Ariel view of the barns that I bought at Shotleyfield, Shotleybridge, the border of Northumberland and County Durham. I bought these barns in 1984, they had been used as a milking parlour and for pigs, there was a large rickety hay barn to the rear, a stream that ran under and to the rear of the property. No tap water and no easily accessable electricity. I had moved to Tyne and Wear at the end of 1980, living in a rented farm house at Westerhope, Newcastle upon Tyne, from where I started my furniture business and also comuted every weekend to construct this house and workshop. A task that took me 6 years and many cut and frozen fingers, not least of this was the loss of a finger and thumb in 1986.
Having spent the most part of the 1970's in London, concentrating very much on theatre work, I became some what impatient to be free of the slog that this work can entail. It is very demanding and without much to leave behind for posterity. I found by the end of the 1970's, the theatres in general had started to get into financial difficulties, part due to tax modifications and the lack of sponsorship for the arts. Instead of parts of shows getting the cut, whole shows were cut as routine and with this the launch of musicals and shows in the provinces, became normal practice. It was cheaper to get a theatre like Newcastle or Manchester to produce the show, with in-house-staff, then to move the complete show to the West End of London, thus putting London producers under strain to cut costs. This they did and the large scenery makers, like Terry Murphy, took in new staff to cope with the new challenge and leaving the independent painter and prop maker to fend for himself. I decided that I would like to get back to roots and start a fresh with a hand made furniture making business, for this I decided to move to Northumberland and be somewhere that was attractive, had large areas of forest and where I had many friends.
The barns as I bought them and first saw them in 1984, the photographs are a few that I took on the second visit to the barn in order to due drawings for planning permission. I had decided to do some rapid designs in order to know whether I could get planning permission, not wanting to buy the barns and then find that I could not convert them to domestic use.
The move to Northumberland was not such a dramatic idea, after college I had wanted to move to Norfolk and buy an old mill to have a workshop that was self sufficient, having wood in the blood, as it were, and wood as part of my Chinese sign, it was only natural to think of always making things in this wonderful material. My great grand father, grand father and two uncles, where cabinet makers and my father was an architect, thus giving me a certain DNA pull towards the making and selling of furniture and its social function.
The first work that I was able to pick up, largely consisted of building projects that needed staircases and windows, then moving to kitchen and bathroom units, followed by roofing and conservatories, all prompted by the building work that I was having to undertake for my own house. It was like a show house, open to the public even when I was not there. When, in the spring of 1986, I had managed to create a living area and water-tight roofing for the new house, I moved there and used part of the house as a workshop; much later I developed this half as the remaining bedrooms, studio, sitting room and dining room with a second staircase and then constructed a new workshop to the side.
Now when I say that 'I constructed', I do mean that I did all this work single handed whilst continuing to run a small furniture business and support a small interior decorating shop in the near by Hexham.
A sharp learning curve was the use of rough stone and classic cement mixes. I had to learn how to handle stone and cut it. Re roofing the barn with old Westmoreland slate was another useful trade ( all the slate that I bought was of various thickness and sizes, needing to be re cut, measured and re holed. So all the slates had to be laid out in order to calculate what quantities of different sizes I had, then they needed to be calculated for coverage and the final sizing could allow me to position all the roof battens), along side gardening, septic tanks,filtration systems, river management, central heating and car maintenance.
It took some time for me to get the final stage under way, this was for the workshop and garage, because of the need to earn money to pay for the project as well as the normal fuel bills and tax return. I had origionally hoped to create a William morris type of interior, making all the windows and doors from hard wood, including all the upstairs wall panels and door locks. I finally accepted that I could not do all this within a reasonable budget or time scale and resulted to plastered walls ( myself doing every bit including the ceilings) and stained softwood windows with metal catches. The floors, doors, furniture, staircase, kitchen units, internal cills and all the floors where made from local Elm. Outside the barn I put old flag stones that I had collected over the 6 years along with old stone troughs and dry stone walling ( planted out with stone leeks and wall flowers)
The chairs that are in front of the stone arches, which I had to re create by cutting large sand stones, in these photographs ( 20 of them) where made for a client but the other furniture I made for my own use.
The flooring and staircase took quite some time to create mainly because of the time needed to plane all of the rough timber. I always had my timber cut to sizes that I stipulated, most times I would see the tree standing and buy it there and then from the farmer and have the tree cut down, cut to length and loaded on to a trailer, whilst I was there. I then would have a local sawyer cut the planks and these where transported to another local craftsman for drying in his kiln. The whole process takes 6 months to achieve good working timber, this was the same process that I adopted for all my work. Creating furniture and specialist carpentry from local grown timber. A very satisfying experience and my clients always appreciated that their work was made from local timber and local craftsmen.