Antique experts Angie and Ken Wood thought it would take just 18 months to renovate their former smuggler's cottage in Scarborough and turn it into a comfortable family home. Instead it took almost a decade to rescue the Grade II listed building from rack and ruin.
"As soon as I walked through the door I knew it was special," says Ken. "I rang Angie and said 'we have to buy it!' It was love at first sight." His love was sorely tested however, when they ended up sinking more than £100,000 into its meticulous restoration and the project threatened to take over their lives.
"I hadn't appreciated the enormity of what we were taking on. But once we had started, we couldn't stop. It was such an exciting project and there was so much to discover that we couldn't just give up half way through. If we were going to do it, we wanted to do it really well," says Ken.
Ken, who restores antique furniture but specialises in oil paintings, and Angie, who trades in collectables, bought the property for £29,000. Structurally it was so precarious; it could have been classified as unsafe with one main beam on the verge of collapse and a chimney stack teetering at a 15 degree angle. Another had already fallen into a neighbouring yard. The whole structure needed stabilising.
It was on the verge of falling down when the couple bought it, but it's one of only two or three timber framed houses left in Scarborough and they couldn't understand why no one wanted to preserve it.
As far as the Woods can discover, the former trader's house was originally built on the harbour beach in 1300. Numbering on the beams suggest that it would have once been three time's its present size. According to legend, there was a tunnel leading from the house to the harbour but Ken believes the house was open to the sea to allow boats to be pulled ashore and kept underneath the building.
At one time there were 26 hiding places in the house, including a secret cupboard in what is now the bathroom where Ken and Angie found a 300-year-old French prayer book. The property eventually became a pub known as The Block Makers until the name was changed to The Three Mariners Inn. It was quite common for men who were drowned at sea to be brought ashore and laid out on boards in what is now the sitting room. The house lost its license in 1905 and was last lived in during the early-1930s, later becoming a fisherman's museum.
When Ken and Angie took it on board, it wasn't just a rich history they were buying, but a house with its own very peculiar set of problems. One of the biggest issues was over the way the property, which was built with a 'cruck' timber frame, could be structurally supported to prevent further leaning.
The building regulations inspector and a structural engineer wanted to install a steel box section starting in the cellar, which would support the main body of the house. They also wanted to remove all the original oak paneling and wooden floors as they were considered to be major fire hazards. English Heritage however, were determined to preserve as many of the original features as they could and vehemently opposed any proposals which would compromise its integrity.
Eventually the two reached an agreement that steel brackets would be fixed into place around the house to keep it from leaning any further and that fire retardant paint should be used on the paneling. A further £3,000 was also invested in a sophisticated fire detection system. "We were relieved because our aim was to restore and preserve as much as we could," says Angie, "but it was nine months before we could start work."
For the next four years Ken and Angie spent every spare minute of their time - between running the family home near Whitby and two businesses - working on the house. It had to be re-roofed, buttressed, tied and have all the rotten floor and ceiling beams replaced with green oak.
"We felt we couldn't employ people to do the work because they wouldn't understand exactly how it needed doing," says Ken, who is a member of The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. 'We never threw anything away because we didn't know where it might be from or how significant it might be. We wanted to make sure every room in the property was restored to the highest standard - even down to mixing our own lathe and plaster for the internal walls, using lime plaster mixed with horsehair and lime wash."
The restoration of the house may have been a lot of work and a lot of money, but considering the end result, it was definitely worth it. Ken and Angie have made a beautiful home for generations to enjoy.