Update On Fulling Mill Cottage December 2011
by Julie Grant
23rd January2010 - 4pm - Feeding the cats at Fulling Mill Cottage.
Fulling Mill Cottage stood empty and forlorn. Veiled from the outside world by a veritable forest of evergreen trees and tangled foliage. The once pristine thatch was now blackened and waterlogged - exposing the ancient, oak roof timbers to the winter sky. Threadbare, remnants of plastic tarpaulin flailed, wildly in the bitter North wind.
Through the cracked, leaded windows one could barely see into the shadowy parlour. Cobwebs hung from the beams like stalactites and the brick-tiled floor was awash with pools of stagnant rain water. The damp lime wash walls were crumbling and streaked with grime, and the front door was barely visible beneath its covering of pea green algae.
A moat of thick mud, twelve inches deep concealed the perimeter pathway leaving a murky tide mark around the mellow stone walls of the cottage.
In the garden, snow covered weeds and brambles stood three meters high. The once serviceable, utilitarian outbuildings now listed precariously; disorientated and insecure without their windows, doors and roofs. Shards of broken glass glittered, ghostly in the late watery sunlight.
Everywhere silence and gloom; even the chirping robin sat huddled and hushed within the shelter of the hawthorn; and despite my offerings, not a cat to be seen anywhere, not a rustle in the undergrowth, no crack of twigs or a distant meow.
On that very same late January afternoon, in a nearby nursing home, the owner of Fulling Mill Cottage
Upon hearing of his wishes we vowed - that whatever the future held for Fulling Mill Cottage it would never again stand as desolate and dilapidated as on that Winter afternoon of 2010
As I write this summary - it seems that the worst of the Winter weather is over. Despite gale force winds torrential rain and snow - all is well in a quiet corner of Fittleworth. Fulling Mill Cottage, or “Millie” as she has affectionately become known, has been wrapped well for winter,
Now secure beneath stout scaffolding and temporary corrugated roof , the walls are dry and encased in a breathable, waterproof fabric - air can circulate but water is kept well away.
After the capture and relocation of all the feral cats to the Mile Oak cattery - we have spent a whole year clearing the property .The house, the garden, the drains, the stream, the ditches and the trees. We have laughed, cried, sworn, and been bitten to death by garden insects and swathed in mud.
Tommy even broke his foot whilst wheel barrowing rubbish into one of our numerous skips - but never was a job more worthwhile.
There are restrictions in place that prevent the charity from selling the property; therefore it is vital that we carry out the necessary repairs to the cottage in order to protect our asset and to comply with the strict laws regarding the repairs of ancient properties.
The trustees have taken a lot of advice on how to realise the full potential of the property and thus bring in an income for CWS once it is restored. One such suggestion was to rent it as a holiday cottage. (Fulling Mill Cottage was a very successful Guest House in the thirties) thus this historical gem could be experienced by a wider community. The location is ideal given the close proximity to Petworth, Arundel, Chichester, Goodwood and many other places of interest - this is one of the possibilities that we are looking into for the future.
Of course any decision would be subject to Planning Permission. As FMC and its land is GradeII Listed and within a conservation area.
Sadly, the remains of the tiled roof to the old scullery had fallen foul of gravity. The damaged chimney above the scullery fireplace was dangerous and had to be removed, to be rebuilt at a later date.
It was a great relief when the old thatch was finally removed from the roof. This was a huge job but a necessary one. The weight of the heavy, wet thatch was taking its toll on the wooden structure of the building but, once removed, the whole cottage seemed lighter and more airy.
The removal of the thatch also provided us with the opportunity to clearly view the damage to the original roof timbers. The timber framework is the most significant part of the property - the very bones of Fulling Mill Cottage.
It tells us the history from when the cottage was first constructed, until the present day. Some of the timbers date to the 15th century. Undoubtedly these came from another building - or even a ship. The oldest part of the house dates from the 16th century. The timbers also reveal that many alterations took place during the 17th and 18th century.
Starting life as a fairly humble cottage, sturdy chimneys have been subsequently added with two fireplaces on the ground floor and two in the upper rooms; heating in the upper chambers being the height of luxury in the 16th century. A very flamboyant gable and wing to the North and a scullery were added, along with lots of leaded windows - another luxury.
Why such extravagant adaptations were made, and by whom, we have no way of knowing. Records from the mid-17th century -tell mostly of local, working folk renting the cottage. It seems doubtful that owners would have provided such comfort for their tenants. Sadly we have no earlier records to give us any clues as to the earlier occupiers.
Our next step will be to create a historical statement - categorizing all the timber into the correct time frame. Our architect will then add this statement to our plans, thus ensuring that all the repairs are correct. We hope to submit these plans for approval in Spring 2012.
The vast main chimneys will need to be dismantled and then rebuilt. Over the years many different bricks have been used to repair the stack and in later years cement has been used for the re pointing.
Once these repairs are complete the new thatched roof can be added. It will be a proud moment for everyone involved in the restoration of Fulling Mill Cottage. The roof will be made from reed thatch and we intend to keep to the original shaggy, country style, as opposed to the neatly trimmed thatch covered in netting as is so common today.
On the whole, the footings of the cottage seem fairly sound but we do need to rectify the problems with the surface water drains. The drains are a fascinating system of gullys and chambers that surround the building. These in turn run into the drainage ditches at the Southern boundary. Years of leaf mulch, mud and invasive tree roots have damaged the underground clay drain pipes causing the chambers to block and drain inadequately.
Many a weekend has been spent bailing out the water and debris. We now need to grind out the felled tree roots and then dig down and replace the damaged drain pipes.
After all these repairs have been completed we shall the move onto the second stage of the project. This will involve the careful restoration of the exterior and interior doors, along with the leaded windows in the older part of the house and the more recent windows in the scullery.
The damaged floorboards will need to be assessed and repaired where necessary.
Most of the original wattle and daub walls are in a sorry state and much will have to be repaired. I am begging horse owning friends to save their combings for us - in order that we can add them into the lime plaster as per the traditional ways of old.
The interior of Fulling Mill Cottage will remain the same. No Hi Tech, fitted kitchens or walk-in shower rooms, no spotlights or laminate flooring. No modern twists or contemporary feel for this cottage. Her wattle & daub walls will bear their original hue and the brick, tiled floor will remain throughout.
Of course this is all a long, long way off but every little repair and every little bit of progress, no matter how small, takes us ever closer to our goal - the preservation of Fulling Mill Cottage.
Once full of fruit trees, bee hives and boasting a thriving market garden, the grounds of Fulling Mill Cottage had become a jungle. Brambles had smothered everything and the ever invasive Himalayan Balsam had done just that. It grew 10ft in places.
We were faced with an impenetrable barrier of weeds and thorns. We were left with no choice but to hack it all down bit by bit.
We discovered a couple of hidden apple trees, an ancient Mulberry, and a spindly magnolia as we forged a path through the undergrowth, and down to the stream that separates the orchard from the woodland.
After months and months of back breaking work we finally had a garden of sorts. Not a flower or a blade of grass to be seen - just a huge swathe of empty, earth. A blank canvas. But soon - Mother Nature arrived and little by little plants started to appear: snowdrops, wild daffodils, bluebells, honeysuckle and wild primroses. It was the beginning of something beautiful
In September we planted 250 native Wild Daffodil and 250 native Snakehead Fritillary bulbs. More native bulbs and plug plants will be added throughout the seasons.
On Sunday 11th December we held a Community Tree Planting Event to restore the Old Orchard. Enthusiastic volunteers braved torrential rain in order to plant our trees. The Sussex Wildlife Trust kindly provided the twenty Old Sussex varieties of fruit trees, once so abundant in the long lost orchards of Sussex.
Our apple, pear and plums will soon be joined by gages, damsons, medlars and quinces. The blossom will act as a magnet for Wildlife and our fruit harvest will be shared with the local community and used to make homemade produce to sell for our charity.
It was with much regret that we had to say goodbye to a large number of overgrown trees. We love our trees but these were overgrown and decayed non-native conifers. Growing out of control, they were a danger to nearby residents - their branches growing into the power cables and their roots into the drains.
The old Flower Garden, once resplendent with roses, honeysuckle, jasmine and scented blooms of all colours had become a dense and dark wooded area of conifers and laurel - devoid of flowers or fauna.
We shall continue to restore the gardens in a way that benefits our local wildlife and look forward to many visits from the creatures that live upon the land at Fulling Mill.
In Safe Hands
We have a great team behind us - all experts in their chosen fields.
Our Restoration Contractors
Our Green Team
Helpers and volunteers from Cat Welfare Sussex and the residents of Fittleworth and the surrounding area.
Thanks to all for their continued help, advice and enthusiasm.
If you love History and wish to make a donation to help our charity restore Fulling Mill Cottage please make cheques payable to Cat Welfare Sussex and send to Cat Welfare Sussex, 164 Mile Oak Road, Portslade, East Sussex, BN41 2PL
For further information tel 01273 423861 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, please note that all help is given voluntarily and we do not receive a salary.
Photos by Linda Penn
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