Living in the past in Loudwater
PUBLISHED: 13:23 06 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:48 20 February 2013
From historic mill to beloved family home – Pat Bramley discovers how a Loudwater family have preserved the past
DOWNSIZING is always a matter of degree. For some it means selling the family home and buying a lock-up-and-leave first floor flat to spend more time travelling without worrying about the house being broken into or the garden turning into a jungle.
Others decide to downsize because of a surfeit of empty bedrooms. After the exodus of children, middle aged parents often find themselves rattling around in a large place that was perfect when it was filled with offspring and assorted dogs. What they hope to find is a smaller house with plenty of rooms on the ground floor where they can continue to welcome family and friends as before but theres no longer any need for five or six bedrooms.
This was the situation which faced World War II bomber pilot John Lipton DFC and his wife Heather in 1979.
After the war hed become something of a pioneer in the forklift hire business at a time when hiring heavy machinery was almost unheard of. He and Helen bought a large house, had three children a daughter and two sons and reaped the rewards of their joint endeavours.
A generation later when the subject of moving cropped up, the notion of downsizing to a flat was never on the cards. What they were looking for was a character house in the country with more rooms downstairs than upstairs, a house where the family could continue to celebrate Christmas and birthdays but where they wouldnt be burdened with lots of bedrooms they rarely used.
My father always said he wanted a house with beams that spoke to him, recalls his daughter Jacqui.
Its quite a tall order to find beams that talk to you so there was much rejoicing when they discovered on the market a timber-framed relic of Hertfordshires industrial past converted into a dwelling in the
1900s with beams galore including ships timbers with original numbers carved into them.
The oldest part of the The Old Mill House at Loudwater dates from some time before 1676. From then until 1979 it had a colourful history (see page 72) and in 1979 The Old Mill House was in a pretty run down state. But the enchantment of the house and the setting and, for John, the supporting beams had a unique appeal and they were hooked.
The only thing it lacked was much of a back garden, albeit a beautiful one with the river moving quietly to the weir and then via the mill race dropping 15ft to a channel where it flows swiftly under the house and out into the front garden.
But the buyers discovered the neighbouring house with much more land than the mill was also up for sale so instead of buying one house, they bought two.
With the help of architect Ronnie Beer from Henley who had worked for Johns father and a builder with specialist knowledge of renovating and extending historic buildings, Trevor Simmonds from Bourne End, they turned The Old Mill House into a magical home.
By the time work had finished and theyd re-sold the house next door minus part of the garden that previously went with it they had a beautiful house with lots of space downstairs including a guest suite for overnight visitors yet only three bedrooms upstairs.
The many and various ground floor rooms include the new dining hall which has a dining table that normally seats eight but when Jonathan, their son held his 60th birthday party there recently, the table was extended and they comfortably got 18 round it. At the end of the room is an inglenook fireplace with stained glass windows either side painted by his father.
Photographs of the Liptons three children and four grandchildren are everywhere. Ben, Jacquis son, has created a framed montage of cut out pictures of the family going back through the generations as well as painting childrens cartoon characters as a mural on the walls of the old summerhouse to create a garden playroom for the grandchildren.
Flying is evidently in the Lipton genes which is why models of planes vie for shelf space. Johns father was an air racer and a friend of Amy Johnson. Jonathan flew for 20 years and his 19-year-old daughter Jemima got her pilots licence at 16 and is now at York University where she immediately joined the air cadets. Her ambition is to follow her grandfather into the RAF.
Up on a high shelf, alongside a line of hand blown old medicine bottles dug up in the garden is a litre glass beer tankard presented to John as a souvenir by a farmer he met in 1945 after his plane was shot down. He baled out and landed in a field in liberated Belgium.
The two-acre grounds on both sides of the river bank are a glorious natural habitat for swans, ducks, herons and moorhens. On a distant island reached by one of three wooden bridges is an overgrown orchard with figs, a quince and plum trees.
John continued to live at The Old Mill House after Heather died at the age of 69 in 1996. After his death two years ago he left the house to his three children. They and the grandchildren, with help from housekeeper Ruth and gardener Joe, continue to maintain it as a much-loved family home.
We didnt want to sell it, Jacqui admits its been part of our lives. Weve spent so much time here but we cant keep it forever.
Consequently the family have instructed the Rickmansworth office of Hamptons International and the agencys Thames & Chiltern Country House department at Beaconsfield to put it on the market for 2.25 million. We want somebody to buy it who will love it as much as we have. It holds such fantastic memories of the grandchildren growing up here.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
The oldest part of the The Old Mill House dates from before 1676, the year it first appeared on a county map described as a fulling mill. A fulling mill was a primitive larger scale forerunner of todays washing machine. Prior to then, those who made cloth trampled it in water with their feet to get it clean until someone had the bright idea of adapting water mills.
By the end of the 17th century there wasnt much demand locally for making cloth but the industrial revolution brought a growing demand for paper so mill owners adapted. The first papermaker at Loudwater Mill was John Shipton in 1747. There werent sufficient orders for paper to keep the wheel turning full time so he also ground corn.
The mill changed hands several times over the next 150 years and with each sale, the new owners added extra buildings. One, Thomas Weedon, wanted to introduce the latest technology to the mill at Loudwater in 1818. He leased a field on the opposite side of the river which was connected to the old mill by a corridor over the water wheel. He built substantial new industrial buildings including 14 cottages for his workforce and a three storey Regency house which later became Glenn Chess and is now converted into apartments.
Following the departure of the Weedon family, the original mill, along with the later additions, were bought by Herbert Ingram, proprietor of the weekly Illustrated London News. In 1860 he and his son went to the States and Canada and never returned. The steamship theyd chartered on Lake Michigan was holed by a schooner and their bodies were never found.
Herberts widow sold the mill to William McMurray who owned the Royal Paper Mills at Wandsworth. In the course of his modernisation programme he replaced the original waterwheel with the turbine which still drives the water under the house today.
By 1867, the workforce at Loudwater and another local mill Mr McMurray owned was more than 200 but he then ran into turbulent waters. A landowner downstream accused him of polluting the river with chemicals used in the paper production process. The case was thrown out but in 1885 a Local Government Board enquiry into pollution of the Chess found against him and he was fined.
Mr McMurray died in 1887 and the mill closed down for good. In April 1888 the entire plant was put on the market and only the living accommodation above the old mill and the stable block at Glenn Chess escaped the sale.
The new owner up at the Big House was William McMurrays nephew. He used the turbine wheel at the old mill to drive the dynamo to supply electric light to his home on the other side of the stream. This continued up until 1956 when the old mill was sold and the arrangement ceased.