Building on the past

One of the reasons I enjoy living in old houses is the sense of continuity and fellow-feeling I get when I redecorate them.

The house I live in was built in the 1860s or so.  A lot of people have lived here, though the traces of most of them have been erased in the last 30 years by the modernisation and refurbishment which made the house purchasable.   Even so, there are things to uncover:  I enjoyed peeling the wallpaper off the wall by the stairs and discovering hardboard instead of plasterboard underneath, an odd choice but rather an endearing one, and I enjoy the sense of a handshake across the years which I got when I discovered it.  The wallpaper also covered up the change in texture where damp-damaged plaster had been cut back and replaced, while some eye-wateringly botched drill-holes were hidden by the coat rack.  So there are at least two people whose work on the house I uncovered last weekend, and very probably three or four.

I try not to make any work that I do in a house harder to unpick than necessary: I prefer screws to glue, I prefer wallpaper paste to PVA adhesive, I prefer paint to wallpaper.  After all, every piece of work that I do in a house is likely to be undone or at the very least uncovered by someone at some time and if I live in a house long enough, that someone is all too likely to be me.

4 responses to “Building on the past

  1. On the topic of screws (yeah, yeah – the fastening ones ;)) – the previous owner of our house must have had some kind of fetish with them. More and bigger seems to have been the credo.

    Everytime we’ve had to change something that was fastened to something else, it has been a fight to force many, very long screws out. And as screws of the mid-80s were usually not your modern torq or pozidrive ones, I’ve been fighting against ruining the straight line (whatchamacallit – wee recess where you place the screwdriver? I’m without dictionary at w**k) and having to leave the screw in there for posterity.

    And some parts of the ground floor floor (!) has old newspapers stuffed beneath it – last time I was down in the crawl space below, I had a good 10-minutes read of a 1960-something scrap of a local paper. Not interesting enough to bring upstairs – but a nice little hello from times gone by in that very place. Funny, actually – the lower part of the house is from ’36 so I wonder how that piece of newspaper got put in there??

  2. In the process of our building work here at The Towers we discovered all sorts of horrors – eg bath sealant used to disguise a door which didn’t hang straight. Previous occupants didn’t do screws; they preferred squint nails.
    I like the idea of being able to communicate with future inhabitants by leaving things behind and wish I’d thought to put a ‘time capsule’ into the new concrete floor before it was poured – visions of featuring on some Time Team type programme, eight hundred years hence.
    In my adult life I’ve lived in three houses and have always felt that the buildings become mine only gradually, one room at a time, as I got round to decorating. You really get to know a place intimately by lying on the floor to paint the skirting boards 🙂

  3. Yeah, stick to wattle & daub. None of that new fangled rubbish.

  4. I was sure I’d replied to your comments. Aphra goes loopy doo.

    I have no idea what you call the bit in the screw that you plug the screw-driver in to, Santra. How interesting. I’m now going to have to find out what it is. It might be one of those strange things which we all know about but which doesn’t have a name – like the bar you put down on the conveyer in a supermarket to separate your shopping from everyone else’s. The nearest I can come to is “slot” for the straight head ones and “cross” for the philips head ones.

    “Squint nails” should be a technical term, Teuchter. And you are right about slowly taking possession by painting and decorating. It’s the human equivalent of peeing in the corner really.

    My Osteo quite literally built a house of straw, Alfster. He did it in the middle of a really bad winter and managed to avoid the Buildings Regulators coming along during the most kitten-inducing bits. In those days there were still anarchists in Gloucestershire. It’s all film stars and tv presenters now.

    Thanks all for commenting.


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