Through the keyhole of an ancient Grade II listed home in Shepton Mallet
PUBLISHED: 14:34 21 December 2017 | UPDATED: 14:34 21 December 2017
Richard Cooke and his partner Michael Taylor knew they wanted to buy their home as soon as they saw the front garden bursting with life and colour, they tell Victoria Jenkins
When Richard Cooke and his partner Michael Taylor first viewed their home they went into the ancient Grade II Listed house, looked round – “and that was it, we bought it,” says Richard.
The couple were escaping from London after many years there and the lovely old property near Shepton Mallet charmed them.
Maplestone Hall had begun as two silk weavers’ cottages dating from the mid-1600s which had then been knocked together in the 1950s. It still had a stone spiral staircase, ancient oak beams and ancient stone mullioned windows.
A third section had been built on invisibly in the 1980s which consisted of a car port and an en suite bedroom above.
“However, out in the back garden were a couple of even older buildings,” says Richard. “One was a small cottage where we learned the silk weavers had dyed their silk and the other was even smaller, a sort of ‘igloo’ where they heated the water to do so.’
Delighted though they were with their new home, Richard and Michael found they had to do quite a lot of work to improve it.
“For instance the wiring had to be totally renewed,” says Richard. “We also had to install new gas central heating and replumb as while the boiler was fine the pipes were too narrow to carry the hot water round the house.”
They also had to replaster some of the walls in the hall, dining room and a bedroom so Richard seized the chance to have them done in a rough-cast way to add a period feeling.
As for the kitchen...”It looked like a DIY job with orange pine and chipboard,” says Richard. “Plus there was a false chimney breast so we gutted it all and treated ourselves to a very smart handmade kitchen from the Bath Kitchen Company.”
The cabinetry is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Old White and the handmade worktops are of rich walnut which matches the new faux walnut flooring.
“We also laid this flooring in the dining room and a newly-refurbished shower room because it’s so well-sealed,” says Richard. “The shower room had been a dream of avocado and the bathroom was in 1950s salmon pink. They’ve both been changed now to something far more contemporary. We also had a downstairs cloakroom built too.”
The silk-dyers’ cottage had a concrete floor and was very damp but dry-lining solved that problem and now it’s become a guest suite with bedroom, bathroom and sitting room.
The last job was to improve the end carport. The couple gained planning permission to build a new entrance and staircase to the bedroom above as they have now begun a bed-and-breakfast business and needed to upgrade the accommodation.
Given the age of this lovely house are there any ghosts?
“Not exactly,” says Richard. “We did find two ancient shoes though. One was of very wrinkled leather and the other a baby’s knitted bootee, both in a box hidden behind a beam in the loft.
“We believe they belong to an age-old tradition whereby a single shoe was concealed as a magical charm to protect the house from evil spirits like ghosts or witches.
“And,” he added, “ there is another thing which is rather strange. Every house has its odd creaks and groans of course but occasionally we hear a really loud hammering of our front door knocker. It takes quite a bit of effort to make the knocker bang so loudly but when we hurry to answer it...there’s nobody there!”