At the foot of a deep sun-dappled tree-lined track on the edge of the Mendip hills, the undulating mellow lime rendered walls of Coley Court have borne witness to life in this peaceful hamlet since the late 16th century.
Reputedly the oldest house in the district, its pinkish-grey limestone mass, quarried from the nearby Harptree beds, once gave refuge to Cromwell’s men en-route to the siege of Bristol. At the same time, their Royalist adversaries rested likewise in the grist mill across the River Chew which still burbles past today.
Inside, welcoming wood smoke from a deep inglenook permeates the air, and once-concealed stone flags of blue and white lias reveal centuries worth of perpetual movement in subtle contours. Soft lime has replaced unforgiving hard modern plaster, and the rich patina of oak and elm has re-emerged from beneath layers of thick orange varnish.
Wide, dovetailed, elm wall plates hint at a long-past roof covering of thatch. Now, freshly concealed by Welsh slate and clay tiles, an abundance of lesser-horseshoe bats roost. Too numerous for the ecologists to record their number, the programme of works took account of the bats, the maternity seasons and their access routes in, out and through the building.
The clock has been turned back on past misdemeanours with significant structural repairs required to rectify years of neglect that left lintels crumbling, ceilings sagging and walls bulging.
Externally, layers of thick gloss black paint were stripped back to reveal brutal concrete repairs to the historic oak windows. Areas of failing render were found to be top-coated in unforgiving hard cement – sealing in moisture. Repairs to the windows were made in English oak and walls were re-covered in soft lime. Warm white limewash and pale blue paint completed the transformation.
New extensions respond to changing demands and requirements – increasing accommodation and improving flow – adapting to needs as generations before did. Windows with crisply chamfered Portland stone and English oak frames echo the ad-hoc composition of the old.
Insulating extruded clay blocks, hemp insulation and hand-made terra-cotta quarry tiles form part of the palette of natural, breathable, reclaimed and sustainable materials all contributing to a sensitively re-vitalised, warm and healthy family home
Such is the nature of refurbishment projects that risk management can only mitigate so far in planning for unexpected problems. Discovery and reaction are key in limiting budget and programme overrun – but on occasion, the extent of the issues hidden from view can exceed even the most pessimistic of expectations. Here a patient client and sympathetic contractor were key to the success of the project.
Delicate negotiations with the conservation officer were required throughout – ensuring a relationship based on trust and good intention was established. Subsequently, the authority asked permission to use the project in their training programme as “an example of a rural listed building that had undergone some additions with a positive outcome” and “an example of a sensitive approach towards restoration and new development with contemporary flair”.
Local Authority: Bath & North East Somerset
Contractor: Qube Construct Ltd
Quantity Surveyor: Will Clarke – Clarke Associates
Structural Engineer: John Topp – O’Brien & Price Stroud Ltd
Ecologist – First Ecology Ltd
Heritage Consultant – Judy Enticknap – JME Conservation Ltd
Above: the approach and the house before work commenced.
Above: the full extent of the deterioration of existing fabric became clear after work began.
Above: new work under way
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”When we bought Coley Court we were immediately attracted by the fact that it had been untouched for the last 60 years of its 500-year history, and so was unspoilt and had retained much of its original charm. We wanted to retain this feeling and also to keep as much of the original detail and structure whilst bringing the property up to date and making it both safe and comfortable. So we were very keen to find architects to support us who were sympathetic to our vision.
From the first meeting with Nick and Tobias, it was clear that they were as enthused about the project as we were, they listened carefully and helped us develop and see the potential for what Coley could be and supported us every step along the way. They helped us keep the project as low impact as possible with careful advice on sourcing and contractors and were central to an overall team that worked really well together.
Planning and ecology issues can be a significant hurdle in projects such as ours and we cannot thank them enough for the time, patience and understanding of the process that was required to deal with this. We could not have done this restoration without them and the outcome has definitely exceeded our expectations.”