Lakeland Interiors - Old School House, Westmorland
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 June 2014
Learning to duck was essential when Nicola and Stephen Gill moved into an 18th century cottage. Sue Riley reports
In the shadow of Sedgwick Aqueduct lies the Westmorland village’s former schoolhouse. These days it’s divided into two cottages and what was once the former headmaster’s quarters is now the comfortable home of Stephen and Nicola Gill and their dog Obi. They moved into the cottage in 2010 after renting for three years waiting to find exactly the right property. Although when Stephen first saw the details for the Old School House it certainly wasn’t his idea of a dream home.
‘Everything was built for hobbits,’ he says, looking around at the heavy oak beams and low ceilings. ‘I spent the first six weeks in here banging my head every day and cursing why we had ever bought it.’
When the couple first visited the cottage though, it was love at first sight. ‘We both walked in and felt there was something warm about it, not something you can really put your finger on. It’s everything I did not want in a house, it was dark and old and I had lived in old cottages before. But I fell in love with its character and the feel of it,’ he said.
The school was built by the Wakefield family who established a gunpowder manufacturing business in the village in 1764. The firm continued in business until 1935 and was the reason why Lancaster Canal was routed through the village as barges were needed to carry supplies to the gunpowder works. The canal was drained many decades ago and the imposing aqueduct is now an ancient monument - a quirky attraction in Sedgwick, a village popular with commuters as it’s close to the M6 and just four miles from Kendal.
Just a few hundred metres down the main road is the large and imposing Sedgwick House, also built by the Wakefield family. Their school at one point had 60 girls ensuring there was an educated workforce for the gunpowder industry but when that ended, the buildings became the village library, and at some point Richard and Nicola’s home, originally two cottages, was turned into one.
The property, which Richard believes dates to the late 17th Century, is full of charming quirks, with its small windows and low beams. As you walk in the front door there’s a tiny spice alcove, before you enter the kitchen with its Shaker style units, open shelving, hanging saucepans and comfortable country style with its three windows looking out over the garden and side of the house.
In the lounge there are traditional low beams and an appealing woodburner. When Richard moved in there was a cast iron Victorian fireplace with replacement tiles. ‘They looked like bathroom tiles!’ he said. When they tried to restore it the fireplace fell apart and they were forced to replace it with a modern woodburner although the mantelpiece was sourced from his niece’s house which she had recently converted.
They decorated throughout, painting the thick walls in light, bright colours to retain their traditional look. And when they lifted the lounge carpet they discovered almost perfect floorboards which have been polished and ‘warmed up’ with rugs.
‘Because it was an old house we did not want to do avant-garde, we wanted it to be neutral,’ said Richard, so they have painted it in a soft palette of greys, greens and creams.
Upstairs there’s a bathroom, large master bedroom, study and an occasional guest room. The latter is mainly used by Becky - the youngest of Richard’s three children from his previous marriage – and is painted a cornflower blue with windows overlooking the front garden with its impressive Japanese maple gracing a large pond with koi carp. ‘There are frogs in the pond and it gets really noisy in this room!’ he said. But the property, although on the main road through the village, is in a quiet spot with few cars passing.
Stephen, 52, now works as a photographer specialising in architecture and property images, but for most of his career sold industrial lighting for major international companies; his wife Nicola still does. So when they moved into the cottage the lighting was very important to them.
Energy-saving LED lighting is now a key and Stephen has built a stylish glass shower cubicle to ensure as much light as possible floods through the room. In the first floor bathroom a sun pipe has been installed to provide natural light.
Outside the property there’s a small garden full of flowers, hanging baskets and neat borders; a newly built garage for Richard’s beloved Ducati bike and a wisteria-covered arbour with seating which catches the evening sun.
‘This was one of the reasons we liked it so much,’ said Richard. ‘All these old houses face east but this is a nice place to sit in the evening.
‘It’s also remarkably sheltered, you walk up the canal (a few metres away) and it can be blowing a gale and we won’t have noticed it here.’
The couple married in October and had their celebrations at the local cricket club. ‘We had to have it out of season so we did not disrupt play,’ Richard said. Obviously a couple to keen to fit into village life.