Through the keyhole - in Sandgate
PUBLISHED: 11:56 29 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:56 29 April 2014
School rooms with a view
As a former headmistress, it seems quote appropriate that my home for the last 25 years has been a former school building; for a while I lived in two.
From 1989 to 2003, as headmistress of Cobham Hall, a girls’ independent boarding school in north Kent, I occupied an apartment in the Grade I listed former home of the Earls of Darnley.
However, during the holidays I returned to my own home in Sandgate, a Grade II listed former school building, which I subsequently discovered had a close connection with the Darnleys.
Apparently, the family owned a holiday home in Sandgate, and Sandgate school, at one time, had a Darnley governor.
Now, in retirement, I have returned to my Folkestone roots and live permanently in Sandgate, busily occupied as a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent, while also retaining my educational interests as a governor of several local schools.
Sandgate’s landmark old school tower, with its huge gothic windows, is now part of Ullyett Cottage, situated within what is known as Old School Mews.
The cottage is one of six residences, all named after former head teachers and converted from the original Victorian school building, donated to the village by James Morris (a former governor of the Bank of England) and dating from 1866.
Very few changes to the elegant exterior of the original school building have been made since then and when the conversion was completed in 1989, I became the first owner of Ullyett Cottage and its tower.
Originally the old bell tower, it now has four levels, which include the main entrance hall with its church-like door. At first floor level there is a small mock classroom, big enough for my grandchildren to use, and the next level up provides space for a music room.
This then leads up to the top level, a ‘conservatory in the sky’, with amazing views over the rooftops of Sandgate and across the Channel to France.
Above all this is the limestone steeple, which only my builder has been brave enough to explore. A cross at the very top of the steeple, the gothic architecture and the impressive original front door mean that it is often mistaken for a church.
Many passing tourists not only stop to look at the tower, but also knock on the door asking to be shown round.
Former students of Sandgate school, aware of the building’s origins, have been known to ask for a grand tour and on one memorable occasion I was startled to be approached by Mr Ullyett himself.
Arnold Ullyett, after whom my house is named, was a distinguished headmaster of the school in Victorian times, so I thought I was seeing a ghost. Fortunately it turned out that I was speaking to his grandson!
At the time that I bought Ullyett Cottage, complete with the tower, school conversions and loft living were not as popular as they are today.
Although I immediately fell in love with the building and its obvious character, I did not reckon on the tower having a very strong personality of its own.
It certainly did not intend to adjust to its new residential status without a fight, and for several years living with the tower became quite a battle.
The ancient stone walls at first allowed rain to penetrate straight through them and sometimes it seemed that both the tower and I were continually weeping copious buckets of water.
Now, however, after taking expert advice and risking the sanity of my builder and my bank manager, I know that the tower can withstand even the worst downpour.
With the approval of English Heritage, its flexible limestone cladding is mellowing nicely and it met even an unexpected earthquake with the merest shrug of its substantially buttressed walls.
While the chimney pots of Sandgate rattled in protest, my newly tamed tower lost not one of its impressive gargoyles. Open-plan living area
It is possible to shut the tower off from this large open space, which divides easily into lounge, kitchen and dining areas.
The lounge area is on a raised platform with comfortable leather seating, and people congregating around the large, antique table in the dining area are able to chat with whoever is in the kitchen.
There is also a small, purpose-built study under the stairs fitted by Neville Johnson. As there are no dividing walls and glass panels have been fitted to protect both the stairs and gallery, the open-plan arrangement is light and airy.
The hard-wearing, sand-coloured carpet (from Nasons of Canterbury) has been fitted throughout the whole house to provide additional continuity between the different spaces.
The high, vaulted ceiling adds character, while the original thick ragstone walls of the old school provide cosy insulation in winter and welcome coolness in summer.
Gallery and bedrooms
The glass-fronted gallery, overlooking the living area, features large paintings of the sea by the Rochester artist Roy Sparkes (see also page 30 in April Kent Life).
Bypassing the doorway and stairs leading up to the tower, the gallery leads upwards to the en-suite master bedroom, and a second bedroom with separate bathroom.
Both bedrooms, like the rest of the house, are painted in Farrow and Ball’s Elephants’ Breath shade of pale grey and the gothic arched windows are protected by shutters made by the Futon Company, in a darker grey tone dubbed Mongoose and designed as moveable screens.
All the matching, carved pine furniture is from the Jaycee Victorian Collection. The vaulted ceilings are again much in evidence, especially in the master bedroom where the wooden rafters rise to a central point, producing a tent-like effect.
Next to the bed is a large photographic image on canvas of the arches at Folkestone’s sandy bay.
It serves as a reminder of the many happy hours I spent playing on the sands as a child, then with my own children and now my grandchildren too. n