West Horsley Place is full of activity as Martin Smith and his team of craftsmen press on with the programme to install new services though the house. The rooms are full of men lifting slabs and peering into corners, trying to find the best ways to thread new pipes and wires through the old walls. This has sometimes been made much easier by Lord Crewe, who owned the house from the 1930s; lifting floor slabs has revealed a carefully built channel still containing his original heating and water pipes bedded in orange builder's sand, providing ample space for today's smaller bore pipes without the need for drilling new holes. Modern toilets for visitors are being installed in a corner of the house previously used for storage, keeping the ancient timber framed walls of 1425 in view for visitors to enjoy while using the facilities.

Repairing historic buildings, though, is a game of snakes and ladders. Lord Crewe’s services routes have helped us; equally, it is now clear that traces of asbestos from his insulated pipes remain in the roof space despite a comprehensive removal programme many years ago, and we have also found more asbestos in wall linings to a bedroom. This has meant an unexpected cost as well as a delay while it was safely removed by specialists, and we cannot rule out finding more as the work programme progresses. A comprehensive system of fire precautions, too, is proving expensive and complex to install; but this is vital to make the old house ready and compliant with regulations for its new life of events, weddings, public visiting, concerts and exhibitions. We are making use of new technology to limit the visual impact of fire precautions, with a mist fire suppression system which actively seeks out the source of a fire - a big step forward from sprinkler systems which can do cause a lot of damage. This approach prevents some of the uglier consequences of fire precautions in historic houses and will help us preserve the house’s fragile and precious atmosphere despite these aaptations.

 

At Place Farm, the big barn is being reroofed and strengthened to take the extra weight of soundproofing for its new use as a venue, and the coach house - to become the foyer - repaired. Through the summer we plan to start on repairs to the other farm buildings forming together the historic farmstead at Place Farm. All this work should be done in time for spring next year when West Horsley Place will come to life.  After that, out next campaign must be the crumbling stableblock, in desperate need of repair, in order to create there a centre for the teaching of crafts, for use by schools, and to introduce the visitor to West Horsley Place’s rich history and cast of characters.

 

At the beginning of April we were delighted to welcome to the Mary Roxburghe Trust our new gardener, Nicky Webber. Nicky has not only immediately got stuck into the multitude of jobs needing to be done in our five acres of romantic but somewhat dilapidated walled gardens, but she has brought with her a willing and enthusiastic group of volunteers to help her, whom we are equally thrilled to welcome. If you would like to join them, contact Nicky at West Horsley Place and come and help - there will be plenty to keep you busy!

 

Now that spring is properly here it is wonderful to see so much going on.