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.

East Wing reopened

Thursday, November 9th, 2023


And so the rain goes on. It’s a challenge to get decent photos in these dark days, but these will have to do until I get another chance next time the sun 🌞 deigns to show its face. The new windows were such a good fit that there was very little touching up of paintwork to do. Now, at last, the new bed is assembled, and its drapery sewn after many long treadling sessions on my vintage Singer 201. The East Wing is now bookable.

Completion of Works

Monday, November 6th, 2023

After eight months on site, the builders left on Friday after a massive clearing up job. The new tenants moved into the Annexe on the same day and the scaffolders came early this morning to collect their poles and boards. We now have a new Annexe with new residents and new windows in the East Wing. These photos of the 1980s East Wing extension show the new windows, which are much more in keeping with the style of the rest of the Arts and Crafts style property. All that’s left to do in the East Wing suite now is to touch up the paintwork (today) and assemble the new bed (tomorrow). Photos to follow soon.

Closed until 6th November (with exceptions)

Tuesday, 19th September, 2023
Image by vector4stock on Freepik

(Image by vector4stock on Freepik)

The recent door installation activity during the rebuilding of the annexed cottage has now spread to the main house and is causing us to close the house to guests until 6th November, except for Benenden Hospital patients wanting an overnight stay without breakfast. To explain why these things are happening would take far too long. Suffice to say that this remodelling and reorganisation of various doors in the somewhat complicated area that lies between the main house and the annexe involves clearing out a whole wall full of period kitchen cupboards and knocking out bits of wall to create a new opening for a new door in place of the cupboards. With luck it should be possible to dismantle the cupboards and rebuild them in what was formerly the annexe’s kitchen. But for the moment, their contents are occupying the whole of the breakfast table. Knocking out walls invariably creates a lot of dust and mess. As if this were not enough, the East Wing is to have its windows replaced at the end of October. And a new bed! Normal service will be resumed, I hope, by 6th November, by which date we will also have welcomed the new occupants in the soon to be finished annexe.

Ladies’ Tresses

Thursday, August 31st, 2023


Following my post earlier this summer about orchids in the woods, this clump of a very different type of orchid was growing in the lawn near the house. Fortunately, we had left the grass uncut for longer than we intended, and the mower had to be taken away for repairs. Otherwise, these Autumn Ladies’ Tresses would have grown no more than an inch or two, gone unnoticed and been mown down. We would never have known they were there. Their scientific name is Spiranthes spiralis, due to their spiral shape. They rely on bumble bees for pollination and they can survive below ground until such time as people’s mowers break down and allow these beauties to rise up! They are a protected species in some countries but are not particularly rare at the moment in the UK, where they are confined to southern parts. There were once Summer Ladies’ Tresses in this country too, but they became extinct due to loss of habitat in the 1950s. We will transplant them to a safer place where they can thrive out of reach of the cutter blades.

Building Progress

Saturday, August 12th, 2023

As our summer progresses, so too does work on the cottage. Guests in the East Wing will have a nicer view now that the scaffolding has gone. The red paint on the brickwork is temporary. A white render will be applied on top. The porch roof on the left of the picture was found to have rotten beams and woodworm-infested rafters, so that is currently being renewed too, using leftover tiles from the cottage roofing work. At the end of September, the East Wing will be closed for a time while new windows are fitted. They will match those in the cottage and are being made by the same carpenter.

The weather may have been disappointing this summer, but some of the vegetables are doing very well. No need to think about vegetables for dinner as there are courgettes and French beans to be picked every day. But the tomatoes are green.

A Jigsaw Puzzle

Monday, 10th July, 2023

The sundial path down to the pond is being relaid, something that I’ve been meaning to have done for years. Once this jigsaw puzzle is put back together again, it will look so much better. Colin will have such a surprise next time time he comes in to mow the magic circles.

Roofs and Vegetables

Wednesday, 5th July, 2023

The scaffolding has been removed from the top part of the cottage and from the laundry block. The laundry room now has a beautifully rebuilt roof over it, removing all fear not just of imminent collapse of that whole section of the house but also of ingress by both bees and rain. This unscheduled exercise took attention away from the rebuilding of the cottage for a while, but now work can resume on the lean-to sections at either end. Most of the interior plastering has been done, so the next big milestone of the project will be the fitting of the windows, which have needed five coats of brown paint to fully cover the white primer that had been applied to their wooden frames at the manufacturing stage. I wanted the windows to blend into their surrounding woodland environment, hence the tree-trunk colour.

Rain has fallen at last in recent days after a long dry spell, and the veg patch has been thankful for it. I wasn’t going to bother with trying to grow vegetables this year, partly because the patch is on a building site and partly because it is destined to be ripped out and completely redesigned and deer-proofed, but in the end I couldn’t resist putting in a few plants. Keeping things simple, I am limiting them to a few tomatoes, peppers, beans, courgettes and potatoes. In the empty square between the courgettes I sprinkled some seeds from a few packets that were past their use-by dates. I am amused that tiny plants are coming up in two neat rows, but I have no idea what they are. The building-site barriers are proving to be a wonderful substitute for deer fencing.