Back to Normal

Saturday, July 6th, 2024

The new windows are all in, the scaffolding has been removed and everything is mostly back to normal. The guest rooms and breakfast room are fit to use once again. The only major piece of work outstanding concerns the stairwell and its flat roof above it. The former’s outside wall is saturated and will have to be replastered and painted. The roof needs to be recovered with fibreglass to replace the leaking, cracked felt that is beyond repair.

All of Bressenden’s windows have now been replaced save for those in the “new” kitchen, whose 1980s double-glazed windows still have life in them. I cannot overstate what a difference the new windows, both the wooden ones in the East Wing and the metal ones everywhere else, in the house have made. Mettherm’s aluminium replacements for the Crittall windows are airtight, well fitting, double-glazed, multipart locking, rustproof, maintenance-free replicas of cold, leaking, warped, wet (in winter), mould-prone, rusting, single-glazed eye-sores that were impossible to maintain and for which nothing could be done to improve their aesthetic appeal because paint never adhered for more than a few months before flaking off, and the frames kept collecting pools of condensation which encouraged the growth of black mould. Keeping around 100 windows and a few doors looking fresh was no joke. The most depressing thing when running a B&B in winter was the morning routine of vacuuming the breakfast windows which were dripping wet whenever the outside temperature went below 6 degrees. By the time you’d wiped off the last window you had to start all over again because the first window would have already misted up. With these new windows, shown in the photo above, I will be spared this work when winter arrives.

Taking a bathroom window as an example, what looked like this:

Now looks like this:

New Windows Everywhere

Tuesday, June 25th, 2024

The window replacement programme is nearing its final stage. There are just a few left to replace out of the 75. They look wonderfully authentic and far exceed my expectations. The two styles, Georgian panes on the south side and leaded panes to the north, replicate the original versions almost exactly, with a few adjustments made to tidy up the original mix of styles on the north facade and to reduce the number of opening windows and unneeded top vents, especially downstairs. All the windows on the north side are now leaded. The photo shows the two styles.

The last few windows are going in today and tomorrow after a busy day yesterday, with six men on site dealing with windows, two scaffolders moving bits of scaffolding around, and two ladies plastering and filling indoors. I also had guests due to arrive in the (unaffected) East Wing!

I am delighted with my new Arts & Crafts windows and cannot praise the Mettherm Windows team highly enough.

The First New Window

Wednesday, June 12th, 2024

New window

Yesterday the first new window was fitted. This is the first of 74 windows and one door which will installed over the coming fortnight. The original windows are draughty single-glazed Crittall steel windows, warped and rusted with old age. They produce buckets of condensation in winter and encourage the growth of mould. They are a nightmare to maintain because modern lead-free paint simply does not adhere to them. Some are more than one hundred years old as they were sourced from reclamation yards when the upper floor of the house was rebuilt in 1948 following a devastating fire caused by a lightning strike. Crittall still makes steel windows, but they cost a fortune, and the properties of steel are such that rust will always be a risk. Aluminium windows are rust-proof, almost maintenance-free, more affordable and have a better thermal rating than modern steel windows. They only became an option relatively recently when the “thermal break” technology was perfected. Their slim profile matches that of the steel originals. It wouldn’t be possible to replicate the character of these windows with plastic or wooden versions, since they require much thicker frames, thus limiting the size of glazed area. In a house surrounded on all sides by mature and very tall trees, we need all the light we can get.

Here’s a comparison of new and old. The new one is on the left and the old is on the right. A pretty good match, I’d say!

The Room With a View

Wednesday, May 15th, 2024

Mid-week, mid-May and mid-rhododendron season. This view from the breakfast room on 2nd May has become more spectacular every day since. This year’s display of rhododendrons and azaleas has more than made up for last year’s rather poor show, with big splashes of colour exploding like fireworks in slow motion all over the garden. Here is a small selection of photos from the past fortnight.

Scarifying Day

Monday, April 22nd, 2024

Today is Scarifying Day at Bressenden. The sun dial lawn and the back lawns are being treated to a thorough scratching, combing and grooming session with a scarifier hired for the day. Unbelievable amounts of moss are being raked up. We hope the grass will be breathing more easily as a result. The rhododendrons are bursting into flower.


Saturday, April 21st, 2024

Today, this Goldcrest, Europe’s tiniest species of bird, made several visits to the rotten sill of one of the windows that will be replaced in July. It gave me a rare opportunity to see the little creature at close quarters, as unlike tits, nuthatches, robins and woodpeckers, it does not come to bird feeders. Here is a video of the little bird. Its mate in the nearby tree looked on but didn’t join it.

Magnificent Magnolia

Friday, March 22nd, 2024

As winter slowly recedes, encouraging bulbs, tree blossom, heather and primroses to add their delicate touches of colour throughout the garden, the big old magnolia tree down by the roadside is now at its peak of flowering. Soon the clocks will go forward and we can enjoy more daylight and look forward to the long-awaited wisteria and rhododendron blooms.

Blooming Winter

Thursday, February 15th, 2024

Those who dare to cross the spongy wet bog that should be a garden lawn will be rewarded with the sight of not just camelia blooms, which are to be expected at this time of the year, but also a few rhododendron flowers, albeit small and undernourished in appearance. I have never seen these in February before, and we’re still nowhere near the end of the month. It feels more like April this week.

The Scullery

Saturday, December 30th, 2023

Two years ago, the room in the photo above was in a shockingly filthy state. It was originally the former Annexe’s kitchen, but was part of the fabric of the central part of the main house. The Annexe is otherwise set apart as a self-contained cottage that forms the western wing of the property. Access to this kitchen is via a long, narrow corridor. Historically, in 1930 the kitchen was designed to service the main house, whose inhabitants would not have ever set foot in a kitchen, let alone cooked for themselves, but relied on servants living in the Annexe to prepare and serve all the food. Adjoining this kitchen was the pantry which led into the big house. A serving hatch had been built into the party wall between kitchen and pantry, through which food prepared in the kitchen could be passed into the big house and taken to the dining room some distance away. When my family bought the house in 1960, they turned the small pantry into a kitchen for their own use, and the larger kitchen, together with the access corridor, were deemed to be part of the Annexe, for the sole use of its occupants.

In the early 1980s a cloak room, a “flower room” and the downstairs WC in the main house had to be rebuilt due to subsidence, so my parents saw this as an opportunity to build a modern single-storey kitchen extension instead of the cloak and flower rooms. The new kitchen would be much closer to the dining room and far more convenient. The small pantry kitchen then took on utility-room duties. Now, it is in effect a multi-purpose room which is much appreciated by B&B guests as a place to prepare and eat evening meals if they don’t want to eat out.

In December 2021, the cottage was vacated and I was left with an almighty cleanup job. The kitchen was left in a particularly bad state, and I knew it would take time and money to restore it. The sanitary facilities also needed attention. It was at that early stage that I decided to upgrade the whole cottage, not just the bathroom and kitchen. Plans were drawn up in 2022. For the kitchen there were two alternatives: one was to keep it as part of a rearranged single-storey Annexe, and the other was to transfer the old kitchen and corridor to the main house, extend the main block of the cottage upwards by building an upper storey for the two bedrooms and a new bathroom, and fitting a new kitchen in the space that was formerly occupied by a ground-floor bedroom. The second alternative was chosen, and the new Annexe was completed in November 2023, with new occupants moving in as the paint was drying.

Now it was time to deal with the filthy Old Kitchen which was used as a builders’ mess room (literally!) throughout the project. The main house did not need a third kitchen, but it could certainly benefit from having a store room and a folding and pressing area for the B&B’s bed linen which could easily be accessed by staff. This large room, bigger than either of the two kitchens in the big house, would be ideal on both counts. The question was finding a name for it. It would best be described as a utility room, but I wanted a more traditional appellation, so it has become the Scullery (there was already a “Laundry Room” where the washing machines are).

To enable easier access to the Scullery from the main house, a doorway was created in the space formerly occupied by the serving hatch, and the door from the larder into the corridor was blocked off as it was now redundant.

All the old units, worktops, cupboards and grimy wall tiles were removed from the Scullery and put on the bonfire and skip. Literally everything bar the kitchen sink was stripped out. The sink was kept, as it was in relatively good condition and stainless steel is easy to clean and restore. My builder fitted new cupboards and worktop surfaces earlier this month and built some shelves. New windows were fitted and the smaller windows above the sink will be replaced this summer. During the Christmas break I filled the holes in the wall, cleaned and painted the room and the shelves and continued to restore the old quarry-tiled floor, which I don’t think had ever been properly cleaned since the 1950s. The builders had removed most of the grime from the floor and given it some preliminary coats of polish, but there were still areas that needed attention. It’s an ongoing process, though the red tiled floor is looking much better now, and I still have two doors to paint and a filthy built-in cupboard to clean and paint. The cupboard is used to store paint and tools, so it can wait until summer. It feels odd to have suddenly gained a very useful, functional large room in what is already a large house. The extra worktop surfaces (visible in the panoramic photo below) are excellent places for my large pressure cooker cum slow cooker, dough mixing machine, bread slicer and spare coffee machine, all of which are used daily but do not fit in the main kitchen. The trestle tables are brilliant for folding superking size sheets. Every well-appointed B&B needs a Scullery.

Panoramic view of the scullery

Christmas Greetings

Monday, December 25th, 2023

Christmas Greetings to all of Bressenden’s guests, past and future. The dining-room, with its red walls and distinctive leaded-pane windows, always comes into its own in the bleak winter months. But much as I love the look of those windows, I hate having to mop up the condensation from their cold, single-glazed panes in winter. The windows are not very strong, and I constantly worry about break-ins, bird strikes and cracked panes. The thin glass expanses, encased within cold steel frames, act as a refrigerator in winter, and cold water pouring down the inside of the window panes onto the oak sills first thing in the morning is not a welcoming sight for breakfast guests. Until recently, installing secondary glazing was the only solution, which is cumbersome and unsightly. Many house owners have replaced their steel windows with ugly plastic windows that have much thicker frames, thus reducing the view and the amount of light. Now, clever manufacturing techniques enable thermally efficient, double-glazed aluminium replicas to be offered as an affordable option (brand new Crittall steel windows being the unaffordable option!). During 2024 all the warped, rusting and ill-fitting 1930s single-glazed steel windows in the house will be replaced with aluminium lookalikes that have an A+ rating for thermal efficiency. The company that makes and sells them can even replicate the existing backplates and the exact thickness of the lead strips in your windows so that, at first glance, no one would notice that your windows have been replaced. I can’t wait.