour to be done, the blog version of myself wafts about downing tools right, left and centre to go off chasing butterflies. The reality, I'd like to think, is slightly less flighty; but the truth is that stripping, sanding and weeding is monotonous and at times, pretty tedious.
In response, Dunc slips effortlessly into shire horse mode (fuelled only by Freakanomics podcasts and the occasional Pepsi Max), indiscriminately ploughing through each practical task until it's done. In contrast, I can only make the repetitive stuff palatable by mixing in the odd spoonful of something more sparkly.....often a tantalizing taste of how the house might look if and when we ever finish all of the grunt work.
Let's just call it multi-tasking.
Thoughts of wallpaper crept in several months ago. Such is the influence of William Morris on today's vision of the Arts and Crafts Movement, that it's difficult not to get seduced into looking at his iconic designs and how they might fit in the house. For weeks, we live with various samples of Morris and Voysey blu-tacked around the drawing room until the day comes for a tense wallpaper summit; and the finalists are whittled down to a short-list of two. In the meantime I fall in cyber-love with a contemporary paper design festooned with brambles, which I mentally earmark for our bedroom. It is proposed and seconded. Motion carried. Rolls delivered. Even if it's years before my brambles actually come to tangle around the bedroom walls, at least I can picture them in my mind's eye before I drift off to sleep.
Last week delivered a monumental boost to the sparkle fund. Graeme and Deb came over with the most magnificent and generous of house-warming gifts - a stained glass design for our front door. From her first visit, it bothers Deb that the windows in the entrance seem out of place. They're glazed with the panes you tend to find in oldish public toilets - rice pudding-grained so as to outwit peeping toms.
In the context of the grand old front door with its hand-crafted metal strapping and swirly peephole cover, we agree that it does look a bit plain, but to Deb it goes further.....'it's like wearing a designer outfit plus Jimmy Choos and topping it off with a knitted bobble hat!', she protests. 'Can we make you some stained glass panels as a house-warming present?'
It's hard to know what to do with that one - it's not very English to whoop; it seems greedy to say 'yes' and rude, ungrateful, and untruthful to say 'no'. Conscience salved by the promise of a favour trade arrangement, we confess that we would be absolutely delighted to have some Scott-Lowe glass gracing our front door.
Replacing decorative features is a listed buildings issue, and this is the first point at which we need to ask permission to move forward with a plan. Our conservation officer seems like a good bloke (he helped us get our heads around some of the planning processes and implications before we bought the house), and advises us that if we can prove that the glass isn't part of the original fabric of the building and he can sign off the proposed design, then there aren't any foreseeable problems.
So, to proving the provenance of some bits of glass. Well, I wouldn't have a clue where to start, but Graeme and Deb have access to a community of glass experts who can offer opinions; and after a few weeks, there's a clear consensus:
"Everyone’s got back to me (and my old stained glass teacher sent me a book!) and it’s a unanimous verdict. It is indeed a bobble hat.
The glass in your door is a Pilkington’s obscure machine rolled. The pattern is called ‘Arctic’. They developed machine rolled glass in the 1880’s, initially ribbed patterns but later lots of different ones. Arctic is one of the most ubiquitous and it’s still in production today. I don’t know when it was first produced (I’ve seen it mentioned in a house from 1900, but that could have been reglazed later) but the main point is that from it’s first introduction machine rolled glass went straight into use in industrial/commercial buildings (banks, railway station roofs,etc) and for bathroom /lavatory glass and leaded lights in the domestic setting (found most commonly in ‘ordinary’ houses’, the new estates in the 1940’s etc). It has always been an affordable and practical glazing solution.
The use of it in the front door at Briarcourt is at odds with the original glazing scheme which follows the Arts and Crafts ethos and makes use of expensive flashed glass and areas of glass painting. It doesn’t sit well alongside the other costly fixtures and fittings such as the carved wood, plasterwork ceilings, even the door hinges! My feeling is the front door especially, which is the introduction to the home and gives the first impression, would be fitted with something more beautiful and expensive rather than economical, commonly available materials.
Perhaps the small size of the lights in the front door has made them an easy target to remove and sell on over the years, or maybe one was broken and a like for like replacement hard to find or too expensive so they were all reglazed to match. Whatever the case I believe the Arctic glass in the front door is a later addition and is unlikely to be original and that it is out of keeping with the spirit and feel of the house."
By coincidence, we're subsequently introduced to some photographs of the house dating back to the 1920s. Conveniently for us, Mr Joseph Norman Berry Esq has chosen to pose proudly by the entrance, and what should be peeping out from behind his head? Stained glass! To top it off, Nick Baker from the Edgar Wood Society kindly shares a scan of Edgar Wood's original design for the door, and it's beyond dispute...... bobble hat it is not.
So, today I'm popping up to the post office with treasure - a copy of Deb's new stained glass design to send for our conservation officer's approval. I'd write about the amount of thought and care that has gone into it, but it feels like tempting fate. All I'll say for now is that we absolutely love it.