Mid-life cri­sis brings some grave prob­lems for city-liv­ing cou­ple

Skele­tons and a 60ft tree were just some of the ob­sta­cles Ed­ward Water­son found when build­ing a home in cen­tral York.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

IT was when we un­cov­ered the first skele­ton that we re­alised we had in­ad­ver­tently bought a Ro­man burial ground. That’s the sort of prob­lem you come across when you de­cide to build a new house five min­utes’ walk from York Min­ster.

Turn­ing the clock back a cou­ple of years, my wife Jill and I had de­cided it was time for a mid-life cri­sis. We sold our lovely Ge­or­gian house over­look­ing Cas­tle Howard and rented an equally lovely Ge­or­gian house right in the cen­tre of York. Within weeks we had both de­cided that city life was for us.

In the com­ing months we spent many hours ex­plor­ing ev­ery street for the per­fect house.

Thirty years of sell­ing prop­erty for Carter Jonas con­vinced us that we had to live in a pe­riod home. One evening we took a left turn off Bootham and found our­selves in St Marys, a mid 19th cen­tury street with a touch of faded grandeur to it. “This is in­ter­est­ing,” said Jill.

“You wouldn’t want to live down here,” said I. Half way down the street was a derelict 1920s house, built on the site of a former tennis court. There were plans to re­place it with a pair of fam­ily houses; by the time we went to bed that night we felt we knew where our fu­ture lay. It might not be pe­riod but it promised plenty of space, a good sized gar­den, off-street park­ing and a garage. We just couldn’t find that com­bi­na­tion in an older prop­erty, so close to the city walls.

We agreed a deal with the builders, Westwood Homes (York­shire) Ltd and a few days later the Roses en­tered our lives. Daniel, Vic­to­ria and their three chil­dren were fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar course to ours. They had sold up in the coun­try and were keen to set­tle in cen­tral York. We knew them only slightly but agreed on a joint ven­ture with the de­vel­op­ers. Over the months we be­came close friends, united in the face of ad­ver­sity as the build­ing pro­gramme slipped fur­ther and fur­ther back.

The ground­works soon re­vealed two skele­tons (a wo­man and an ado­les­cent) and a man’s left leg. All were buried north south, in­di­cat­ing Ro­man buri­als, close to the north­ern route out of York. No doubt there are still a few oth­ers un­der the kitchen floor. The ones we found are still in store at the York­shire Mu­seum await­ing anal­y­sis.

In the mean­time, we paid a visit to the York Hand Made Brick Com­pany near Eas­ing­wold, who cre­ated the St Marys blend for us. This had five dif­fer­ent colours of brick, mim­ick­ing those used in the build­ing of our neigh­bours 150 years be­fore.

Our stone came from Ley­burn, sand from Hesler­ton, win­dows from Mal­ton and iron­work from Elv­ing­ton. Apart from the Span­ish roof slates, this was to be a thor­oughly York­shire house.

We were re­ally pleased to have a num­ber of ap­pren­tices on site in­clud­ing Do­minic Branch, a re­cent win­ner on the BBC Master­crafts pro­gramme. He cut his teeth on our rail­ings.

The de­vel­op­ers’ plans were for a pair of vil­las in the style of the 1850s and the lay­out, over four floors, was just right.

Ex­ter­nally, some of the de­tail needed tweak­ing so we turned to Digby Har­ris at Fran­cis John­son & Part­ners, one of the coun­try’s lead­ing ex­po­nents of the classical style. His touch and at­ten­tion to de­tail trans­formed the de­signs into some­thing rather spe­cial and were whole­heart­edly wel­comed by Ja­nine Ri­ley, the con­ser­va­tion ar­chi­tect at York City Coun­cil.

We made a start in Novem­ber 2008, hop­ing to be in by the end of the Au­gust 2009. In the event, we just made it for Easter 2010.

Em­bark­ing on such a joint ven­ture is fraught with prob­lems and although it had its mo­ments, our re­la­tion­ship with the builders re­mained cor­dial. Both fam­i­lies were in­sis­tent on work­man­ship and ma­te­ri­als of the high­est qual­ity and although this in­volved some additional ex­pen­di­ture we didn’t flinch. That’s some­thing we have never re­gret­ted. One of the ma­jor is­sues was a 60ft mon­key puz­zle tree, close to the front of the houses and sub­ject to a tree preser­va­tion or­der. We even can­tilevered the front steps on a steel frame to avoid dam­ag­ing its roots.

So would we do it again? Prob­a­bly not, if we had known then what we know now. It was a pretty stress­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.

On the other hand, we are very pleased with the re­sult and there is no short­age of pass­ing ad­mir­ers, most of whom are con­vinced the houses are 150 years old.

Fi­nan­cially we took a gam­ble, went over bud­get and ended up with a bill for about £800,000. It should be worth all of that, given the strength of the cen­tral York mar­ket.

Now we’ve landed a York De­sign Award for 2011. I think we did the right thing.

York Hand­made Brick Com­pany in Alne, spe­cialises in mak­ing bricks for pe­riod prop­er­ties or for new-builds that want to look old. Tel: 01347 838885, www.yorkhand­made. co.uk

Fran­cis John­son and Part­ners, Bridling­ton. Char­tered ar­chi­tects who spe­cialise in the de­sign of new build­ings in classical and tra­di­tional styles as well as the re­pair and restora­tion of his­toric build­ings. Tel: 01262 674 043, www.fran­cisjohn­son-ar­chi­tects. co.uk

OLD STYLE: Ed­ward and Jill’s home in cen­tral York looks like a pe­riod prop­erty but it is new, which means it is en­ergy ef­fi­cient and easy to main­tain.

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