House of the month: Look around 16th Century Lordship Farm, Shillington

PUBLISHED: 15:45 08 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:29 20 February 2013

House of the month: Look around 16th Century Lordship Farm, Shillington

House of the month: Look around 16th Century Lordship Farm, Shillington

Stripping the centuries away from their new home was a labour of love for Peter and Valerie Butcher. Pat Bramley takes a look around their 16th-century house

Stripping the centuries away from their new home was a labour of love for Peter and Valerie Butcher. Pat Bramley takes a look around their 16th-century house

WHEN Peter and Valerie Butcher moved back from Scotland to their home county of Hertfordshire in 2003 they brought with them ten Shetland ponies, a pet parrot and three dogs.
In the 20 months they lived north of the border following their marriage in 2002, the dedicated vegetarians with the misleading surname gathered an impressive menagerie of pets at one time their collection of Shetland ponies reached 19. They also kept ducks and chickens purely for the joy of them and then there was the day they went to market and discovered new born lambs heading for the slaughter house after theyd failed to find a bidder at auction. We paid 20p each for them and took them home, Valerie remembers. One was very ill with pneumonia but we nursed it back to health and kept them all as pets.

We couldnt bring the sheep with us when we moved because of a DEFRA ban on movement but we found a friendly farmer with the same philosophy as we have so they went to him.
The couple also had to leave the ducks and chickens behind because of the ban and nine of the ponies were found new homes some with the people who bought their Scottish property.

The decision to return to Hertfordshire was taken partly because the climate was aggravating Valeries arthritis and also because she wanted to be nearer her grown-up children. Its a second marriage for both partners. They met when she hired him to do her garden after shed been widowed.
We went up to Scotland to make a fresh start, say the couple. We made some good friends but we didnt like the rain and it was too cold.

Once theyd taken the decision to return, Peter discovered Lordship Farm on the internet. The oldest part of the listed five-bedroom farmhouse in the village of Shillington, six miles from Hitchin, dates from 1634.

For much of its 350-year history it has been in the ownership of just two local families. By the time the Butchers took possession, the house needed a fair amount of restoration.

Valerie recalls, We didnt make any major structural alterations but there were large cracks and holes in the walls. We used a local builder who was recommended to us by English Heritage. He came from Radlett where I lived before. Peter knew him. He did a very good job for us.
The work took from May when the sale went through to October when they moved in. The new owners visited the farmhouse every day while the work was being done to look after the ponies and project manage the refurbishment.

The aim was to take the structure back to the way it was. As soon as we started stripping off what was on the walls to get back to the shell, we discovered old wood timbers and tiny red bricks dating from the 1600s.

Peter spent hours and hours on the web researching suppliers of recycled materials to match what they uncovered. He says it was a labour of love. The beams in all the rooms were covered in dark brown paint or they were discoloured with a build-up of muck but after they were shotblasted, the original colour was beautiful.

Only one of the original rafters was damaged when we took down the false ceilings in a couple of the bedrooms upstairs and discovered the vaulted ceilings. We replaced the damaged beam with one which had come out of an old barn that had fallen down. All the old brickwork which weve exposed has been re-pointed with traditional lime mortar.
Peter adds, Even the light switches are made to look as though they are very old. We got them from Bromleighs, a London firm which specialises in electrical accessories for period homes. Jim Lawrence was another company we used for electrical fittings.

Upstairs most of the floors were just chipboard. They were all replaced with old floorboards we bought from Solar Park reclamation yard this side of Cambridge.

As well as rewiring and replumbing, the Butchers refitted the upstairs bathroom with a period-style stand-alone bath and high rise cistern. Theyve also created another bathroom just as swish as the upstairs model in the new ground floor master suite converted from what was originally the piggery.

The farmhouse kitchen had already been refitted by a previous owner with bespoke pine units made from old Victorian pine shutters but Valerie and Peter have added the finishing touch by installing a top of the range shiny red electrically-fired Aga. You can put it into sleep mode to save electricity. It cuts down the heating bills.

Its all been done with love, confirms the landscape gardener who sounds like Pop Larkin when he waxes lyrical about their extended family of seven children, 16-soon-to-be-17 grandchildren and all the animals theyve been devoted to over the last seven years.

The Butchers care so much for the welfare of animals and wildlife that Lordship Farm has become an accidental bird sanctuary.
According to Valerie, Peter has an encyclopaedic knowledge of birds and because of that their local vet started to call on him to identify some of the feathered casualties when they arrived at the surgery. It helps, too, that the four acres of garden and paddocks surrounding the farmhouse include a pond large enough to qualify as a lake.

Word soon spread that the new people at Lordship Farm were good at nursing injured birds back to health and before long the RSPCA and PDSA were sending along all sorts that were in need of a foster home.

The Butchers now have three parrots, including two that were rescued by the RSPCA. One had been kept in a taxi rank. It now entertains the other residents at Lordship Farm with a very good impersonation of the taxi firms radio intercom. Ive always had parrots as pets, says Peter, I love them.

Each evening he and Valerie relax after dinner in the sitting room with seven dogs to keep them company including five Chihuahuas and Hobo, the German shepherd they rescued last year. Quietly spoken Valerie, who owns a commercial property investment company, has won medals in top national competitions for dog obedience.

The Butchers have spent hundreds of pounds looking after the casualties which have been referred to their sanctuary, without any funding from the charities. They have never counted the cost.

However the wildlife population in that part of Hertfordshire may soon have to look for a safe habitat somewhere else. Valerie and Peter are planning to leave the farm and move to Gibraltar for a more relaxing life. Its English, there is a strong culture in favour of vegetarians and its sunny.

Of course theyll be taking the seven dogs and the three parrots with them to enjoy the new life by the sea. And no doubt it wont be long before they are putting out the welcome mat for seven swans a-swimming, five calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

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