1. The Forever House

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A right old palaver

Our first glimpse – the estate agent presentation, Summer 2011

It was Bridget that spotted it, in that dead period between Christmas and New Year, when nothing is open and everyone is “doing the bridge” as the French call it. (You can get three weekends and two whole weeks off work for just a four-day hit on your holiday entitlement, if you time it right.) A Little Old Lady House just as we like them; much neglected, in need of some TLC and, so, affordable. But Bridget had already tried doing up a Georgian property and the planning regime had turned out to be a stinker. Could we face that again? On top of that, the property had no on-street elevation, being accessible only through and across someone else’s entrance. And there was some modernist extension to it that looked like the sort of classroom I went to school in. Quirky or what?

The palaver factor would be high and very soon the name stuck: Palaver Cottage. At least we knew what to expect. We had cause, there would be a lot of fuss associated with this project. Which is not actually what palaver meant to start off with. I comes from the Portuguese palavra which basically means a parley, being a termed used on the West coast of Africa by the Africans bartering with passing Portuguese merchants.

We had not been looking for our next refurbishment project as it happened, more for what B had taken to calling the Forever House, that final effort before we could stop working so hard or moving around so much,  and enjoy squandering our savings on the Nice Life. In the past five years we had done a lot of work on where we would like to end up and discarded a lot of places: Chichester (poor housing stock), Bosham (too close to work and too high a premium just to get wet feet), Winchester (somehow not exclusive enough), Salisbury (too many memories), Cannes (no friends nearby), Marseille (a city under too much pressure).

We did have an idea that we wanted to be near water (walking round a marina on a sunny day is my best), and both of us are rather more urban than country – you know, near the shops and transport. Raised in a water mill in Burford, the Post Office at Zeals and the big house at Stourhead, Bridget developed early on a horror of what she calls Being Up a Lane Without a Light. Echoes of a rural childhood devoid of resources, choice and escape routes.

Anyway, we were committed Londonophiles, in full agreement with Dr Johnson’s overly quoted:

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

We even know the date of this discussion (September 20 1777), when Boswell and Johnson were discussing whether or not Boswell’s affection for London would wear thin if he ever came to live there, given the zest he felt currently on only occasional visits – for Boswell lived in Scotland and visited only periodically. Johnson on the other hand – someone who hated to spend time alone and for whom the buzz of London was therefore ideal – was always going out and enjoying what London had to offer.

Bridget and I were not dissimilar and had watched unenthusiastically as friends moved out to the sticks and lost energy, focus and enthusiasm; but it slowly dawned on us that in fact we were using less and less of what London had to offer. It is in many ways a city for The Youf, for while we loved the buzz spilling out of the bars onto streets like the Northcott Road in SW11, we were not part of it any more. Bridget may have set her face against going back into that rural night ever again, but she was developing a feeling that she would fit better now into a smaller community, a more gathered place than in the sprawl of this great global city. So we had been looking to move – if only eventually.

Over a five year period, in spite of our reservations, we kept coming back to Chichester. Bridget, being an inveterate doer-upper of the Victorian housing stock, was on all kinds of mailing lists as well as surfing the net and stopping by estate agent windows wherever we happened to be. So when someone sent details that Autumn of a detached timber bungalow in Bosham – not at all what we liked and far too expensive for what it offered – we started to look again.

But the properties available in Bosham did not have the right appeal and I thought we should look a bit further, say around Fishbourne; somewhere we had always discounted, as on a main road and one of those on-the-way-to-somewhere-else places we felt. However there were some waterside properties and so we found ourselves driving up and down the A3 on various viewings. Cost was an issue of course as we are not rolling in it, although Bridget has always been a whizz with what money we do have.

The stock looked good in the photographs but what a disappointment when we got there, and so we edged back closer to Chichester once again. And then in that gap between mince pies and Auld Lang’s Syne, B spotted the place we have come to know affectionately as Palaver Cottage.

First view

3 January 2012 – We saw the property on a stormy day in early January. We had spotted it on 30th December 2011 but everything shuts down over the Xmas and New Year period so we had to curb our impatience until the New Year had been ushered in. It was a good day to visit with lashing rain and high winds – we could not have seen it at its more forlorn.

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Quirky, which we like, and obviously that kind of 50s classroom extension stuck on the side would have to go.

Ha! Little did we realise! According to architecture critic Ken Powell, this modest blip in the Georgian landscape is the first ever completed contract by the architectural practice of Powell and Moya, the ones who gave us the Skylon that Churchill so hated and had torn down within three months of the Festival finishing; the Chichester Festival Theatre, the first ever three-sided thrust stage; and the concrete Westminster Conference Centre opposite the Abbey, a piece of brutalism that Thatcher so hated in her turn.

Our modest little extension dates from 1949, perhaps completed in early 1950, and is one of the first if not the first Modernist butterfly roofs in the UK, a few years before Goldfinger was to put one up in Hampstead. As a concept they were used extensively on 19th London terraces of course. The young Powell and Moya were already working on Churchill Gardens, that massive estate opposite Battersea Power Station on the Thames and much of their career was spent building large items; their domestic period was over in about five years and many of which are now lost.

The garden

The garden was the main attraction, half a Georgian walled and mature cottage garden. Here it is on that stormy cold January day when we first visited.

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We were lucky to get this size of garden at the price. Bridget wanted a south facing property with a garden as a project which could occupy her time once the house was restored and extended.

Where we are

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In the tithe map of 1846 – the little grey square in the top right hand corner of plot 33, mentioned in deeds since 1796

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And today in 2012, from space, courtesy of Google.

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