Ramsey Rural Museum

Fen Cottage Project

The Dismantling Renovation and Subsequent Re-erection at Ramsey Rural Museum

Location

Darlow Farm Cottage was situated at Darlow farm off the B660 approximately 3 miles from Ramsey St Mary’s and is a short walk from the Great Ravely Drain on Holme Fen.

 

Construction

The cottage is a typical two-bedroom fen cottage. Built entirely of wood in the early 1930’s, it has no running water, electricity or main drainage.The water supply, from two rainwater butts supplied water to the coal-fired boiler in the kitchen, bath and hand basin in the small bathroom; and if these ran out it was a walk to the nearby drain to fill buckets. Heating was by coal fires in each room, and all cooking was done on a typical kitchen range of that period. The toilet was at the end of the garden.

 

Occupancy

Darlow cottage was the first married home of the late Marshall Papworth, a co-founder of Ramsey Rural Museum, and his family lived their until after the war. Alfred Tungate, his wife Mabel and daughter Audrey also occupied it in 1954. Since the last occupants moved out a number of years ago, the cottage has remained empty.

The Tungate Family

The Tungate Family239

Alfred Tungate, his wife Mabel and daughter Audrey who occupied the Cottage in 1954.

Prelude

In November 2005, it was realised that the cottage, which was still in reasonable condition despite years of non-occupancy, would be flooded when the Great Fen Project got under way. Because of its history with Marshall Papworth, and his connection with the Museum, the Great Fen Project offered the cottage to the museum free of charge, providing they carried out the dismantling and transportation to the new site. This offer was eagerly accepted by the museum and thanks to the generosity of Lord De Ramsey who has provided extra land at the museum; an area has been set aside to eventually house the cottage when it is re-erected.

 

Dismantling

The task of dismantling the cottage began in May 2005 by an eager team of volunteers consisting of Les Taylor, John Chapman, Mike Latchem, Alf, Allen, Neville who turned too each Thursday and many other willing volunteers who chipped in when numbers were required. Coffee and cakes was provided each week free of charge by Les’s wife, Mike the bottles of orange and Alf provided the table and chairs.

A great number of photographs of each of the rooms were taken prior to starting to show the general state of the rooms and the layout of all the sections as an aid when erection takes place.The doors had been left open for a number of years and Mother Nature had taken its toll. Several areas of flooring had rotted with the damp and were beyond recovery as was the outside cladding, which had not received a coat of preservative for many years. It was decided to scrap these.

The first task was to remove all the accumulated “junk” from each room. This included three bicycles that had been left behind when the last family left. The next task was to remove the interior fittings, doors, shelves, dado rails, fireplaces, bath and sink etc. These were all numbered and set aside for re-use. The first load of reclaimed units was, thanks to the help of Ernie Fountain’s tractor and trailer, transported to a barn at Jed Bowd’ s for storage. This took place on 15 June 2006.

The interior of the walls had been cladded with fibreboard sheeting and this went into the pile of scrap. A very dusty job because there was many years of accumulated soot to contend with. This was especially so with the ceiling panels which had to be tackled from the loft space because of the amount of soot. This took until the end of June 2006 but it did reveal how the interior walls had been built in sections. The next task was to remove the outside shiplap boarding. This was all scrapped because it proved impossible to remove the boarding without damaging it. The boarding at the west end was the first to go but it was decided by the site foreman (Alf) to remove the roof tiles first.

The first task before that was to remove the leaning chimney at the East end. This had cracked due to subsidence of the West end and the main base cracking, putting the west end about six inches below the East end. Alf was nominated to dismantle the chimney and he had to do it brick by brick to prevent the whole chimney collapsing.  Removal of the roof tiles could then commence with Alf, Les and John Chapman proceeding apace. The tiles were of cement construction and these were ripped off without any further thought and dumped straight into the skip. These were to prove a major headache but more about that later.

The tile battens where discovered to be in good condition so these were carefully removed for further use. We could now start removing the roof trusses but before that it was decided to continue removing the bricks from the leaning chimney because it was leaning against the trusses and there was a danger of it falling when the trusses were removed. Neville volunteered to undertake this and the bricks were successfully removed for future use. Meanwhile the outer cladding continued to be removed on an ad-hoc basis.

Removal of the roof trusses by John C Alf and Les starting from the west end commenced on 17 August. These were carefully marked by Mike L as they were removed to enable them to be re-fitted in the same order.  Removal was complete, except the end trusses and the two double trusses by 24 August. These were considered too heavy to manhandle and were lifted off on 31 August by our friendly farmer using his hoist. With the roof completely removed removal of the outside cladding could now be completed.

Work had to be suspended for a fortnight prior to removal of the roof battens and trusses because a friendly swallow had decided to build a nest in the roof. She had been quite happy with all the work going on around her and it had been very interesting watching her lay her eggs, hatch four chicks and watching the chicks grow. However, the environmentalists heard or saw her and put a stop to work until the chicks had flown. This put us behind our schedule but the pace soon picked up again.

The outside walls and interior walls had been built in sections, probably on site This made it easier to dismantle them, once we had got the six inch nails securing them to the floor joists out. The west end wall was removed in two sections first and was completed on 31 August. The first section of the front wall was removed on 7 September. The ceiling trusses of this section were removed at the same time. The first section of floorboards followed. This proved very difficult because we had to cut across the floorboards in between the floor joists. They were also extremely heavy to manhandle.

The window frames, doors and doorframes were carefully removed for restoration by John C. These were in a pretty dilapidated condition and John C had to do a lot of “nipping and tucking” to restore them. The interior stud walls followed the outer sections. Removal of these was fairly straightforward; a rope was tied around the top and they were pulled over after any nails had been removed. Work on dismantling the remaining outer and interior walls continued rapidly until by 14th September all that remained was the kitchen wall, east end wall and associated ceiling joists and the remainder of the floor. It was decided at this point that we had enough for one big lift.

Steve Ballinger, with the kind consent of Marshal’s bricks offered one of their very large brick lorries to carry out the transportation. On 17th September, Steve, with a masterly display of reversing, managed to reverse this very large lorry a quarter of a mile down a very narrow drove to the site. It was then “all hands to the pumps” and everyone chipped in to load the lorry and eventually to offload it at Jed Bowd’s farm. The sections would be stored here through the winter. The remaining wall sections were dismantled by 19th October ready for shipment.  As much of the floor as possible was also removed but a lot, especially the kitchen and passage areas was rotten and had to be scrapped. In parallel with the wall wreckers, recovery of as many of the foundation bricks as possible was also taking place.

A shock awaited everyone when we arrived the following week. The skip, which had been awaiting collection for some weeks by Mick George, had been taken but all its contents, which included all the roof tiles, had been dumped out. Apparently, the driver, on seeing the tiles had refused to take them. This meant we had to bag all the tiles up and take them back to the museum for eventual disposal in a double insulated skip at a cost of £200.

All that was left were the two chimneys to dismantle. It was decided, in the absence of any Health and Safety wallahs to employ a Fred Dibner approach to the west end chimney i.e. one volunteer (Les) chipping away at the bottom of the chimney whilst the others pulled on a very long rope attached to the top. Note: he was volunteered because it was his “windy chisel”. This was successful but we did not see it fall because every one was scattering in different directions when it went. Les was eventually found amongst the bags of roof tiles.

Every one set too now to recover as many bricks as possible before shipment back to the museum. Ernie Fountain with his tractor and farm produce trailer once again carried out the final move. Very hairy it proved to be because it was grossly overloaded. All that was left of the cottage was the east end chimney and kitchen range and hot water boiler bricks. It is still hoped to recover the bricks  in the future.

 

RESTORATION

Over the winter 2006/2007 John C had repaired the 6 windows. The windows have oak sills and they have cleaned up okay. The sides and heads have been retained but with some “splicing”. Some top and bottom rails of the sashes have been replaced. Five new opening sashes have been made and fitted. All frames have been coated with two coats of primer.

 After over wintering at Jed Bowd’s, the outer frames were bought to the museum, thanks once again to Ernie Fountain for the use of his tractor and trailer. During the summer of 2007 John C and Les repaired and refurbished the outer sections at the rear of the museum. The outer shell had been built on site as one unit, made up of 2 x 4, 3×4 and 4×4 inch timbers, all mortised and tenoned together. The outer shiplap boards were in poor condition and were scrapped as previously mentioned.

The framework had been cut into sections for transportation and each end; the walls front and back were in turn laid out on the ground. All rotten timber, mostly bottom rails and some uprights were cut out and new timbers fitted to form the new sections. All new timber was mortised and tenoned into place. Each section was treated with woodworm preventive, the refurbished windows fitted and two new doorframes fitted. When complete, each section was boarded with new shiplap and overlapping joints were formed, a coat of creosote was then applied. The top rails of each section were strengthened with metal straps for on site lifting.

All of the sections have been placed under a protective covering constructed by John C for storage until erection can be carried out.  Finally, all the sections of flooring, joists and internal sections remaining at Jed’s have been treated for woodworm.

It is hoped to carry out erection of the cottage at the museum in 2008 providing a new lease covering the additional land required and planning permission is granted. Unfortunately this has been dragging on for two years now and is still to be resolved.

This has now been achieved with a lot of hard work and dedication from the volunteers.  The rebuilding of the Cottage began in July 2011, when the footings and ground work were started, and finally finished in March 2012.

Visitors can now walk around the cottage and see all the rooms set out with authenticate 1940’s style furniture and fitments.  In the garden at the back apple trees have been planted to form a hedge row.  These were donated by the Huntingdon Council.