6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Kent Life today CLICK HERE

Through the keyhole at Restoration House

PUBLISHED: 17:08 23 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:45 20 February 2013

Through the keyhole at Restoration House

Through the keyhole at Restoration House

Would you buy a property that's falling to bits, had bankrupted its previous owner and been condemned? Perhaps if the building in question was as beautiful as Restoration House, celebrating its 350th anniversary this year, then the answer is 'yes'

Through the keyhole at Restoration House


Would you buy a property thats falling to bits, had bankrupted its previous owner and been condemned? Perhaps if the building in question was as beautiful as Restoration House, celebrating its 350th anniversary this year, then the answer to all those questions would be yes


A resounding yes was certainly the reaction of Robert Tucker and his partner Jonathan Wilmot when they first set eyes on the Rochester property with a famous history.


In the early 1990s, we were looking to buy a large, Georgian-style property in London, preferably something we could restore but were having no luck finding something we had a connection with.


By chance, we were flicking through a copy of Country Life and saw this beautiful but exceptionally run down house for sale in Rochester, says Robert.


Although they were quick to go and view the house, falling instantly in love with it, buying it was less straightforward. Its undeniably a fantastic, building but it was in a terrible state, admits Robert.


We actually found it difficult to find a surveyor who wouldnt label it as condemned. Fortunately, in the end we did find someone but even then we took our time. There was just so much to consider.


Few of us, even if funds allowed, would be willing to undertake such a mammoth restoration. The house required a large amount of expensive repair and perhaps more worryingly a previous restoration effort by Emus other half, Rod Hull, had resulted in his bankruptcy.


This was certainly not something we undertook lightly, says Robert. In the propertys defence, however, it had several factors in its favour. The most important of these was that it was a relatively open book. Most of the problems were obvious, which in budget terms is important.


Of course, there were some surprises, but by and large we knew what we were dealing with. The house is also quite unusual. This is a city house but one built outside the city walls. Houses such as this have traditionally been demolished or altered by urban sprawl. The historic decline in Rochesters importance ensured that this house remained untouched, and so we were dealing with something quite unique.


Restoration House also has a historic and literary significance. This was one of the few properties to have accommodated Charles II on his journey to reclaim the English crown in 1660. It was from this event, the 350th year anniversary of which the house has been celebrating this year that the property derived its name.


Its literary importance can be found in Dickens classic Great Expectations, which was published 150 years ago in December. Satis House, the run-down residence of creepy perma-bride Miss Haversham, drew its inspiration from Restoration House.


It was these connections and the uniqueness of the property that made Restoration House such a tantalising prospect. But buying the building was only the first step. Where do you begin when a house is as run down as this one was?


From the start, we were determined that the building should be restored in as sympathetic a manner as possible, says Robert. I come from Australia and we dont have as many period houses there as you have here. I love the period buildings of this county but Im often dismayed at how some of them have been butchered and others restored in an unsympathetic way.


With this in mind, we were both keen to restore the property back to how it was in the 17th century, when the house took its name, and to do this using techniques and materials that were in harmony with the building


Of invaluable use in this approach was their partnership with Richard Flegg, a builder whose attitude to restoration mirrored their own (see also our feature on Master Craftsmen, June 2010).


He says: Ive worked on so much of this building and while doing so learnt so much about restoration. Its quite common for period properties to be restored incorrectly. The great thing about people like Robert and Jonathan is that like me they understand that these kinds of buildings require a different approach.


Of vital importance is the mortar used; if we had used cement then in time that would have created more problems, explains Richard. These buildings need to breathe and cement stops that, leading to issues such as damp and erosion.


From the beginning we used lime mortar on the brickwork and lime plaster on the internal walls. By doing so we have ensured that not only has the house been restored sympathetically, its also protected from new problems in the future.


As well as using traditional building techniques, where possible the owners also sought to use original materials. The window frames, of which there are many, are the originals. Rather than tear them out, which would have been far easier, they have instead been painstakingly repaired.


By doing things in this way we have undoubtedly inflated the costs involved. But its rewarding that the house today is as close as possible, in both its look and feel, to the way it was 350 years ago says Robert.


This approach has also reaped other rewards by helping to engage and train a new generation of skilled tradesmen who have become proficient in traditional building skills.


One such person is Jonathan Hunt, who has undertaken much of the stonemasonry work involved in the restoration. I had just finished a degree in photography but was finding is difficult to get work. Just to earn some money I did a bit of labouring work for Richard Flegg on the property, he explains.


I got involved in a small way with stonemasonry and in the end I enjoyed it so much that I retrained as a stonemason. I doubt that would have happened if it wasnt for Restoration House. Working there has been really interesting and Robert and his partner are great people to work for.


But its not just the building restoration that has been done in a sympathetic way. When is comes to the fixtures and fittings of the property, the owners are just as keen to restore the house to how it would have originally looked.


Robert and his partner came to see a play in Sevenoaks for which I had designed the costumes, says Clare Southern. They thought they looked so good that they asked if I could come to Restoration House and do some work for them.


Ive worked on part of a frieze that was in need of repair and made some of the fittings, such as blinds, for them too. Its a very enjoyable job. Although they are keen on authenticity they allow me to be creative and thats wonderful on a job such as this.


When is comes to internal decoration, over the past 10 years the present owners have also painstakingly uncovered various parts of the decorative scheme which they believe was run up in preparation for the stay of Charles II.


At a time when sparse and stripped-down Puritan tastes dominated, the use of French Grey paint, of paint effect marbling and japanning provides a fascinating insight into the beginnings of the shift towards more lavish continental tastes of the kind that would come to dominate the Restoration period.


This is a wonderful property, says Robert. Its been an honour to restore it to its former glory. It hasnt been easy and there are times when it seemed like an impossible task and yet Im glad that we did it.


Not only was this building saved from further decline and possible demolition it should now be standing for generations to come.



Restoration House


Restoration House
17-19 Crow Lane
Rochester ME1 1RF
01634848520 (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm)


robert.tucker@restorationhouse.co.uk



Open


3 June to 24 September 2010, Thu and Fri, 10am-5pm


More from People

Wherever you go in Kent you'll find people just like us pounding the streets, parks and waterways. So why are we all running?

Read more
May 2019

Nicola Leverington, aka the Wedding Dress Surgeon, on achieving the perfect fit and her new training courses

Read more
May 2019

Fine Art graduate Arianne Mills on having quite possibly the best job in Kent

Read more
April 2019
Monday, April 15, 2019

With Royal British Legion Industries celebrating its centenary this year, we look at how the Royal British Legion village in Aylesford supports veterans through employment

Read more
April 2019
Monday, April 8, 2019

Plastic pollution is spoiling our beautiful coastline and damaging wildlife, but we can all do our bit to help

Read more
March 2019
Monday, April 8, 2019

Are your pre-school children getting enough outdoor play? Kent Wildlife Trust's new Nature Tots course could be just the solution

Read more
March 2019

Meet our 2018 Junior Collector Cameron Jarvis, 11, whose passion is for all things turtle related

Read more
April 2019

The influence of Van Gogh's time teaching in Ramsgate is reflected in the art he produced as a professional painter, now on show at Tate Britain

Read more
April 2019

Chris Wiggins on how his childhood love of horses and the outdoors led to the career he loves

Read more
March 2019
Thursday, March 14, 2019

Jamie Cullum will be showcasing songs from his new album at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival - and it's going to be emotional

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory
Kent Life Food & Drink awards. Open for entries.

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook


Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search

Most Read

Latest from the Kent Life